After Virgil Sollozzo offers a potential salary to Luca Brasi at the bar, Luca Brasi replies “Menge.” The translation on the screen read “Really.”
If you speak Italian, my apologies for the language, but since I am starting off with a movie scene, or sometimes with a song, or both; it must be time for the Monthly Wine Writers Challenge, and the theme for this challenge was picked by the last winner Nesli of Wi.Nes and she chose “translation.” Another poser, at least for me, and trying to figure out how it would relate to wine. After all, don’t all things end up relating to wine? Even though I am not Roman Catholic, this article should be dedicated to St. Jerome, the scholar who translated the Old Testament from Hebrew to Latin in the version known as the Vulgate. St. Jerome is considered the patron saint of translators. I am fortunate that another hobby of mine, also requires the ability to translate information from one language to another, as sometimes the only reference material available was published in another country. Imagine how much fun it is looking up an Italian item, in a French catalogue, so that it can be written about in English. Let me say that in no way, do I consider myself a linguist or a scholar, but I do muddle my way through most endeavors that I encounter.
It would be much easier for Americans, if everything was labeled in English, but that is not the way of the world. Let us take a look at a French wine, and see what is there. The label reads “Grand Vin de Chateau Latour; Premier Grand Cru Classe; Appellation Pauillac Controlee; Pauillac-Medoc; 1961; Mis en Bouteille au Chateau.” The label may use the Roman alphabet, but it is not English, so does a novice wine drinker decide to look at another bottle? There are a few words that we should all know how to translate when we are buying wine. “Grand Vin” has no official designation in French wine laws and is just superfluous puffery meaning “great wine” and any label can say this, but if one knows any of the great wines, this statement is true for this wine. “De Chateau Latour” just means that the wine is from Chateau Latour, the name of the estate. “Premier Grand Cru Classe” is an important statement, where Grand Vin is not important, Grand Cru is; it means that the wine is acknowledged to be a famed estate and the winery is pleased to have that on their label. The only caveat is that the famed Chateau Mouton-Rothschild up until 1970, never acknowledged the Classification until they were moved from the top of the Second Class to the First Class, but that is the only instance that I can think of. “Appellation Pauillac Controlee” means that the wine is guaranteed to be from the Pauillac district of the Medoc, and the Appellation laws of France precede the laws that the Common Market has allowed countries to list for noted wine districts and the label also tells us that this wine was from the stellar vintage year of 1961. “Mis en Bouteille au Chateau” tells us that the wine was bottled at the chateau and it never left the control of the winemaker, even many of the smaller estates have adopted this practice as well, to let the world know that the wine never leaves the grounds until it is sold.
Now onto another bottle of wine from Germany that had its own rules in place about wines before entering the Common Market as well. As we look at this wine label we can read “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Qualitatswein mit Pradikat, 1971, Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese.” While some may see gibberish, this label is extremely tight and factual and very Teutonic in its simplicity. “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer” is an older term to describe the noted wine district, nowadays it seems to have been shortened to just “Mosel.” “Qualitatswein mit Pradikat” is very important in the wine laws of Germany. The term Tischwein means table wines, and Qualitatswein means that this is above table wines and has pedigree that has been acknowledged for ages, similar to the appellation controlee laws of France, whereas the term “mit Pradikat” elevates this wine to a higher ranking, because the grapes were harvested after the initial harvest, to allow more sugar to be concentrated. “Erdener” means that it comes from the village of Erden, in much the same way as one would refer to a Detroiter or a New Yorker. “Treppchen” is the name of the actual vineyard that the wine was harvested from, which is located in the Erden boundaries. “Riesling” is actually the name of the grape, which seems simple, but since certain areas are famed for growing more than one grape, the grape is listed. “Auslese” is the term that brought the “mit Pradikat” into play and the first three steps of “Pradikat” and there are more; Kabinet, Spatlese and Auslese.
I will take a look at one more label, where translating is not as easy to decipher. Italy has a long history of wine making and while in some areas there are very stringent laws, other areas there are those that are creating new rules. Let us take a look at a label that reads “Gaja, Barolo, Denominazion Di Origine Controllata E Garanita, Sperss, 1991.” “Gaja” refers to Angelo Gaja one of the “modernists” in a very traditional area of winemaking and one of the few that stuck by his guns with his convictions. “Barolo” is a very famed and lauded area of the Piedmont and by law it requires the Nebbiolo grape and there are rules about how the wine is to be aged and stored. “Denominazion Di Origine Controllata E Garanita” is the Italian version of the appellation controls on steroids, the DOC version is similar to AOC, whereas the DOCG is much more exacting. “Sperrs” is the colorful name for the wine as is Piedmontese for nostalgia, because Gaja had ceased making Barolo wines, because he originally bought his grapes from Serralunga to make this wine and he ceased making it in 1961, because he felt that he should only produce estate wine, so when he bought the property in 1988 he was back making Barolo wines. At first, because of his being such a maverick, this wine was going to carry the lower classification of Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, but as you can see it is now Barolo DOCG.
Since I started with an Italian phrase, I shall end with an Italian statement. Credo che tutto questo tradurre mi ha fatto sete e ho bisogno di un bicchiere di vino, prima del prossimo articolo. “I think all of this translating has made me thirsty and I need a glass of wine, before the next article.”