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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I hear people use the word "varietal" as a noun. Grape variety is what I believe they mean to say. "Varietal characteristic" seems fine to me, but someone saying, "Pinot Noir is my favorite varietal" is wrong, right?

—Thomas B., San Jose, Calif.

Dear Thomas,

Actually, no! They're both nouns, and Pinot Noir can be both your favorite variety and your favorite varietal, and those don't mean the same thing,

You're right about “variety”: as pertains to wine, it refers to a type of grape. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are varieties of grapes. A “varietal” is a wine labeled with a single grape variety. In the U.S., that usually means that at least 75 percent of the wine is made from that grape variety.

As my editor would point out (and did, in a blog), it’s also acceptable to use “varietal” as an adjective or adverb if you want to talk about “varietal characteristics” or call something “varietally correct.”

—Dr. Vinny

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