You Can Keep Your Varietal and Shove It Up Your Variety

Vinted on February 16, 2010 binned in best of, commentary

I am giving up on what has become a totally fruitless quest ending in a miasma of heartbreak and despair; I hereby renounce my Sisyphusian efforts, and will no longer roll this impossibly heavy boulder of writing wisdom up the mountain of populist adversity, only to have it come heaving down to crush the vulnerable bones of my hopes time and time again.

Not that I feel overly dramatic about it or anything.

What is the heart of this painful linguistic matter?  The brilliant and terrible rays of sunlight on the wax wings of my personal flight of Icarus?

It’s the rampant misuse of the word varietal.

To quote Inigo Montoya, “Joo keep using daht word. I donah tink it means what joo tink it means…”

I have seen and heard this term misused by winemakers, public relation professionals, journalists, bloggers, those who pen the copy on the back of wine labels (that one is particularly annoying), book authors – you name it.

And its effect on me is not unlike the sound of linguistic fingernails being raked across the chalkboard of my wine-writing soul.  It’s almost as bad as confusing contractions (e.g., “its” vs. “it’s”).  Almost.  So it’s not the worst writing sin I’ve seen in the wine world.  But it’s damn close.

I give up trying to convince everyone to use the words variety and varietal properly.

From now on, just do whatever the hell you want.


Even though it doesn’t mean the same as “variety…”

Even though its [<– Editor’s Note: correct use without contraction] primary definition is as an adjective, not a noun (unless it’s [<—Editor’s Note: Ah-hah!] being used to represent a wine made primarily from one grape variety)…

Even though you could easily run a define:varietal search in Google and get this in return…:


Of, indicating, or characterizing a variety, especially a biological variety.


A wine made principally from one variety of grape and carrying the name of that grape.

Just go ahead an use varietal any damn way that you want.  See if I care.  I give up, I tell ya!

Ok.  I’m exhausted now.  I’m sorry I got all serious on you, but at least now you know how I feel, right dear?

I think I need a drink.

Maybe I’ll go for a varietal wine that is made from a single grape variety like Cabernet Sauvignon.  You know, one that really displays the typical varietal characteristics of the variety… ah, f*ck it…!






  • mikedexter

    I'm glad you're giving up this quest. To me, the grammar used to describe wine matters just about as much as the color of the font on the bottle. Please focus more on the finished product and let the language-impared enjoy it just the same.

  • John

    Just crank up some Rush and this will soon be a distant memory.

  • Richard Scholtz

    Joe, after reading that, I'm even more confused as to which usage is appropriate for each condition.

  • 1WineDude

    It's just occurred to me that maybe I just have issues… :-)

    • Dale Cruse

      It JUST occurred to you?!

      • 1WineDude


  • Sean P. Sullivan

    Were you by chance the caller in this YouTube video? :)

  • Arthur

    You writed this thing good. It iz bangin'
    You are a a blogger of the good varietal.

    Brawndo. Mondo good.

  • Benito

    With a bit of minor mental gymnastics, there's a way to wrap your head around this. It doesn't happen often in English, but there are times when the adjective comes after the noun: "knight errant", "Attorney General". Thus, "grape varietal" could be grammatically correct with grape as the noun and varietal used in its traditional form as the adjective.

    Of course, this battle was lost a hundred years ago when "plastic" became a noun. :)

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, all – I especially like the "knight errant" explanation!

  • Ted

    I gave up on correcting people that call all sparkling wine "Champagne". It used to drive me crazy but I guess its kinda like telling people they can't say "Kleenex" but must use the proper "facial tissue"

    • @vinotology

      I had to give up on this one too. I kept thinking I was doing people a service, but I could tell by their reactions that they just thought I was being a douche bag.

  • Ron Washam, HMW

    I don't mind if folks use varietal instead of variety. It just indicates that they know wine but English isn't their first language. Or that they just don't care. Language is a constantly morphing beast, as it should be, and if you can't beat 'em, f**k 'em.

  • El Jefe

    I just love the varietal of subjects covered on this blog!

  • 1WineDude

    Sure, guys – kick me while I'm down… ;-)

  • David McDuff

    Benito's errant. And I just can't let it slide that mdexter managed to misspell "impa[i]red" in his "don't worry about it" response. This has killed me for ages, so I'm glad to know I'm in good company.

  • Kimberly

    Ah geez, I thought I knew the appropriate use of the word "varietal," but now I'm not so sure. I read, re-read, and re-read again the def above and I still don't know if I know the approproiate use of the word! : ) Oh well. Better pour myself another glass of this grape-y red stuff and think about it.

    • 1WineDude

      So I've managed to make this *worse*? Oh no!

  • 1WineDude

    I feel compelled to point out that Karen MacNeil misused the word varietal today during our Wine Writers Symposium blind tasting session on offbeat CA reds.

    So, if I hadn't abandoned all hope of this quest before today, my hopes for showing the world the path of righteousness on this topic have been officially and totally shattered now.


    • Maggie

      Sounds like you need to forget this endeavor, open a bottle (varietal of your choice) and watch Princess Bride…I mean it! ;)

      • 1WineDude

        "Anybody want a peanut?"

        Sorry… couldn't resist… I'm addicted to movie quotes…

  • Chris Donatiello

    You can always help me with my quest to obliterate the phrases "really unique" and "very Historic" from the english language.

    In the mena time (and feeling a kinship with you) I would like to suggest "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" by Lynne Truss

    • @vinotology

      My pet peeve is when people use the word "literally" immediately before describing something figurative. Like when sports announcers say something like, "LaDainian Tomlinson literally stopped on a dime." Oh really? What the hell was a dime doing sitting at the 40 yard line of a football field?

      • 1WineDude

        HA!!! Thanks for giving me another thing that I will now notice every time that it happens…

    • 1WineDude

      I really need to read that book (would make a great birthday gift for me, btw… which is coming up in March… :-)

  • winebratsf

    I am hanging my head in shame. I am a guilty blogger in this regard as I don't always know when varietal ends and variety begins, I do however know that an It's It is a tasty ice cream delight.

  • @raelinn_wine

    I totally love it! I am a varietal/variety adjective/noun distinction kind of girl! …

  • Cork

    Dude, really? Journalism, grammar and semantics…really? Although, I'm now looking forward to you future post re.: its-it's; effect-affect; and the riveting your-you're. Also, please note that I've updated my will this AM, and that on my transition to, well, whatever is next you will receiving, from my writer's bookshelf, 'The Gregg Reference Manual,' 'The Wine Business Monthly Writer's Style Guide' and the dogeared 'Language in Thought and Action.' So, with that behind us, just when are we getting our Dude back? You know, The Dude whose passion isn't based on grammar, but on his journey into the world of wine. The one that was so well described by the Cohen Brother's: "The Dude Abides. I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there, The Dude, takin' her easy for all us sinners."



  • Cork

    Oh, crikey..two quick but necessary edits to my comment post… your instead of you..Coen Brother's instead of Cohen more post wine party, pre-coffeee IV commenting.. Captain Judy, my high school English teacher is rolling over in his grave at the moment…..

  • Ryan Reichert

    This drives me crazy too, though I have to say I was a serious offender before reading a piece in Wines & Vines on the matter. Then I went back and changed everything I’d ever written! I say carry on Joe – people don’t deserve to be ignorant! Cheers!

  • @girlwithaglass

    I find myself tongue-tied now when I talk about variety/varietal. I think it makes me look more like an idiot probably. :)

  • 1WineDude

    Funnily enough, I was "correcting" Janet Myers (Mt. Vedeer and Franciscan wine director) on this yesterday… we had a good laugh over it.

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks, all! Don't feel dumb about this – smarter people than me (ok, well, that's a lot of people…) are making this mistake!

    Also – I'll be back soon! On my way to the Right Coast now so I can get back to bloggin' and share my twisted thoughts on this Napa jaunt…


  • Leah Hennessy

    Your use of Inigo Montoya in this post is beyond impressive.

    • 1WineDude

      Lemme explain… no, is no time… lemme sum up!

  • whitesidejw

    Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW is top notch in the wine-smarties department. The real "Wine for Dummies" book is probably the best single resource for anyone starting out in wine. I did not know there was a pocket version of the same, but since it does exist, you should buy it over other bullshit books.

    • 1WineDude

      I'm guessing you wanted to post this comment on the article about the $1 pocket book, bro. Of course, I agree with you that she is badass – I've never met her, though.

  • @wedwardes

    Re: the sentence: "Just go ahead an use varietal any damn way that you want. See if I care. I give up, I tell ya!"

    Maybe I could get used to "varietal" instead of "variety".

    And maybe even "ya" instead of "you".

    But it will be a while before I get comfortable with "an" as an acceptable abbreviation of "and".

    • 1WineDude

      Warren – Well, the whole sentence is facetious… the whole article, in way, as well… or is humor (or humour) officially dead in the UK now? :)

  • @wedwardes

    Well so was my comment. I was going to add that I had got used to "color". ;-)

    One of the pitfalls of writing on language is that several proof-reads are required. Such as this post of mine

    On topic, good point re varietal / Variety. I was about to write on it until I saw your year-old post. Timing is everything.

    • 1WineDude

      :) Cheers, Warren!

  • William Allen

    thank. f***** god. :p

    • 1WineDude

      William – hey bro, you lost me on this one, what’s this in response to? Also, sorry for ending that question with a preposition :-)

The Fine Print

This site is licensed under Creative Commons. Content may be used for non-commercial use only; no modifications allowed; attribution required in the form of a statement "originally published by 1WineDude" with a link back to the original posting.

Play nice! Code of Ethics and Privacy.

Contact: joe (at) 1winedude (dot) com





Sign up, lushes!

Enter your email address to subscribe and get all the good stuff via email.

Join 37,173 other subscribers