Using Winery Maps

Napa Valley is big, 29 miles from Napa to Calistoga.  Sonoma County is even bigger, 1,768 square miles.  (You can look it up; we couldn’t believe it either.)  In both cases, there are wineries almost everywhere.  There are 375 in Napa Valley and 425 in Sonoma County.  Words of advice: You can’t try them all, at least not in a single trip.  Maybe not in a lifetime.

So if you’re going to go wine tasting in these two renowned corners of Wine Country, you’re going to have to know how to get around.

An issue of a free magazine with winery maps.  Photo courtesy of Wine Country This Week.

  • Plan A: Check a winery map before you go. There are a lot of them available, but if you look closely they pretty much all come from the same source, Wine Country.com.  The maps are fairly detailed and show the location of most of the wineries you’d like to visit.

Pros: It’s always a good idea to think ahead about where you want to go on a vacation or a day out.  So, for example, let’s say you’re really intent on visiting Beaulieu Vineyard.  With a map, you will learn that Grgich Hills, Franciscan and Inglenook are quite nearby.  With a little time for lunch, that should make your day.

Cons: Keep in mind that distances on a map look a lot shorter than what you actually experience when you’re there.  The important lesson is to spend your time tasting, not driving from one end of the region to another.  An inch on your screen may be ten miles of weekend traffic.  So read the map with care.

  • Plan B: Pick up a map when you get there. Almost every winery has a stack of free magazines by the door and many of them contain maps.  The most commonly found magazine is Wine Country This Week, which is mostly advertising for wines and wineries.  And the map is from Wine Country.com.

Pros: Even if you study in advance, it’s good to have a map.  With rare exception, every winery has a supply and it does help to know where you are and where you’re going next. And magazine maps make nice souvenirs, especially if you circle the wineries you have visited.

Cons: Remember that the free magazines make their money through advertising.  Some of the wineries shown in bold letters or with a big star denoting their locations are in no way the best nor the ones you should necessarily be aiming for.  Maps can lead you to your destination, but they can also mislead.

  • Plan C: Wing it. Especially if you’ve been to either Napa Valley or Sonoma County before, you may know your way around.  Google Maps makes this a much more acceptable plan than in years before.

Pros: For some people, a little serendipity makes a wine tasting trip into an adventure.  If you keep your eyes – and your mind – open you may just discover a little gem you drove past on familiar roads in the past.

Cons: We have no argument if taking your chances is your style, but for many others with a limited amount of time to spend wine tasting, it’s a better idea to know where you’re going.  And just because you think you know the roads like the back of your hand, experience has shown us that things can look a little strange on the back roads of Napa Valley and Sonoma county.  And we have found that for wineries off the main roads, Google Maps can be just flat out wrong.

Advising Friends

Sometime in the near future, we certainly hope, people will start traveling again.  Some of your friends may plan on a vacation in which wine tasting will be a part.  Because they know that you’ve been to the part of the world that they’ll be visiting, they may turn to you for advice.  This can put you into a very tricky position.  You don’t want to be planning their vacation for them and they might not have the same level of knowledge about wine.  You don’t want to be evasive but you don’t want to be too prescriptive, either.

Let’s assume that they’ve been wine tasting before, so you don’t need to tell them about the basics.  At the same time, you don’t want them to be annoyed with you if they follow your advice and don’t have a good time.  Here are some tips to help you be to be helpful, without putting a strain on your friendship.

Tell them about the views.

  • Avoid the “favorite” question. There’s no way you can deal with “What’s your favorite winery?”.  For one thing, you may not have a favorite (and ought to say so).  But then there’s the matter of favorite for what?  The best wine?  The best tour?  The most fun?  The most knowledgeable servers?  You’re better off listing these types of categories and suggesting several places that fit in each one.
  • Steer them away from places you didn’t like. It’s better to tell people what to avoid than what they “absolutely must taste”.  If they go to your big time recommendations and aren’t as happy as you were, they’ll be disappointed.  But if you tell them that a certain winery has awful plonk or that the décor is lugubrious, they’ll thank you.  It’s a good idea to say why you did and didn’t like a particular winery.  For example, we remember one where the wine was just dreadful but they had an interesting collection of antique instruments.  If your friends are musicians or music lovers, they might put up with the wine just to see the cellos.
  • Consider the seasons. If you visited the area they’re going to in autumn, and their trip is in the early spring, they’ll have a different experience than you did.  You saw the radiant colors; they’re going to get bare vines.  They may have a wonderful trip but it won’t be the same as yours.  So qualify the advice you give them with the time of year in mind.
  • Think about their vacation, not just their wine tasting. No matter how great the wine wherever it is they’re going, it won’t be the totality of their trip.  The guidebooks will tell them about the great, new, chic restaurant.  You can tell them about the spot two blocks away with killer Mexican food.  Or the bar with jazz on the weekend.  Or the greatest chocolate ice cream you’ve ever tasted.  Let them discover the wines on their own.  They’ll never find that ice cream cone without you.

Shopping

The idea of a winery as a shopping mart is almost exclusively a California thing.  We have never encountered non-wine related merchandise in a winery anywhere outside the United States.  We have encountered an establishment in the Central Coast that bills itself as a gift shop and winery, in that order.  (In keeping with Power Tasting’s speak-no-evil policy, they will go unnamed, but let us assure you that the wine in a self-described gift shop is likely to be awful.)  Many wineries sell a few items – shirts, baseball caps, coasters and wine glasses – emblazoned with their name or logo.  We aren’t talking about those; we mean wineries with sizable retail establishments.

The shop at Robert Mondavi Winery.

Most of these are in Napa Valley, with a few in Sonoma County.  There are some where we make a point, whenever we visit, to see what they’re selling because we have occasionally found things we like and bought some gifts.  Among these is Robert Mondavi Winery, where our primary interest is the wine, of course.  They have an extensive gift shop that is particularly attractive at Christmastime.  The shop has an interesting selection of books, mostly of the coffee-table variety, on wine and wineries.  Besides books, we have bought Christmas-tree ornaments and decorative ceramics there.

Beringer Vineyards also features beautiful wares for Christmas.  Their shop is not very large, but they do have quite a few beautiful things.  Once again, the reason to visit is not for the shopping, but for the wine and the architecture.  Still, there are lovely items available for sale.

Inglenook Vineyard, once known as Niebaum Coppola, is a testimonial to the life, career (and ego) of Francis Ford Coppola, the film director.  Despite that, Inglenook makes some top-end wine, especially their Rubicon blend.  The architecture and grounds are attractive and the selection in their shop is, for a winery, extensive and idiosyncratic.  On several occasions, we have bought tablecloths there; like many of their items these evoked Mr. Coppola’s Italian-American heritage.  The products on sale differ every time we have been to Inglenook, so other than corkscrews and coasters, don’t expect to find the same things twice.

Photo courtesy of Darioush.

The most opulent winery shopping experience is to be found at Darioush (which to our opinion is way too much.)  In keeping with their Persian temple architecture, the items they sell are luxurious, perhaps extravagant. Many of them are Iranian-themed, such as a pomegranate plate or Persian cookbooks.  The handbags and clothing, housewares and backgammon sets are all beautiful and well-made. Management at Darioush has made it clear to us that their intended market for their wines is interested in luxury items, which they also extend in their non-wine wares.

You may notice that we haven’t mentioned prices.  None of the winery shops are inexpensive. Likewise, all the shopping locations we mention are also producers of top-quality wine.  That’s probably not a coincidence.  People who like great wine are also likely to be customers for beautiful goods.  At the same time, there are many other wineries with excellent wine who only focus on the wine-tasting experience, not merchandise.  Our advice is to visit wineries for the wine.  If there are pretty things to buy, why not look them over?

Dealing with Wine Country Crowds

One of the famous sayings that Yogi Berra was supposed to have uttered was “Nobody goes there anymore – it’s too crowded”.  You may want to remember that if you should find yourself, say, on Route 29 in Napa Valley on a sunny July 4 weekend.  Everybody knows (whoever everybody is) that it will be mobbed with wine lovers, tourists, partiers, kids, bachelorettes and assorted hangers-on.  The roads are clogged; you can’t get near a server in wineries and as for getting an answer to a question, well, as we say in Brooklyn, fuhgeddaboudit.

So why go?  That may be your only day in the area or you promised some people you’d take them when they were in town.  Here are a few tips for making the best of it.

  • Avoid the big names. Sure, it’s fun to visit the wineries you’re familiar with but those are the ones that will likely attract the biggest crowds.  Even in regular times, we’ve felt overwhelmed at places like Domaine Chandon and Silver Oak.  So consider some of the lesser known, more out of the way wineries.  For instance, if you really want to try some sparkling, you might want to go to Iron Horse in Sebastopol.

The Iron Horse tasting “room”.  Wine tasting as in the old days.  Photo courtesy of shop.ironhorsevineyards.com

  • Take your glasses outside. An advantage of Iron Horse is that their tasting “room” is and was outdoors, even before Covid forced that on every winery.  Many wineries have terraces or picnic areas where you can sip under the blue skies.  We enjoy the combination of wine and good weather under any circumstances.  We remember well a visit to Etude one Martin Luther King Birthday weekend when we sat outside in a pair of Adirondack chairs, while a nice server came by periodically and made sure we hadn’t run out of Pinot Noir.
  • Use the auxiliary tasting rooms. Some top wineries, such as Chateau Montelena or Beaulieu Vineyard, maintain secondary tasting rooms specifically to deal with crowded days.  If you make it clear that you’d prefer some relative peace and quiet instead of being in the middle of the action, they will be glad to accommodate you.
  • Make appointments. This is a good idea on weekends, much less holidays.  During the pandemic, most wineries are by appointment only, anyway.  But when it’s over, the masses will return, perhaps in greater numbers after being away for so long.  With an appointment, you usually will get a seated tasting, which by itself limits the size of the crowds.
  • Don’t try to visit too many wineries. The less time you spend on the road, the better off you are.  So limit you tastings to a few places, preferably fairly close to one another.  Think about the places you’d like to stay for a while, for both wine tasting and other reasons.  Some wineries have beautiful gardens.  Others have outstanding art collections.  And some are just lovely places to be.  Take advantage of them.

“Downtown” Calistoga.  Photo courtesy of TripSavvy.

  • Consider in-town tastings. As a general rule, we prefer to be in towns, such as Calistoga or Healdsburg, on weekends rather than out in the vineyards.  There are an increasing number of top wineries opening tasting rooms on the streets.  Even if they’re crowded, and they are sometimes, you can stroll around a bit until you can find a spot at a bar.

These are all Napa/Noma tips, but the same ideas apply in European wineries, if you happen to be there for their holidays.

Cold Weather Tasting

A few years ago, Power Tasting ran an article called “Rainy Day Tasting”.  It provided tips on how to enjoy yourself while making the best of bad weather.  If you should be travelling in wine country when it gets cold, there are some of the same considerations to keep in mind but also a few that are unique to the winter months.

Photo courtesy of the Napa Valley Register.

Of course, our mental image of Wine Country contains bright blue skies with grapes hanging heavy on the vines.  Very few wine making areas are immune to cold weather and many depend on it for various reasons.  Canadian wineries use the freezing cold to make their famous ice wines.  In most others, a period of dormancy is the basis for a finer harvest the next summer.

If you are visiting Wine Country from late November through March, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Dress for the weather. Ignore the mental image previously mentioned and bring a heavy coat, gloves and a hat.  You probably won’t be sitting outside sipping wine (although there always a few polar bears who like to do just that).  But you may have a long walk from your car to a winery’s door and you might want to walk around one of the towns.  Be prepared for it.
  • Watch out for icy roads. It does freeze in Wine Country.  We well remember a trip to Napa Valley in December where the temperatures descended into the 20’s…during the day.  You can be fairly certain that the major thoroughfares will be de-iced, but a lot of the places you’d like to visit are on small, windy roads, sometimes up in the mountains.  Keep your eyes open and drive carefully.
  • Be doubly careful about the amount of alcohol you consume. If you do hit an icy patch on a back road, you want to be attentive and quick in your reflexes.  Too much alcohol doesn’t help.  Remember the name of the game is tasting, not drinking.
  • Find a hotel that features fireplaces… Many of them do, specifically because they want to attract winter visitors.  There’s nothing like opening a bottle of local sparkling wine and snuggling with your loved one while you’re in Wine Country.  Some hotels have gas units while others have real, working fireplaces.  They usually supply you with one of those fake logs, and in the United States you can find more of those – or real firewood – in the local pharmacies.  Fair warning: those with real fireplaces don’t always have the best ventilation, so be prepared to open a window, even if it’s freezing outside.
  • Or firepits. There are other hotels that have firepits where you can gather with your loved one and friends outside, despite the cold.  This is an awfully nice way to spend an evening, too.
  • Add some wine tasting to a ski trip. No, not at the same time.  But there are many ski areas that are relatively near to vineyards.  For example, the slopes in Bear Valley, CA are not far from the wineries of Amador County.  And in Europe, many of the most famous mountains are in the general area of where wine is made.

Have fun tasting wine in the cold, both by taking extra precautions and taking advantage of winter’s special treats.

Seated Tastings

Because of the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic, all tastings in California’s wineries are by appointment and they are all seated, outdoor tastings.  [As we went to press, California allowed some indoor tasting.]  If the weather is right, these can be quite enjoyable.  But they are different than bellying up to the bar and trying what’s available that day.  Seated tastings were beginning to be a trend even before Covid-19, with distinct plusses and minuses.

 

Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.

So, in the spirit of the times, we’d like to offer a few tips for seated tastings.

  • Some tastings are just for you. Assuming that you are travelling with your significant other, that means the tasting is made up of the two of you, a table, several glasses and bottles and the server.  It is very difficult in these circumstances for the two of you to share candid appraisals of what you are being served.  You probably can’t even be comfortable frowning after sipping and then pouring the wine out.  If you came intending to try their famous Cabernet Sauvignon and they insist on starting you with the Chardonnay, you’re stuck.  So just remember that’s the way they do it and move ahead.
  • Other tastings are with a group. It may feel like a party, but it’s not a party.  A little polite conversation is always acceptable, but your opinions are best kept quietly to yourselves.  We two know each other’s tastes and may say, “I think this is your style”.  But when some previously overserved stranger is intent on singing the praises of a Sauvignon Blanc that turns you off, reply with “Glad you enjoy it” and turn your attention to the person you came with.
  • It’s harder to have any little special somethings. One of the benefits of being an informed wine taster is that good servers often have something hidden away that they save for people who they think will appreciate it.  It’s tough for a server to reach under the bar when there is no bar.  What has worked to our advantage on a few occasions is to ask for something that isn’t on their list (a dessert wine, for example) and if it’s available, the server may bring you a little at the end.  But it’s difficult to do that when there are still people at nearby tables.
  • The best seated tastings make you feel special. As is often the case, the pleasure of a tasting comes down to the quality of the server.  We have experienced a server who just radiated that we were her tenth seated tasting of the week and she couldn’t wait for Friday afternoon.  But we have also had more than a few who drew out our interest in wine, shared theirs with us, and generally made us feel more like a guest than a customer.  Of course, it helped that they were serving very good wine, which is often the case with seated tastings.  We left with a warm feeling not just for the server, but for the winery itself.

Tips for Wine Tasting in Sonoma County

A fair question is why there’s any need for wine tasting tips, specifically for Sonoma County.  How is it different than Napa Valley, for instance, or Bordeaux or the North Fork of Long Island for that matter?  The answer is the combination of size and variety.

You can go wine tasting in Napa Valley along two parallel roads and the crossings between them.  Yes, there are wineries up in the hills on either side, but the wineries are all generally concentrated along Route 29 and the Silverado Trail.  As far as the geography is concerned, the same can be said of the North Fork or the Cote d’Or in Burgundy.

As to variety, while there are ample exceptions to the rule, the majority of wines made in Napa Valley are made from Chardonnay and Bordeaux grapes.  In Oregon, you’ll get Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as you will in Burgundy.  It will be Gamay in Beaujolais.  But in Sonoma County, Alexander Valley is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, Russian River by Pinot Noir and Dry Creek by Zinfandel.  There are pockets of Rhône grapes and Petite Sirah.  And yes there’s Chardonnay everywhere, but you’ll find a healthy amount of Sauvignon Blanc too, especially in Dry Creek.

So if you are new to wine tasting in Sonoma County, here are a few things to think about.

  • Focus on one area per day. You really can’t get a taste (pun intended) for Sonoma County as a whole in a short trip.  Each area can be viewed as a separate outing.  Moreover, if you are tasting in Russian River, for example, you can compare wines made from the same grape varietals and understand the difference between microclimates on the northern end of Westside Road and its eastern extension.  And of course, you can compare the talents of different winemakers as well.
  • Think about lunch. Of course you’ll want to eat, for safety’s sake if nothing else.  But there’s only one place to buy a sandwich in Alexander Valley (highlighted in this issue).  The same can be said for Dry Creek.  There are some in Russian River on River Road in Guerneville, but they’re quite a way out.  You can always drive into the towns: Sonoma, Santa Rosa or Healdsburg.  But that takes you out of the way and adds to the driving.  So either pack a picnic or plan for a stop where you know you can get some food.
  • Try to ascertain the specific character of Sonoma County wines. It’s inevitable that you would compare the wines you are tasting with those you’ve had elsewhere.  And you may decide that you prefer the Cabernet Sauvignons of Bordeaux or the Pinot Noirs of Oregon.  That’s okay, but there is a distinct Alexander Valley style of their Cabs or the Pinots of Russian River.  You’ll enjoy your tastings – and the bottles you buy back home – more if you can pick up on the uniqueness of the Sonoma County style.

  • Don’t just drive. Enjoy the scenery.  From the views of the mountains to the east of Alexander Valley to the magnificence of Chalk Hill Road to the town squares in Sonoma and Healdsburg, we have always found the views in Sonoma County to be among the prettiest in Wine Country.  Let your eyes drink, not just your mouth.

Get Lost

Where we grew up, “Get lost!” (with an exclamation point) meant something between “fuhgeddaboudit” and a term unprintable in a genteel journal like Power Tasting.  However, we mean it as respectful suggestion: when you’re in Wine Country, allow yourself to get a little lost.  Sometimes that means you’ll miss the best known wineries along the best known roads, but there are also the cases in which the owners of premier vineyards deliberately placed them where caravans of tourists would not be passing their front gates.

By all means, travel on the main drags, such as Route 29 in Napa Valley, the Route des Grands Crus in Burgundy and the Strada della Badia di Sant’Antima in Montalcino. But also prepare yourself for the little excursions off the central roads and you’ll get to experience Wine Country the way the locals do.

Photo courtesy of France.fr.

  • Do a little preparatory homework. Get a map of the region, which is a lot easier these days with everything on the Internet.  But having a good paper map is a good idea because it will show many more minor roads.  It’s all right to get lost but it’s smarter to know in general where you’re getting lost.
  • Don’t trust your GPS. Even in the primary winemaking areas in the United States, the satellites don’t know every back road.  And it’s those back roads you want to drive on.  In fact you might find, as we have, that the GPS will take you around in circles when you’re looking for a specific remote winery. This goes double in some European sectors of Wine Country, where road signage is an arcane art form.
  • Have several destinations in mind. That way, if you pass a gate with a placard announcing one of them, you’ll know to stop.  Then, when you’ve tasted their wines ask the server about the others on your list.  He or she might say, “Oh, it’s the next vineyard on this road” or contrariwise, “Oh, that’s quite a way from here’.  If the latter occurs, ask for a recommendation for another good winery nearby.

 

  • Enjoy what you see while you get lost. There won’t be any palatial architecture, but there should be some beautiful farmhouses and vineyards.  This can be even more fun at harvest time, when the fields are full of active workers (who might just give you a little help getting un-lost). When you stop by a working vineyard, you get the feel for the reality of the farming that goes into winemaking.  If you get “good” lost, you can go for miles without seeing a winery, but you will see vines as far as the eye can wander.
  • Don’t get too If you really don’t know where you are nor where you’re going, look for pointers back to someplace you do know.  Despite the previous comment about road signs, you’re bound to come across a sign somewhere that points to San Francisco or Paulliac or Florence or the Long Island Expressway.  Follow one of indicated roads and things will begin to look a little more familiar.  When all else fails, ask somebody how to get back home.

Tasting Safely

Let’s say a few things right up front: Wine contains alcohol.  Alcohol is not a good thing to consume when driving.  Going wine tasting means drinking alcohol and usually requires some driving.

That’s a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it?  Here are some of our tips for wine tasting safely.

  • Know your limit. Even the most stringent state laws allow a little bit of alcohol in your blood, so it’s important for you to know how much you can sip before you hit that limit.  You can’t wait until you feel the alcohol; by then it’s already too late.
  • If you don’t know your limit, be the first driver. For one thing, don’t go wine tasting alone.  If you know you can’t take a lot, do your share of the driving before the sipping begins.

Photo courtesy of Cal Limo.

  • Or hire someone to drive. There are cabs, limo services and Lyft/Uber.  Yes, it adds to the cost.  But it ensures your safety from being pulled over and surely reduces your vulnerability to accidents.
  • Sip, don’t drink. That should be the motto for all wine tasting.  The idea is to taste the wines so you know what to buy later on.  If you’re finishing every glass put in front of you, you’re drinking too much to be safe on the road.
  • Share a tasting. If you and your companion share a tasting and only sip; and if you taste, say, five wines at any given winery, you’re likely to consume around a half a glass of wine each.  If you figure in the time for looking around the winery, talking with the server, maybe buying some wine, it will take up an hour.  Thus, if you visit six wineries and take an hour for lunch, you’ll consume three glasses in seven hours.  Is that within your limit?  If so, you have a plan for a fine day of tasting in Wine Country.  If not, see the advice above.

Photo courtesy of Texas Lone Star Valet.

  • Deal with the exceptions. There are some wineries that only have seated tastings and don’t permit sharing.  Often these are the makers of some of the finest wines in their region and you don’t want to restrict yourself to a sip or two.  It is not for us to discourage you from some of the best experiences in wine tasting.  But if you particularly want to taste the Cabernet Sauvignon, go light on the Chardonnay.  And maybe avoid seeing the bottom of the glass of the Merlot and the Malbec.  These tastings tend to be longer, so perhaps they will account for half your day.  And if you find you have consumed more wine than you expected to, cut the day short.
  • If you’re going to consume alcohol, put some food in your belly too.  Always have breakfast before going wine tasting.  Keep some crackers, chips or pretzels in the car to have something to nibble on, along with a bottle of water.  Always stop for lunch.  In fact, you should generally make lunch a part of your wine tasting experience.  As a rule, areas where people appreciate wine have good restaurants, too.  And picnicking at a winery is a treat.

 

 

A Guide to Pronouncing French Wines

We know many Americans who are dedicated wine lovers and who enjoy going wine tasting.  They love French wines but can’t pronounce them properly. Here’s a little guide by Power Tasting to help American wine tasters through the thickets of pronouncing French wines.

  • For some reason, we Americans find the red wines of France easier to pronounce. We have no problems with Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec.  If there’s one that needs a little help, it’s Petit Verdot, the blending grape of Bordeaux.  It’s pronounced peh-TEE VAIR-doe.
  • Sauvignon Blanc – The legend, perhaps apocryphal, is that Robert Mondavi decided not to call his Sauvignon Blanc by its proper name because he thought Americans couldn’t pronounce Sauvignon. He called it Fumé Blanc instead.  The irony is that we all do very well with Sauvignon but get the Blanc part wrong.  Most Americans say “blonk”.  The right way is “blah” with your voice going down at the end.  The “c” doesn’t get mentioned at all.
  • Chardonnay – We’ve got that one right.

Photo courtesy of the Wine Scholar Guild.

  • Sémillon – This is the primary white grape of Bordeaux and as such deserves respect. Saying “seh-MILL-un” is not right.  It’s pronounced “say-MEE-yon” and it’s even sweeter when it’s made into Sauternes, which, by the way, is pronounced “SO-turn”.  Do not pronounce the “s” at the end.
  • Champagne – This is a tough one. Americans know how to say “SHAM-pain”.  But the French say “shahm-PAH-nya”.   This is one case where Americans are better off with the American pronunciation.
  • Loire whites – We’ll let Americans off the hook with the “r” in Vouvray, since that back-of-the-throat thing isn’t even universal among French speakers. But Sancerre is “SAHN-sair” and Muscadet is “MOS-ca-day”.  And there’s Chenin Blanc.  We’ve already covered the Blanc part; the first word is sheh-NAN and you never pronounce the “c” at the end of Blanc.
  • Rhône whites – Marsanne and Roussanne are pieces of cake, as long as you pronounce the “a” in each of them as “ah”. Viognier is “VEE-on-yay”.  We think Americans had these down anyway.
  • Alsatian whites – No problem with Riesling, but Gewürztraminer needs work. For one thing, it’s a German grape, not a French one.  For another, that umlaut over the “u” causes no end of trouble.  Finally, there are several acceptable variations on how to pronounce it.  So here goes: ge-VOORTZ-tram-un-er.  Except for that pesky umlaut, which makes you try to say OO and EE at the same time.  Americans, stick with OO.  Now, there’s a family of German grapes called Traminer, pronounced the way you’d think it should be, TRAM-in-er.  Gewürz means spicy, so Gewürztraminer means spicy Traminer.  But that confuses the pronunciation for some people, who would prefer to say ge-VOORTZ-tra-MEE-ner.  Both pronunciations are correct, which is why most Americans just say “ge-WURTZ” and get on with it.  You really can’t blame them.