The letters of the columnist and speechwriter William Safire have recently been digitized by the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Libraries, making available a wide range of correspondence, including letters with people ranging from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to actor Charlton Heston. But one particular letter is worth resurfacing this week, for National Wine Day on Thursday.
In August of 1985, Safire devoted his On Language column in the New York Times to the issue of, as he put it, “wine without caps.” At issue was the question of which kinds of wines had their names capitalized and which didn’t. Though dictionaries differed on the rules, Safire acknowledged, he decided to lay down the law. The simplified version of Safire’s rules of wine capitalization is as follows: Wines that are named precisely after the place from whence they come retain their uppercased beginnings; wine names that are the names of other places, or that are related to but not precisely place names, do not (for example, he said, chianti from California); kinds of grapes are generally not capitalized.
“Think up before you drink up,” Safire wrote.
Not long after, he received this appreciative note from someone who had reason to understand why his rules mattered:
The digitized portion of William Safire collection at Syracuse University can be browsed at the Syracuse University Libraries website.