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Ask Dr. Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Can you please go over the difference between "grape variety" and "varietal"? Lately I've seen the term “grouped varietals” as a reference to blends—is that a misuse?

—Simon M., Port Macquarie, NWS, Australia

Dear Simon,

I'd be happy to go over the differences, but I’ve also been trying to point out when my friends misuse the term “literally,” and that has only served to make them mad at me. Literally.

OK, here goes: “Variety” refers to a type of grape. Pinot Noir grapes, Chardonnay grapes, Syrah grapes, these are varieties of grapes.

A “varietal” is a wine that’s made from one grape variety. Pinot Noir wines, Chardonnay wines and Syrah wines are varietals, each made from one grape variety. It’s a subtle difference, but you are correct that there is a difference, even if the terms get interchanged or misused. Some people use a slightly looser definition of "varietal," taking it to mean any wine that is simply labeled as being made from one grape variety, so even though a wine labeled as a California Syrah might actually contain up to 25 percent other grape varieties, they would still refer to that wine as a "varietal."

I haven’t heard of “grouped varietals” before, but that sounds all kinds of wrong. Wines that are blends are composed of more than one variety, not varietals. Hope that helps!

—Dr. Vinny

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