Beyond Words - Language Blog

The Language of Wine

Here is a little something to get the weekend started: a brief walk through the language of wine.

The original nectar of the gods has a history – and therefore an etymology – that dates back to our ancient forbearers. Here you will find the sources of the popular names we use today for some of the more common intoxicating grapes.

The “pinots” entered the English language in the early 20th-century from the French wine varietal of the same name. “Pinot” is a variation of the French pineau, from the prefix pin, or pine tree, and the diminutive feminine suffix –eau, and noir is French for the dark red, almost black color of the grapes. The varietal gets its name from the pinecone-shaped formation of grape clusters.

This cross between the Cabernet franc and the Sauvignon blanc grape developed in the 17th century in southwestern France. The “sauvignon” title is believed to be derived from the French sauvage, meaning “wild.” An ancient vintage, the Cabernet sauvignon may even have originated during the times of Pliny the Elder in Rome, where he wrote of the Biturca grape. This name bears resemblance to the “Petite Vidure” name used in the 18th century in France to refer to modern Cabernet.

This red wine varietal gets its name from the French Occitan word meaning “young blackbird.” Two components link the merlot grape with blackbirds, the first being the grape’s dark blue color, and the second being the bird’s propensity for eating grapes.

This mutation of the Pinot noir grape gets its name from the French pin, meaning pine tree, and the suffix –eau, designating a cone from the pine tree. The varietal gets its name from its pinecone-shaped formation of grape clusters. The term “grigio” is Italian for gray, describing the grape’s grayish-blue coloring.

Originating in the early 20th century, this grape is named after the town in France where the wine was first made. Before the grape varietal was recognized as “chardonnay”, it was already used in the French town of Chablis and known as Chablis wine. This term has a much older history, dating back to the 16th century where it was abbreviated from bois chablis, or deadwood, as a reference to grapes fallen due to high winds.

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