Wine terms: variety and varietal. What do they mean? Easy answer: variety is a noun. Varietal is an adjective.
Variety refers to grape types. Cabernet sauvignon is a variety of grape. Chardonnay is a variety of grape. Varietal is a wine made from a grape variety. A wine made with cabernet sauvignon is a cabernet sauvignon varietal wine. A wine made with chardonnay is a chardonnay varietal wine.
Who knew English class would intrude into your understanding of wine years later? It is what it is. Your third grade teacher was right to insist you pay attention.
New World wineries stimulated linguistic liberation. Led by visionary Robert Mondavi, New World winemakers began labeling wine with the variety of grape, eschewing the Old World convention of identifying wine by location. It was a stroke of world historical marketing genius.
People did not have to know that Pouilly-Fumé or Pouilly Blanc Fumé or Blanc Fumé de Pouilly was sauvignon blanc. They could simply say “sauv blanc.” They did not have to say “left bank Bordeaux.” They could say “gimme a cab”—the wine, not the transportation. They did not have to say “right bank Bordeaux.” They could say “merlot,” or at least they could until the movie Sideways sadly and unfortunately screwed that up for too many people.
And then, oh my, Germany. With all their 26-letter names, letters you have to search your computer’s instruction manual just to type, and effusive use of capitalization—extreme to the point even trial lawyers throw up their hands in exasperation. süß. Trocken. Spätlese. Pradikatswein. Qualitätswein. Beerenauslese. Trockenbeerenauslese. Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter. With all due respect to my friends in Fredericksburg, Texas, just give me a dry riesling and we will be good.
• Ruffino Modus Toscana IGT 2016: Flaunts saturated dark fruit flavors, backed by solid tannins. Improves with decanting. $23-26 Link to my review
• Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore 2016: Bold, beautiful, refined example of Venato ripasso. Very ripe fruit, full flavors from top maker. $24-30 Link to my review
• Mi Sueño Winery Chardonnay, Los Carneros 2017: Avalanche of ripe stone fruit and tart apple, framed by significant oak and butter. $42 Link to my review
• Laurent-Perrier Harmony Demi-Sec Champagne NV: Not so sweet as to qualify as dessert wine, but noticeably sweeter than brut and extra dry that are most popular sparkling wines today. $40-50 Link to my review
Last round: When the recipe says “reduce the wine” it does not require you drink some of it. But doing so will increase your appreciation of the cooking experience.