Bottoms up!

by Colin McIntosh

Dave and Les Jacobs/Blend Images/Getty

Have you heard the one about the vineyard in Scotland? It has never produced a drop of drinkable wine. Not a joke but, sadly, a true story. Wine from Chateau Largo, in Fife, was described as “undrinkable” – by its owner. Despite global warming, Scotland’s climate is not yet ready to make it the world’s next wine-producing region.

The wine world has expanded, though, and this is reflected in some new arrivals in the Cambridge dictionary. In the days when Britain’s national drink was tea, back in the 1950s, British oenophiles (wine connoisseurs) considered themselves lucky if they could find a decent claret (the English word for wine from Bordeaux, now somewhat old-fashioned), and the definition of wine was a drink from France. Not surprisingly, most wine-related vocabulary came from French. Wine was produced in chateaux; a waiter in a restaurant who specialized in wine was a sommelier; extra-dry champagne was described as brut. In the 1960s, tastes started to spread to Italy, Spain, and Germany; and then the revolution started. The New World (the Americas and, in a wine context, Australia and New Zealand) started to supplant Old-World wines, and some of the vocabulary began to change. A wine-producing farm in an English-speaking country is called a winery; instead of a bouquet (the characteristic smell of a wine), tasters can talk about the nose. Table wine is used in preference to vin de table.

Old-World wines were usually named according to their region of origin (for example Burgundy, from the French region called Bourgogne in French, and Chianti, from Italy). New-World wines, on the other hand, derive their names from the type of grape used in their production, in other words the varietal (for example Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Prosecco). This approach is often preferred by customers, since it gives a better idea of the taste of the wine that’s being bought. In response, some European producers, especially those from central and eastern Europe, have changed their marketing tactics and now give the grape variety top billing. Note that grape varieties (and the wines made from them) are written with a capital letter.

Not all of this stuff is the best quality, of course. Table wine is wine that is not very expensive and is of average quality. More colourful words used to talk about the cheap stuff (and often with implications of inferior quality) include plonk, from French vin blanc, or white wine, and vino (Italian and Spanish for wine):

a bottle of plonk

Would you like a drop more vino?

Fizz, which can in theory be used to refer to any fizzy drink, tends to be used for champagne or sparkling wine:

Let’s crack open the fizz!

Chateau Largo will be trying again this year, so fingers crossed for a better vintage this time. As they probably don’t say in Fife, bottoms up (cheers)!

4 thoughts on “Bottoms up!

  1. Pingback: Bottoms up! | 21st-century words

  2. Steven

    Former neighbor, then father inlaw produced from his basement a lovely spirited rubarb wine. thank you vincent

Leave a Reply