How to translate 'noble rot'

29th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

A wine, spirits and beer dictionary published in France this week provides this and other useful vocabulary. Marlowe Hood reports.

Wine and whisky - or is that whiskey? - are hard enough to talk about in one language, but when the conversation turns multilingual things can get downright muddled.

Peter Dunn leading a wine-appreciation course in Dijon

Help has arrived, however, in the form of a wine, spirits and beer dictionary published in France this week that not only tells us that the French for 'corked' is 'bouchonné' (pronounced "boo-show-nay") and vice versa, but what it means too.

This is useful knowledge: next time a EUR 100 bottle in a two-star Parisian restaurant smells like fermented cork juice, one knows what to say.

Jointly compiled by Frenchmen Claude Chapuis and long-time British expatriate Peter Dunn, 'The Dictionary of Wine, Beer and Spirits of the World' is, according to the authors, unique in several regards.

"It is the first time that a dictionary has tried to cover all three beverage groups, including definitions in English and in French," Dunn told AFP by telephone from his home in Dijon, where both he and Chapuis teach at the prestigious Ecole Supérior de Commerce.

Scrupulously even-handed and precise in both languages, the 500-page tome is designed, Dunn says, to serve as a reference tool for "professionals, enlightened amateurs and students in related fields."

Historically, wine found its expression in the language of Molière whereas beer and spirits were more at home in the cadence of Shakespeare, the authors note.

*quote1*But the rising popularity of wine in the anglophone New World and the burgeoning appetite for whiskeys in France -- along with a more generalized economic globalization in which English, for better or worse, reigns supreme -- have forced each language group to expand its alcohol-related vocabulary.

Wine, however, still has pride of place and accounts for at least two thirds of the dictionary's entries, which cover the entire gamut from the finer technical points of grape growing and wine making -- "buttering the vine," for example, means covering the base of vines with soil in winter -- to the full arsenal of aromas used to describe the smell of fermented grape juice.

Thus can we discover, for example, that hints of rubber, butter and asparagus are good signs, whereas inkiness and garlic are not generally attributes found in a grand cru. Likewise, noble rot (the sine qua non of great naturally sweet wines) is good; black rot (don't ask) is not.

'Flabby' is bad, 'flinty' good. Leather, yeast and petroleum are desirable, but if your wine smells like 'wet dog' -- well, at least some things in the lexicon of wine are not counter-intuitive.

Even a few mixed drinks rate definitions, such as 'bloody Mary' (vodka and tomato juice) and 'black velvet', a diabolical concoction designed, one guesses, to inflame cross-Channel passions and which, the authors warn, is not for the faint of heart (dark ale and champagne).

'Clinton', however, is not a cocktail named after the 42nd president of the United States, but a variety of grape.

And if you want to let loose with a 'brindezingue' (one of many French words for a well-lubricated party), just order up a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne (15 liters in a single bottle, the equivalent of 20 ordinary bottles).

But if you see 'toad's eyes' in the bubbles, the sommelier should be in for a tongue lashing.

Look it up.

August 2005 Copyright AFP and Expatica

Subject: French news, wine, beer, spirits, drinking, Claude Chapuis, Peter Dunn, dictionary

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