We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Varietal?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The term varietal is most often used in the context of wine, as a description of the grape used in producing the wine. It may also be used by connoisseurs for crops such as coffee and chocolate, and as specialty region-specific varieties of these crops are becoming more mainstream, the term varietal is also being used more widely.

Historically, the most popular way of labeling wine has been by the region it comes from. The French are the strongest promoters of this method of labeling, with the world-famous regions of Burgundy, Champagne, and Beaujolais, to name only a few. This style of naming relies heavily on the concept of terroir – which holds that the regional qualities where the grapes are grown, such as soil type, weather, and vineyard history, are more important to the ultimate taste of the wine than the exact varietal or blend of varietals used.

When wine began seeing a surge in popularity in the United States in the post-war era, the new vineyards started to fill that demand had to determine how best to promote their wines. Since there were little or no established wine growing regions in the United States, labeling wines based on the concept of terroir seemed to be somewhat pointless. Generic labeling made inroads in many places, usually taking the form of the state in which the grapes were grown, followed by the French appellation the wines most closely emulated. This gave rise to wines with names such as California Chablis and California Burgundy, for example, which were later replaced by the varietal names Chardonnay and Merlot respectively.

In the 1950s, the concept of varietal naming – which had some popularity in other regions of the world, such as the Alsace region of France – was promoted by a number of prominent importers and distributors in the United States. Consumers immediately latched on to varietal naming, which offered a much simpler alternative to generic naming for determining roughly what a wine would taste like. Rather than having to remember thousands of appellations, sub-regions, and châteaux, buyers could remember a handful of varietal names. Initially, in the United States, a wine had to be made from at least 51% of a grape variety to be labeled as that varietal, a number that was raised to 75% in 1973. The list of grape varietals is extensive, but some of the most popular are Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Gamay, Gewürztraminer, Petit Sirah, Sangiovesse, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Vigonier.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Aug 20, 2011

For a while I really wouldn't pay much attention to what kind of wine I was drinking with each meal, aside from trying to match reds to red meat and whites to lighter meat and vegetables.

But, then my friend showed me how much better everything tastes if you match the wines up properly. It's pretty easy to find a guide online for what goes with what.

My favorite is Gewürztraminer with spicy foods. You basically can't drink any other kind of wine with spicy food without it tasting really strange. But, for some reason this kind of wine varietal works really well with it.

Or you could drink beer with it, that works as well.

By lluviaporos — On Aug 19, 2011

I think that the fact that they are starting to name the varietals in chocolates is a good thing. If all the chocolate in a bar comes from the same place, it makes it easier to say whether it is fair trade or not.

Lots of chocolate is made with terrible working conditions for the people who grow the cocoa beans. By making it more normal to name the place the cocoa comes from, and making it normal to expect it to be pure, that could help to cut down on such terrible practices.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.