The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Talking Italian Wine

Posted on | July 29, 2010 | Written by Will Di Nunzio | No Comments

In my time here at Italian Wine Merchants, I’ve had plenty of people tell me that one of the biggest problems they have with Italian wines is saying their names. Being fluent in the Italian language and talking its wine on a daily basis, I thought I could help our readers learn some basics, because neither faulty pronunciation nor fear of the same should stand in the way of enjoying fine wine. I offer these quick rules on pronouncing and understanding Italian wines.


1.  The Italian language is phonetic, so all letters are pronounced when reading.

2.  Vowels and Letters are pronounced differently than in English, though unlike English, vowel pronunciation doesn’t change:

• “e” is not “ee” as in “tree” but “eh” as in “egg”

• “i” sounds like the “ee” in tree

• “a” is the “a” in “apple”

• “o” is the “o” in “pot”

• “z” is like the English “z” in “zebra,” but “zz” is like the sound in “cats

• “ss” is the “s” sound in “Sassicaia”: read it as it is,. However, the “s” on its own within a word is pronounced like our “z,” so “casa” (home) is pronounced “cah-zah”

• “s” at the beginning of a word is still “s” like Sam—or Sassicaia

• “qu” followed by a vowel is pronounced like the English “kwe” in ‘question’

3.  Exceptions to the rules stated above:

• “gn” is pronounced like the Spanish “ñ,” for example: Grignolino d’Asti (gree-ñee-oh-lee-noh dah-stee)

• “ch” is pronounced “k” as in “kin” and not “ch” as in “church,” for example: Fontodi Chianti Classico (fon-toh-dee Kee-ahn-tee kla-see-coh)

• “gli” or “glie” is pronounced much like the Spanish “ll” in “Me llamo” and followed by the ‘i’ (ee) sound—for example: Frecciarossa Riesling Gli Orti  is pronounced “Ll-ee ortee”

• “ci” and “ce” is pronounced like “ch” in “church” followed by the vowel sounds “i” or “e”—this only happens when combining “c” with “i” or “e,”  but not with other vowels. To give some examples: cisterna (chee-stehr’-nah), which means “cistern” and cervo (cher’-voh), which means “deer.”

• “gi” and “ge” are similar to the above rule with the letter “c.” The “g” here sounds like the “j” in “jacket” followed by the “I” or “e” sounds. So, Bruno Giacosa is “broo-noh jee-ah-coh-sah.”

4. What to do with double letters:

• Other than “ss” and “zz,” double letters indicate that the sound should be stressed more. For example, the double “ll”s in balloon are the same as in Ornellaia.

• Double letters also have an effect on intonation; the syllable before the double letters is the one to receive the most stress on it. For example: “Sassicaia” is pronounced “SAH-see-cah-ee-ah.”

5. More on stressed syllables: It’s safe to say that almost all Italian words, without double letters or accents, are stressed on the second-to-last syllable.

• Two syllable words: If a word has two syllables, the first one is normally stressed unless there is an accent on one of the vowels in the second syllable. For example: faro (fah’-roh), which means “lighthouse,” is stressed on the first syllable. By adding an accent, the stress changes and so becomes farò (fah-roh’), meaning “I will do.”

• Three-or-more-syllable words: Here you can see that the stress rests on the penultimate syllable, for example, riserva (ri-sèr-va), Grignolino (gree-ñeeoh-li-noh),

6. Now it’s your turn to practice. Read the following and use what you have learned:

• Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo

(Fohn-toh-dee kee-ahn’-tee klah-see-coh ree-zehr-vah vee’-ñah dehl


• Quintarelli Alzero

(kween-tah-reh-lee al-zeh-roh)

• Clerico Ciabot Mentin Ginestra

(kleh-ri-coh chee-ah-boht mehn-teen jee-neh-strah)

• Case Basse di Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

(kah-zeh bah-seh dee sol-deh-rah broo-neh-loh dee mohn-tahl-chee-noh ree-zehr-vah)


With these rules in mind, you can order your next bottle of Aglianico with ease. (Just say it this way: “ah-LYAH-nee-koe.”)


Leave a Reply