It has been quite a while since I have stepped into a classroom as an instructor but merely reflecting on the moments that my foot crossed the threshold from hallway mayhem to learning space meant an odd mixture of exhilaration and angst. I am not sure if other educators feel the same, but as a teacher, I knew I was always in charge of what went on in the four corners of the room, but I did not always feel as if I were in control.
As a teacher of French, a large portion of my trepidation centered on the inescapable fact that I am not a native speaker. My French is by no means bad, in fact, I have been told it is quite good, but always in the back of my rather muddled mind is the insecurity that I am making a mistake when speaking the language that I started studying way back in high school. At the root of my apprehension is of course syntax, but also accent or pronunciation.
Even now, when a situation presents itself that references my experience with the French language, my first response is always to pause and address that inherent uncertainty that I felt nearly every time I entered my classroom. Thus prior to opening my big mouth, I at least want to be fairly confident that I am correct before I state that someone has been misguided or worse, categorically wrong.
So here I go:
You are probably pronouncing “Alicante Bouschet” incorrectly.
Now many of you likely just had any number of thoughts pass through your mind including “who the heck cares?” (or more colorful derivations of the same idea). And that is fine, but having studied French for oh-so-many years and starting my doctoral program in linguistics before switching to educational policy (once I realized that linguists often pass their time engaged in often inane discussions about word usage or pronunciation), I can no longer let it go.
Some of you likely know that Alicante Bouschet is a grape variety. A smaller subset likely knows that it usually produces rather big and robust wines and has found a happy home in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Still fewer know, perhaps, that it is a teinturier–one of the few winemaking grapes (Vitis vinifera for those keeping score at home) that actually has red juice (almost all red wines acquire color from contact with the skins, not from the clear juice).
And nearly all of you are pronouncing it poorly.
Most get “Bouschet” (Boo-shay) right–which was the last name of the Henri Bouschet who crossed Grenache and Petit Bouschet in 1866 to make the variety (Petit Bouschet had been created by Henri’s father, Louis).
No, the problem is with “Alicante.” For some reason, most people insist on saying “Al-ee-con-tay.”
In French, (like in English, for goodness sakes), a terminal “e” is rarely pronounced unless there is an accent over it (i.e., “é” as in résumé). Some have tried to explain that the name “Alicante” was taken from a port town in Spain and thus the pronunciation above.
Henri Bouschet was French and as such he would never name his creation after anything Spanish. No, the name comes from what the French at the time called Grenache: Alicante, which is pronounced “Al-ee-kahnt.”
So there you go.
For homework, repeat the proper pronunciation a hundred times, preferably while sipping some of the fabulous Alicante Bouschet wines from Alentejo, a few of which are below.
2013 Doña Maria Vinho Regional Alentejano Grande Reserva: Retail $45. 50% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Petit Verdot, 20% Syrah, 10% Touriga Nacional. Dark, even brooding in the glass with some fruit but mostly balsamic and peppery notes. The palate is fruity and inviting– nowhere near the brutish beast I was anticipating based on nose. Good balance, plenty of fruit, tasty. More than a hint of tannin suggests some cellaring potential. A great example of why I really love Alentejo. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2013 Herdade do Esporão Portalegre Vinha das Palmeiras: Retail $45. 100% Alicante Bouschet. Big, rich, and slightly stewed, this immediately comes off as a big boy with dark berry fruit and a bit of earth. The palate, while still rich, is a bit more subdued (can a really fruity wine be subdued?). Good balance, due to the tartness, but also thanks to the tannins, which are not overbearing, but still pronounced. Listen, this is not a subtle wine, but it is delicious and should improve over the next half-dozen years. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2016 Herdade dos Grous Vinho Regional Alentejano Moon Harvested: Retail $25. 100% Alicante Bouschet. When I visited Alentejo a couple of years ago, Grous was not on the agenda. We had a dozen wineries to visit in half as many days and there was simply no time to visit any more. Too bad. On my next visit to the region, Grous is on the top of my list. If it were possible to be darker than “inky” this would be exhibit A. Cassis, blackberry, and bramble, this is a hedonistic red wine lover’s dream. Equally brooding on the palate with the darkest of fruit, earthy mid-palate, and an ominous finish. This just might be Vader’s favorite wine as it is 100% Dark. Not my style, but it makes me consider, at least for a moment, going over to that side. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2013 Herdade do Mouchão Tinto Alentejo: Retail $60. 100% Alicante Bouschet. It has been a couple of years since I visited Mouchão, which was one of the more impressive wineries on my journey through Alentejo. The wines were fantastic and the ruggedly handsome owner, Iain Reynolds Richardson, was gracious and giving. Alicante Bouschet is practically synonymous with Mouchão, and this is a wonderful expression. It took a while to open (as in about 20 hours), but once it did. Whoa. I could not help but feeling as I was committing infanticide on this already six-year-old wine, wondering what this will be like in another decade (or more). Now? Inky-dark, juicy, luscious, this is a big boy, with plenty of power. But there is a flood of finesse behind that heft. This is perhaps the magic of Mouchão as it provides oodles of interest for those searching either intense fruit or depth. Or both. Whoa. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
2016 Herdade Do Rocim Alicante Bouschet, Vinho Regional Alentejano: Retail $20. 100% Alicante Bouschet. I received all these bottles way back in March to examine Alicante Bouschet in Alentejo, the southern region of Portugal. It is now October. I am a bit behind. When I was in Portugal a couple of years ago, I visited Rocim and was impressed with their wines and this bottle confirms that assessment: Dark red fruit, ever-so-slightly vegetal, considerable spice (black and white pepper, anise), and a richness that really comes through on the palate. Full, fruity, and luscious in the mouth with fantastic flavors and balance. This was great upon opening but near phenomenal on day two. Excellent. 91-93 Points.