Traveler’s Guide to Wine Slang and Idioms
Slang, always informal and local and most often amusing, and idioms can be both the delight and the bane of even the best-informed tourist. Whereas learning a new word and the story behind it for a long-time favorite is exciting and fun, missing an opportunity to try something awesome because you didn’t know what was on offer is a real disappointment. These wine slang and idioms of other countries can spice up your wine dialogue!
English-Speaking Regions of the Globe
English is spoken across the world by a plethora of different peoples and cultures for different ends. Indeed, it is often the language of science and business shared by speakers and writers for whom it is a second-, third-, or –fourth language. English’s prominence in many countries with strong heritages of international migration and very different histories also fosters a diversity in its dialects that can be a real challenge for a world traveler.
North America Wine Slang
Giggle-water (1926), giggle-juice (1939): Any kind of alcohol, but most often champagne.
Smash (1959): Wine
Speedball (1926): A glass of wine fortified with additional spirits, e.g., brandy
Dago red (1906): Wine of inferior quality, especially of Italian origin
Red ink (1919): Cheap red wine
Red biddy (1928): A mixed drink made from cheap red wine and methylated (or denatured) spirit
Great Britain and the Commonwealth Wine Slang
Pink-eye (1900): Inferior wine
Bombo (1942): Cheap wine, often fortified
Fourpenny dark (1955): Cheap wine that was originally served in a miniature mug with a handle
Plonko (1963): Someone with a taste for cheap wine
International Wine Terms
One for the road (1943): A drink taken before leaving
Fizz (1864): Champagne
Bubbly (1920): Short for the earlier and now obsolete “bubbly water”
Don’t pour new wine in old bottles: You should not try to force something new and different into an established and longstanding context.
Sweet is the wine, but sour is the payment: Actions have consequences
What is the wine slang in foreign languages?
The meaning of some food and drink idioms and expressions is quite transparent when translated literally. For example, “when the wine is in, wit is out” means “alcohol impairs cognition.”
Wine, alcohol, and their effects are so central to many cultures’ eating habits, communities, and economies that they pop up in conversations in unexpected ways that an outsider can have difficulty following.
Twee rye spore loop, literally “walk in two lines”: To be drunk
dēnghóng-jiǔlǜ, literally “lanterns red, wine green”: feasting and pleasure-seeking
French Wine Slang
Cuver son vin, literally, “to cover their wine”: to sleep off the effects of immoderation of any kind
Mettre de l’eau dans son vin, literally “to water their wine”: to let anger dissipate
Idioms of German
Einen Kater haben, literally “to have a tomcat”: to be hungover
Italian Wine Sayings
Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono, literally “there is good wine in small bottles”: bigger isn’t better.
Il vino fa buon sangue, literally “good wine makes good blood”: an apple a day keeps the doctor away
Spanish Wine Sayings
Con pan y con vino se anda el camino, literally “with bread and wine the road is walked”: life is better with food, friends, and family
Mesa sin vino, olla sin tocino, literally “table without wine, pot without bacon”
Ayto, John (Ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Slang. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Kingsbury, Stewart A. and Kelsie B. Harder (Eds.) A Dictionary of American Proverbs. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Also read: Does Expensive Wine Taste Better or Is It Just an Illusion?