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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It's a grape VARIETY, for heaven's sake!!!

This past week, while touring the wineries and vineyards of the Republic of Georgia with some other wine professionals of the US, I confirmed what I already knew: People (even "wine people") are constantly saying "it's a grape varietal", when what they really mean is "it's a grape variety" (a term that actually refers to a cultivar).

Clark Smith (Appellation America), a wine writer/winemaker for whom I have a huge amount of respect is one of the culprits for the misuse of the term. According to him (and I will quote him), "You're fighting a lost war and you should direct your energy and efforts towards something more important."  Well, with the support of Lisa Granik MW who also shares this view that we should set an example and make sure that the English language is properly used, Clark agreed that he will start using "grape varieties" from now on and, during his rehabilitation process, I could pinch his arm.
Don't you love happy endings? :)

So, what's a varietal? The answer is as simple as this:
A wine sold by the name of the principal grape variety from which it is made.

Will you join my fight?

Cheers,
LA

 
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34 comments:

Thamis Esteves-Mendez said...

Thanks for this post. I think I was doing the same mistake and I will be more careful from now on. Beijos.

Luiz Alberto said...

Thanks for the support Thamis! We will win this battle... :)

Tony Hatch said...

I completely agree. Unfortunately in Australia we tend to pick up the bad habits of Americans in the use of the English language, and this has been one of them. I have planted several Italian varieties, from which I have made some very pleasant varietals. Thank you and regards, Tony Hatch, Vale Creek Wines, NSW, Australia.

Luiz Alberto said...

"I have planted several Italian varieties, from which I have made some very pleasant varietals."
Thanks for posting this Tony. Cheers!

Deborah Gray said...

Whilst I cannot share your ire over this issue, I do have a heightened internal grammar/spelling editor and notice that you said, "...to whom I have a huge amount of respect..." when it should be, "for whom." Words are misused all the time in the English language and sometimes, as with varietal, they even become part of accepted vernacular. If you Google the word, you'll see varietal used now interchangeably with variety. I would suggest you take Clark Smith's advice and turn your attention to more important matters, for which you are eminently qualified. Now, if the word "irregardless" starts gaining ground in mainstream usage, you'll find me leading the charge to eradicate it! :)

Anonymous said...

Em português eH mais fácil, ou melhor: se eu pensar em pt eu entendo claramente a dif. entre ambas palavras. Obrigada Luiz. variedade x varietal Manuva

Lisa Carley said...

This is a battle I've been fighting for a long time. Thanks for taking it up!

Luiz Alberto said...

Deborah,
"For whom" is fixed. Thanks!
Now, "grape varietal" really hurts my years... and I'm very surprised that it doesn't hurt yours...
And don't worry about this fight. It's probably the easiest I picked in my entire life! :)
Cheers!!

Deborah Gray said...

Luiz, nice response to my comment, thanks. I must confess it is starting to bother me, but since I am guilty of misusing it, including in permanent print, I am hoping that assimilation into the language will validate my usage! Cheers! :)

Mary Goudie said...

All hail to the castas the Portuguese name for the different types of the little roundish juice things that make up our wine. It has moved up in and round the world and appears in the Indian "caste" system. Maybe we should try grape tribes or grape clans. Best stick to variety I think.

David Flaherty said...

This is just the kind of geeky wine shit I love. Well-played, sir. It's an uphill battle, but I urge you to carry forth into the dark forest of ignorance with your truth torch.

DRINK CLEAN! said...

You have another error in "one of the culprits for the miss usage of the term." You should have written misusage or misuse. Thank you for the variety/varietal clear up.

Luiz Alberto said...

DC, are you sure about "misusage"? I couldn't find it in any dictionary...
As far as "misuse" goes... fixed! :)
Anyway, thanks for the help and support!!

Luiz Alberto said...

Nice words David, nice words!

Luiz Alberto said...

Deborah, who is not guilty of something?
It's funny, but I'm finding that many of our wine industry friends who insist in using "varietal" (even if they know it's grammatically wrong), have in some shape of form used it in the written language in the past... :)
What about a fresh start? I'm sure you can be a valuable weapon in this fight!! And it's going to make you feel so much better...

Admin said...

If you're italian blooded then you know for sure that "varietale" it's an adjective related to wine and that "varietà" is the cultivar itself.
So, yes, I do join your battle!
Language is important!

Luiz Alberto said...

"Admin",
Perfetto!
It's great to see that people in other countries are willing to help us with this good fight.
Thanks for joining!!
LA

Donald Edwards said...

Interesting, at college we were specifically told that variety referred to something that bred true, and that the term varietal was for cloned stock. The inference being that vine varietals were not true varieties (similarly with apple trees).

Jolene Palmer said...

Oh, who the hell cares...!

Luiz Alberto said...

Well Jolene... I guess I do... And why shouldn't I?

Wayne Young said...

I too have been fighting this uphill battle for years with peers, superiors and experts... Although your definition is a little off... Variety is a NOUN (i.e. "A classic variety") and varietal is an adjective (i.e. "A varietal wine")

How's that for anal retentive?

Luiz Alberto said...

I would say it's pretty good Wayne! ;)
Just for clarification purposes, it's not "my definition"... I borrowed it somewhere...
But anyway, the battle rages on!
Cheers!!

Kent Benson said...

Luiz, I had no idea that you had joined the battle! I've been fighting it for years. In fact, I just sent off a note to Lettie Teague at the Wall Street Journal imploring her to stop abusing the word. I've even considered creating a Web site with a wall of shame for identifying all the abusers. If you haven't seen it, here's my pleaa published in Wines and Vines a couple years ago: http://webpages.charter.net/swirl/index_files/Varietals.htm

Angelika Deutsch said...

I'm not used to post a lot about wines in english but last time I had to do it* I felt uncertain about these terms - both were spinning around me. So I looked up in an online dictionary (which also does mean that you have to understand what you find there!) and was able to see the difference: a lot of varieties in this world you can make nice varietal wines from ;)

* http://www.kulinarischersalon.com/kosten-a-schmecken/346-suedtirol-at-munich.html

Pat Thomson said...

I'm among the legions who are guilty as charged. Once oblivious, now I know. So you have 1 convert, at least, in your uphill battle. March on!

Mike Tommasi said...

Well, sorry to disagree... in a nice way of course, glass in hand...;-)

Yes "varietal" is just an adjective referring to a variety, but because per below "variety" is not the right term, "varietal" is also wrong...

"variety" is wrongly used in the wine world to refer to a "cultivar", whereas in botany "variety" is actually part of the taxonomy, just below species!

Variety can only refer to something that conserves its properties when reproduced sexually, while grapes are not stable when grown from seed.
A variety is written in lower case italics often preceded by "var.".

Cultivars are plants, like grapes or bananas, selected to be stable when propagated by cuttings or grafting.
A cultivar is written with capital first letter, not in italics, and in single quotation marks or preceded by "cv.".

So the cultivar Chardonnay can be referred to as Vitis vinifera L. 'Chardonnay' or Vitis vinifera L. cv. Chardonnay

cheers!

Mike

Luiz Alberto said...

@Angelika, "a lot of varieties in this world you can make nice varietal wines from" that's a great way of saying it! Thank you!!

Luiz Alberto said...

@Pat - It means a lot to me to have your support... thank you!!!
And it doesn't really matter if it's uphill or not... it's a great feeling to be fighting for a good cause! :)

Luiz Alberto said...

@Kent I was sure you knew about it. We even had one question of the weekly quizzes about it , remember?
Anyway, it's a great honor to have you in our ranks! Thanks!!

Luiz Alberto said...

@Mike I don't think you are disagreeing that it's not correct to say "it's a grape varietal", are you?
What you are saying is entirely correct (it's a cultivar, as I mention on my text), but if many people believe that it is a lost war to try to convert people from saying grape varietal to grape variety, imagine if we try to make them say "it's a cultivar"?
Even I (as optimist as I am) have I tough time seeing that happening...
But thanks anyway! And you're more than welcome to join our fight!!

Kent Benson said...

@ Luiz. Yes, now that you mention it, I vaguely remember a varietal quiz question. However, I consider it to be you joining me in the battle. I'm sure my crusade predates yours. In fact, I believe there was an early quiz question for which I pointed out the infraction. But, I'm splitting hairs.

We have another big name in the wine world on our side. Jancis Robinson has not been shy to chide renowned wine writers who have lost their way. In her review of fellow Master of Wine Benjamin Lewin's book, Wine Myths and Reality, she reprimanded him for his use of varietal, to which he responded with a promise to correct the second edition!

Kent Benson said...

@ Mike. Just be clear, in your example of the cultivar name of Chardonnay, the Vitis vinifera part should be in italics, right? It says in wikipedia that “cv.” is no longer acceptable. Is wikipedia wrong about that?

Here’s what I don’t get: if the word Chardonnay is part of the cultivar name, what is the variety name counterpart that would be used in botanical nomenclature? Is it not also Chardonnay? Or, does it have a scientific name different from the cultivar epithet Chardonnay?

It would seem we wine folks have a bit of a defense for using the word variety as a substitute for cultivar. In the words of the creator of the word, Liberty Hyde Bailey, “It (cultivar) is essentially the equivalent of the botanical variety except in respect to its origin.” After all, it is speculated that Bailey created the word as a portmanteau of the words cultivated and variety, thus cultivar.

Which leads me to another question. If varieties in the wild do not preserve their properties when reproducing sexually, does that mean that there are no longer any Chardonnay grapes as we now know them growing in the wild? Are all cultivars which were originally found in the wild and not the result of deliberate crossing, now mere snap shots of a wild grape which no longer exists outside cultivated vineyards?

Nkrwine said...

YES! I am forever correcting people on this and it gets annoying after awhile. Wherever and whoever I talk to in the industry, with the exception of a few people, cannot distinguish between the two terms. UGH! Cheers to you and your fight. My glass is raised.

Luiz Alberto said...

Thanks for the support Nkrwine! Cheers!!