Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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varietal, adjective and descriptive term for a wine named after the dominant grape variety from which it is made. The word is increasingly misused as a noun in place of vine variety. A varietal wine is distinct from a wine named after its own geographical provenance (as the great majority of European wines are), and a generic wine, one named after a supposed style, often haphazardly borrowed from European geography, such as ‘Chablis’ and ‘Burgundy’. Varietal wines are most closely associated with the new world, where they constitute the great majority of wines produced. The concept was nurtured by Maynard amerine at the University of California at davis in the wake of prohibition as a means of encouraging growers to plant worthy vine varieties. It was advocated with particular enthusiasm by Frank schoonmaker in the 1950s and 1960s, and was embraced during the california wine boom of the 1970s to distinguish the more ambitious wines, often made from Cabernet Sauvignon and, increasingly, Chardonnay, from the lack-lustre generics of old. Varietal labelling was also adopted, for a similar purpose, in australia, south africa, new zealand, and elsewhere.