Here are some pro-tips in wine speak by my favorite Singaporean Wine Writer, Kenny Leong. Visit his site at The Word Count. (original post here)
WORD ABUSE — VARIETY VS VARIETAL
by Kenny Leong
In my years of reading magazines and materials and speaking with writers, PR professionals, wine dealers, bloggers, educators, and virtually everyone who has anything and everything to do with food and wine, I've come to the conclusion that the two most abused and misused terms in our field are:
1) Molecular gastronomy
2) Varietal wine/grape
It's funny, because these are people (instead of your pedestrian "foodies") that you'd think might actually understand the words they're using.
I'll save "molecular" for another day, since that's a bit more complicated than "varietal", and I'm a bit, uh, nervous about the looming deadlines this week.
The second is much easier to understand. A lot of people say "varietal" when they mean "variety", and rather surprisingly, even people who've been in the wine industry for many years still make that mistake.
First, we need to understand that:
Variety → noun
Varietal → adjective
A variety is a thing, an object, whereas "varietal" describes a thing or object, such as a bottle of wine. In other words, in common wine terms, a variety refers to the grape, while a varietal is a contraction of "varietal wine", meaning a wine that's made from a single (or from a dominant) grape variety.
Variety → Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Riesling, etc.
Varietal wine → Chateau Whatchamacallit Pinot Noir, Domaine Whathisname Riesling, etc.
So if you're referring to the botanical variety (there!) or cultivar of the grape, it's "variety". And if you're referring to a wine made from a single grape variety, it's "varietal wine" or "varietal" for short.