What Varietal is That? A Beginners Guide to the Most Important Grape Varieties, written by Darby Higgs, is a great little reference book… something you take with you on trips into wine land places, to keep check of seeing the grape leaves, clusters, and vines, while reading about them and taking notes right then and there. If you still love books, like I do, and you have your own wine library, this book is great to have for any beginners’ adventures, for taking more notes.

Let me begin with this, because I’m also still a stickler for when I write “variety” and “varietal.” I’m telling you this because the following came up, on one of my pages, when someone immediately took issue with the title having “What Varietal,” versus “What Variety”? Not everyone is a grammar dictator like I am in my own writing, and obviously, this man who questioned the proper English is too. I’ve written about it at length, for instance, “Going down in history as a Variety versus Varietal old fart,” was my last declaration. I do realize that not everyone cares about this as much as I do, and Darby Higgs takes it on straight away.

“What is a Wine Variety?” … Firstly, let’s deal with the question of language. Are we talking about variety or varieties? Those who take a conservative approach to language argue that the word ‘varietal’ is an adjective, and it is incorrect to use it as a noun. However, in common usage, people very often use it as a noun when they discuss wines. I take the approach that language is fluid rather than fixed. So I tend to use the words ‘variety’ or ‘varieties, but I don’t get too hung up on the terminology.” p.5

Conservative English is for those who also have a Gregg Reference Manual and use it. It’s called Business Writing 101. I’m over trying to get others to join this movement. So, let’s just let that go, and move on.

A Beginners Guide to the Most Important Grape Varieties

The subtitle is very provocative for me, A Beginners Guide to the Most Important Grape Varieties. Why? Because for the last 18 years I’ve been banging the Petite Sirah drum, sometimes very fast and furiously, and I’ve sometimes replaced my drum sticks with cymbal brushes. But, the drumming hasn’t stopped. This is how Darby Higgs and I met. He wrote something that caught my eye about Petite, so I just emailed him with more information. (It’s a habit of mine.) He hadn’t finished his book yet, so he actually did add “In California, a group of [winemakers] promote the variety via an organization and website named PS I Love You.” And, he goes on to write a page about Petite Sirah, under its French name of Durif, which originated in the Rhone region of France. (That’s a long story I’m not going to tell here, just have used it for reference for what really caught my attention.

As Petite Sirah continues its growth – right into a book that announces: Descriptions of the most important 46 red wine varieties, here is Petite Sirah. Just about 20 years ago, practically no one even remembered the grape that took us through Prohibition as Hearty Burgundy, with Napa planted to 60 percent of it in the 60s into the early 70s.

What Varietal is That? ~ The book and why beginners will enjoy it

Lots of basics here, grape breeding and production, clones and varieties, and critical selection of grape varieties can make or break with what a grape grower is trying to achieve. Why do those varieties matter and what are their styles? Answered within…

Then, Darby Higgs goes into his 40 white wine variety descriptions and his 46 red wine choices. In this text is where you can be standing in a vineyard, and begin your wine education trajectory, with your handy dandy wine guide for “What Varietal is That?” and make forward gains.

From Amazon review: Readers of this book will find descriptions of the most important 46 red wine and 39 white wine varieties globally. Each entry is devoted to a particular variety and it includes a pronunciation guide, a short lexicon of the flavours and aromas of the variety, a list of similar varieties, details of the origin and global importance of the variety, an outline of the most important styles of wine made. Brief food pairing suggestions are given to underline the styles of wines commonly made from the variety. Additional material in this book includes explainers to help understand the difference between variety and styles of wine and why grape varieties are important for viticulturalists, winemakers, and winelovers. An appendix provides a brief guide to the major wine varieties used in the world’s major wine countries and regions.

Starting out? I do recommend this book… Go for it! The book just might be your new best friend in wine.