Can you parlez vino?
Is there any point in even trying to visit a winery in a country where you don't speak the language?
The natural embarrassment that attends such a situation aside, this is a significant question for wine lovers - particularly many of us from the United States, among whom fluency in other people's languages is shamefully rare. (I'm a poster boy for linguistic illiteracy myself, knowing a couple of dozen words in a half-dozen languages but, other than possibly English, boasting competence in none.)
But here's the good news: There's no need for embarrassment. Even if the language barrier seems insurmountable, wine lovers are generally welcome at wine producers everywhere. After all, they're in the business of selling wine, and it's our passion to consume it. Good intentions, a friendly smile, and a few well-chosen words from a handy list can go a long way toward bridging the communications gap, even if the chap in the tasting-room doesn't speak any more of your language than you do of his.
This topic came up this week in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, when a visitor asked participants to suggest "the 10 most useful words or phrases" for traveling in foreign wine regions, her idea being to create a list with translations into many languages.
It's an interesting concept. Obviously, 10 words are far too few for any serious conversation about vine growing and wine making. And any wine-talk quick-reference card must take into account that open-ended questions don't work. It's no good knowing how to ask "Tell me how you make your wine" in Bulgarian if you won't understand the answer.
But thinking back over my wine travels in Slovenia and Spain and other places where my language skills are even more limited than in France, Italy or Germany, it occurs to me that just knowing a few of the most basic terms and phrases - "red" and "white," "dry" and "sweet," "I like this," and "How much is it?" - can get you through a basic but functional tasting-room visit.
So I've come up with a list of the 10 basic wine terms that seem most important, and added another list of 10 basic-conversation words such as "Good day," "yes," "no," "please" and "thank you" that seem essential, and I've assembled them below, along with my rough translations in French and Italian.
This is a work in progress. With your help improving my fractured translations, and the addition of word lists in Spanish, German and perhaps other languages of world wine-producing regions, I'll add approximate pronunciations and post an improved chart for permanent reference on WineLoversPage.com.
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Now, here's the chart.
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Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2003