Wine,Wine Business

You say pot-A-to, I say poe-tah-toe… You say varietal, I say variety…

I’m a stickler for using the right word.

Someone once said to me,

“‘It is I?’ …. Isn’t it, ‘It’s me?'”

No… sorry, you missed school the day that one was explained. “Is” is a copulative verb (the verb “to be”), and takes a subjective pronoun after any use of the verb “to be.” It is I, it is she, it is he, it is they, it is we… etc.)
When I came into the wine business, I learned most of what I did from others for the first few years. Then, I decided to take copious college units to catch up, which included viticulture, enology, sales, marketing, PR, Spanish I and II, wine components… the list goes on…

In all of that, I never came across which word is correct to use in which instance; “variety” and/or “varietal.” Then, on a wine blog I saw something that made me stop and take notice.

David Graves of Saintsbury Vineyard made reference to the misuse of the word “varietal.”

He certainly got my attention. I didn’t know I could be using the word incorrectly. I sent David an E-mail asking him to please explain… Because I have to write so much, and use the word as much as a mother uses the word “milk” with kids, I don’t want to be misusing either word.

Here’s his explanation, and we all need to take notice, if we’re responsible for copy writing…

“Variety is a noun, and varietal is an adjective, which I learned at UC Davis.”

Today, the word has been misused so often that dictionaries have simply given up and are now including the word “varietal” as a possible noun. It pains me to see that which is wrong become right simply because of misuse and abuse. It is I who will be sticking to its original forms. It perhaps doesn’t matter to most of the rest of us; but, there are a few diehards left out there, and I celebrate each one as I see the word used correctly. [Fingers on the chalk board, for those who don’t.]

I’m sure there are much bigger issues burning on everyone’s mind today; but I needed this slight diversion right now, as I write “variety” one more time and reflect on its abuse. I see it on a daily basis, and today I let the dogs out…


Enhanced by Zemanta

20 Responses to “You say pot-A-to, I say poe-tah-toe… You say varietal, I say variety…”

  1. 1WineDude says:

    I blogged about this a few years ago, and have practically given up the fight. Misuse of the word varietal (adj) for variety (noun) is RAMPANT in the wine biz! 🙂

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    I blog about it once a year, Joe.

    I won’t give up the good fight, and will go down as a dino… I know.

    Still, there are English professors out there who are with us…

  3. At Wine Enthusiast we adhere to strict guidelines about this issue. I never use the word “varietal.” The noun is “variety” or, plural, “varieties,” as in “The vineyard is planted to several different varieties.”

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    I’m so happy that you Wine Enthusiast and you do, Steve.

    The breakdown of the English language is just that… its demise.

    God knows, with computers first allowing people to only communicate by typing, our penmanship has greatly suffered. I know children who can’t even write cursively. I f I write something to one young lady, she asks me to read what I’ve written to her, amazingly.

    Now, with computers – again – allowing people to not even have to type anymore, to get a message across…

    The future is returning to the days when, if people had money, they were the only ones who could hire someone to put it onto paper… (We were that valuable at one point in time, and that only goes back a few hundred years.)

    Oh, wait… It’s still job security for us. Okay, let them all become illiterate.

    (Sorry, I just had to be selfishly bad for a moment to demonstrate the future I foresee.)

  5. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! And Jo you have just given me more ammunition. I get on my high horse every time I hear or see the misuse of these two words. A couple of years ago I mentioned it in my blog as per archived item below.
    I embarrassed myself at a wine trade show by blurting out ” Riesling is a ‘variety’, not a ‘varietal’ “when the wine maker herself said that Riesling is one of her favorite varietals. Ooops .. but I received a nice email from her a couple of days later, thanking me profusely for correcting her.
    So lets keep up the varietal battle and drink our favorite varieties!

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    I’ll drink to that, Wilf.

    It really grinds me when winemakers make the same mistake; however, I can’t make wine for anything… Although, I can make a nice batch of moldy juice, so I try to cut them some slack. They obviously didn’t learn from David Grave’s professor.

    Still… there are enough of us out there, singing the praises of the correct use… Sigh… It’s exhausting.

    I’ve also written about the the Varietal Society.


  7. Andrea says:

    I feel strange when I use the word variety even though I know I am correct in its usage. Most people around me use varietal as a noun.

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    I did, too, Andrea, until it was explained to me. Now, being a communications major, I can’t do it wrong, regardless.

  9. Oh YIKES! Thanks for the education on this one!
    I had been wondering about the two, but couldn’t find a definitive answer. Now I need to get to work putting the proper words in practice!

  10. Jo Diaz says:

    Yeah… Amy!

    Go, Amy, go Amy, go Amy.

  11. Pete says:

    The problem isn’t strictly that “varietal” is used as a noun; the problem is that “varietal” is often used incorrectly as a noun — as the word for a type of grape vine (“we planted Zinfandel in our vineyard instead of other common Napa Valley varietals”).

    This should, indeed, be avoided.

    However, a wine made from and identified by a specific vine variety is in fact a varietal. The usage developed in the 1950s, according to OED, and that development has done nothing but enrich the language, providing us a word that elegantly captures a class of wine.

    So, yes, please, go forth and defend the integrity of “variety”; but don’t be afraid to use “varietal” as a noun — when appropriate.

  12. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Peter,

    So, in the 1950’s, someone altered our language and began perpetuating the correct use of the word. I’m still going to be old school, regardless. It’s kinda like, using the word ain’t… Ain’t gonna do it, regardless… (except here.) (I could have also used the non-word, irregardless, which lots of people enjoy using, but that’s not proper English, either.

    I do realize that all these things make our language more expanded, but I’d rather have it be old English, then the newfangled twistifications.

  13. Robert LaVine says:

    After many years of wondering what was proper or even meant by these two words I have arrived at this consensus (amongst the voices in my head): variety (the noun) is an exact thing, use to describe the vine, the grape, or the unblended wine of a specific grape “variety”. Varietal (the adjective) is a way of saying variety-ish…used to describe a wine blend that is mostly of a variety but (likely) including other varieties blended in to improve the wine. Therefore all finished wines become varietals and all raw grapes are varieties. And somewhere in between they switch. This distinction provides a more exact description of the grape or wine, and is more honest about the process.

  14. Jo Diaz says:


    It’s amazing how many ways there are to this one… How so I love they, let me pronounce the ways…

  15. And of course you use the adjective ‘varietal’ when describing aromas and bouquet when describing a wine of a specific variety. Such as this Riesling displays a true varietal aroma or bouquet or varietal characteristics.

  16. Jo Diaz says:

    Right, Wilf, because in both instances, it’s being used as adjectives.

  17. Pete says:

    Nobody “alters the language”; the language always evolves. I don’t hear anyone fighting for the sanctity of the word “awful,” which originally meant to be be full of awe. For three centuries “sophisticated” meant impure, or corrupted. Who’s gonna go “old school” on that?

    There IS a time to reject new usage — when it diminishes the language. “Varietal” as a noun to describe a specific type of wine does not diminish the language. To reject this usage is to be the old fart on the park bench who grouses that back when he was a kid, you could call someone “gay” and mean he was happy.

  18. Jo Diaz says:


    Okay, you made me laugh and have a point.

  19. […] You say pot-A-to, I say poe-tah-toe… You say varietal, I say variety… […]

  20. […] My most recent post for this one was on July 3, 2012. […]

Leave a Reply