25-06-2018 ~ 3 Comments

The Xarel·lo grape. Or is it Xarello, Xarel.lo, or Xarel-lo?

For those who may not know it, Xarel·lo is a wonderful white grape that, as far as we know, is native to the Penedès region of Catalunya. Able to give an upright, structured backbone as well as great acidity to both Cava and still wines alike, for some time, I’ve been a rather huge proponent of it and think there’s a huge future for the grape. While it can be prone to oxidation–much like Grenache–when made properly, Cavas such as Recaredo’s Turó d’Mota or still wines by AT Roca or Enric Soler are stupendous. There’s even an annual event for it now called “La Cimera del Xarel·lo” which has happened the same day as this article being published.

But… what the huh?

There does however exist a problem in how to say the grape as well as how to write it. The first bit is the easier one as for an English speaker it would be, sha-rel-lu. You might very well hear people saying sha-rel-lo in Catalan as that final ‘o’ can vary depending upon where the speaker is originally from, but officially it’s, sha-rel-lu. I’m sure this comes are a surprise to many, especially if you’ve read an article like Eric Asimov’s where he’s invoked some creative ways to say the grape.

“…in Catalan, it’s shah-RELL-lo; in Castilian, hah-RELL-lo; in English, zah-RELL-oh…”

I like Eric’s writing a good deal but I’m not really sure his mention of hah-rell-lo comes from as any Castilian speaker in Spain will, if anything pronounce it as charello given that the ‘sh’ sound doesn’t exist an is essentially impossible for anyone who isn’t bilingual to say it. There’s even a running joke where a Spanish television reporter named, Maria Teresa Campos called the grape, “Chanel 10” (Chanel Diez), which producers of the wines take as a compliment given that one must assume this to be a huge step up from the famous perfume, Chanel N°5. This has continued to be a running joke and if you ever see “#Xarel-10”, it’s a reference to this.

In English, I’ve often heard it said as Zarello which, while not the actual pronunciation, isn’t a bad guess. If talking to someone about, I’ll try to correct them as lightly as I can as usually they say it in a way that asks, “I don’t know if this is correct, but… Zarello?” But again, if it comes up, and I’m sure it well as this grape has a solid future, it’s pronounced, sha-rel-lu.

Woe be the interpunct

Now comes the harder part of writing the grape name. It always amazes me that people will go to great lengths to spell Mourvèdre, Carménère, Albariño, or Blaufränkisch with their correct diacritical marks yet for some reason Xarel·lo got the short shrift on this. The BBC strips all marks that aren’t standard in the English language from words and it drives me bonkers as it changes pronunciations, but it is consistent. I’m not sure why the Xarel-lo or Xarel.lo spellings came about but the reasoning behind them was that the interpunct or punt volat(·) (flying dot) isn’t standard on keyboards and thus it would be easier for it to be a hyphen or period.

It should have just been removed completely to be “Xarello” as an English speaker would approximate this ‘ll’ correctly in terms of sound. This is in fact the point of the interpunct as without it, in both Spanish and Catalan this becomes the standard “elya” sound that doesn’t exist in English. With the interpunct it’s more Italian-ish with two defined ‘l’ sounds which makes sense given that the name is thought to originate from “chiarello” or “light”. This “how does it sound in English” was apparently some of the logic in the “Wine Grapes” book to write it as “Xarello” and while I understand their thinking, if you’re creating what has become regarded as the most definitive reference on wine grapes, I’d think you’d want the original names in there as much as possible, especially as it states “Xarel·lo” to be a synonym when it isn’t, it’s the actual name. I have to think that Spanish registrars mangling any name that isn’t Castilian must have something to do with this as well.

It’s also not the case that this isn’t a “random” character as it exists on all modern versions of the Spanish keyboard (Alt Gr+3) and it also exists on some extended UK keyboards as it was a character used quite heavily to denote a decimal point prior to the “.” winning out. But more to the point, it doesn’t matter if you regularly find it on a keyboard as I don’t find the characters for the Romanian grape, Băbească Neagră on my keyboard but if I’m writing a reference book, I will most definitely make sure that they’re there.

But to close: write it Xarel·lo, say it sha-rel-lu, and most importantly, drink it plentifully and with great abandon.