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September 15, 2010

The Grape Escape: Êtes-vous un oenophile?

To reinvent an old joke about engineers, “Not long ago, I didn’t even know what an oenophile was, and now I are one.”

It might surprise you to learn that one of the most frequently asked wine questions I field is, “What’s the fancy word for ‘wine lover’?” The obscure and rather formal term is “oenophile,” pronounced “ee-no-file.” It comes from the ancient Greek, along with many similar words for enthusiasts and hobbyists, from “bibliophile” (book lover) to “logophile” (word lover). White Castle-ophile, anyone?

“Oeno-” comes from “oenos,” the Greek word for “wine,” with the familiar “-phile” (one who loves) tacked on. A long list of related “oeno-” words includes “oenology” (the study of wine), along with some truly obscure items gleaned from the Oxford English Dictionary, like “oenomania” (an intense craving for wine), “oenomancy” (divination or fortune-telling by means of wine) and even “oenophobist” — one who has a dread of or aversion to wine.

In modern times, the original “oe-” spelling seems to be dropping the “o,” shortening “oenophile” to “enophile,” as has happened at the prestigious Department of Viticulture and Enology of the University of California at Davis.

Are you an oenophile? An enophile? Personally, I find both terms just a bit too pompous and formal, best reserved for those rare black-tie occasions when silver-plated “tastevin” tasting cups on purple velvet ribbon are present. Meanwhile, the plain-English “wine lover” suits me fine, or as the French put it, “amateur de vin.”