What is a wine varietal?

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Wine varietals are produced primarily from a single grape variety
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Many wine-lovers-in-the-making wonder what a wine varietal is.

A wine varietal is a wine made primarily from one wine grape variety. In most wine regions, at least 75% of a wine varietal must be made from a single grape variety. You can distinguish a wine varietal by its label; in lieu of a branded name or vineyard, the label will feature the name of the grape variety. Quality wines use varietal labeling to compete with wines that have bigger marketing budgets and those named by popular wine regions.

Most wine experts agree that the primary factor of a wine's flavor is the type and quality of the grape variety used. Other factors that contribute to a wine's flavor include the location where the grapes were grown, the skills of the vineyardist and the vintner's techniques and equipment.

Wine varietals are occasionally confused with wine blends. Unlike varietals, wine blends contain a combination of different grape varieties to produce a complex flavor and to balance different characteristics of grape varieties. Wine blends are easily distinguished by their labels, which include the names of at least two wine grape varieties.

Ask a vintner or wine lover about wine varietals and they rave about the purity of flavor. While you may appreciate the taste of a wine varietal upon first sip, it takes some time to learn the characteristics of grape varieties to the point where you can distinguish them by taste. 

White Wine Grape Varieties:

Chardonnay grapes can survive in a number of climates and grow in different regions, including France and California. Full bodied and smooth with hints of citrus, and often referred to as "buttery", Chardonnay pairs well with fish and chicken.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc grows exceptionally well in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Its flavor is a mix of sour and tropical, herbal and slightly fruity with bright aromas. You can pair Sauvignon Blanc with white meats and salads.


Riesling grapes are primarily grown in Germany and the eastern coast of the United States. Riesling varietals taste more subtle than most white wine varietals and pair well with white meats. The crisp taste of Riesling usually improves with age.


As you may have guessed by the name, Gerwurztraminer is a German varietal, though it's also grown in the United States. The taste is fruity with floral aromas that pair best with Asian food and grilled meats.

Red Wine Grape Varieties:

Many non-wine drinkers enjoy Merlot for its herbal, cherry flavors and smooth finish. It�s grown in Australia and on the west coast, and pairs well with any food.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the fullest bodied varietals, also commonly referred to as one of the best wine varietals. It pairs well with grilled meats, simple stews and bread.

Zinfandel is a zesty varietal grown primarily in California, and it's delicious with pasta!  This is a wonderful wine to choose if you're planning an Italian feast this summer....serve the meal outdoors at long tables for a true Tuscan feel.

Syrah and Shiraz
Syrah and Shiraz are two names for the same grape variety. European vintners use the Syrah label, but the grapes are also grown in California and Australia. With a peppery taste and lingering tannins, Syrahs go with red meats and produce some of the most intensely flavored red wine varietals.

Pinot Noir
Grown in New Zealand, France, the United States and Australia, Pinot Noir varietals are popular for their fruity, earthy taste and soft tannins. Chicken, fish and lamb compliment the subtle flavors of Pinot Noir.

Trying different wine varietals is simply essential if you want to develop a comprehensive understanding of a different grape varieties and to better understand the complexities of blended wines. Enjoy!

Wine and Leisure
The Wine Institute

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