What's the difference between a variety and a varietal?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Please explain the nuances between the terms “variety” and “varietal”? Webster’s says Cabernet Sauvignon is a variety. If so, why do I hear the word “varietal” used so much in reference to wine?

—Ned O., Philadelphia

Dear Ned,

A lot of folks confuse these terms—most wine lovers don’t know that one word refers to grapes, the other to wine. Varieties are types of grapes, i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, Chardonnay grapes, Zinfandel grapes, etc.

A varietal is a wine that is labeled as being made from one grape variety. Typically you’ll see varietals from New World countries, while Old World wines are more frequently labeled by their region of origin. So wines labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Zinfandel are varietals.

—Dr. Vinny

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