Daily Archives: March 21, 2010


This word strikes me as rather masculine in its initial appearance. I mean, look – it starts off with xy, the male chromosomes. Whatever it is, it’s no ma; and if you find the nom Avro in it, well, Avro made fighter jets, which are pretty masculine things, no? So this word might seem to be juiced up – full of spit and vinegar (or whatever that phrase was).

There’s an interesting thing about it, though: it has a certain vocalic hermaphroditism in the form you see – or at least her-mavro-ditism. You see the tail on the y? That v is really a y that has had its bit bobbed. Well, more to the point, both are the same letter in Greek – upsilon, a letter that once had an [u] sound, then moved front to be like German ü ([y]), and in modern Greek is an [i] sound… except between another vowel and a consonant, where it long ago took on a [v] sound (or [f] if the consonant is voiceless). Upsilon is most often represented in the Latin alphabet with y. But not, of course, when it stands for [v].

So this masculine word may seem a bit emasculated. An oxymoron? Or maybe just sour grapes?

In fact, it is sour grapes – sour black grapes, to be precise. That’s what the word means literally: “sour black” (or “acid black”). It’s the name of a kind of grape. Guess where they grow it? (Hint: northern Greece.) And guess what the juice from these grapes is loaded with? (I’ll give you this one: tannins. Tannic acid.) In fact, they ferment the juice from these grapes in special tanks to cut down on the tannins (see www.tonyaspler.com).

But good winemaking – and sometimes good blending too – can produce good results from some rather challenging grapes. There are some nice xynomavro wines out there, with lots of structure and with notes such as cedar, red berries, currants, even some floral hints. And because of the tannins, they tend to age well. So never mind the o‘s – the pucker factor is not so pronounced; it’s no ax on the tongue (though, to use the standard disclaimer abbreviation, YRMV (your results may vary)). And, you know, you can even get a quite pleasant sparkling red wine from it. Don’t worry, you can drink it without being a girly-man… just say this word and it’ll put hair on your chest.