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A “varietal” is a wine made principally from one variety of grape, such as Cabernet-Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, etc. In that sense, “varietal” is a noun.

You can also say a “varietal wine”, as “varietal” is also an adjective meaning “relating to a variety” (a variety of grape, for example).

It seems the correct noun to name the different kinds of grapes is “variety”, not “varietal”. You can say: “this variety is grown mainly in Argentina”.

However, I frequent some internet wine forums and I have noticed that many members (all wine geeks) talk about grape “varietals” making reference to grape “varieties”. They say things like “this varietal is grown only in Chile”. The use of “varietal” as a synonym of “variety” is so pervasive that I have seen some wine forum members argue that it should be accepted. Other members do not agree and try to correct their peers whenever they make the mistake. Who are right?

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It is not so much a question of common usage, but rather a specialized vocabulary for a group of people with a common interest. – JeffSahol May 23 '12 at 12:57

In general standard English, "varietal" is normally an adjectival form of "variety".

But in the jargon of oenology, "varietal" has a specific meaning. Like most jargon, its usage is dictated by the people who use that jargon. So if wine connoisseurs use "varietal" as both a noun and adjective, then that is de facto correct usage.

More generally, though: English words slip between categories very easily. This is one of the problems with using a traditional classical grammar to describe English. In modern English we can noun verbs, verb nouns, use adjective nouns, and even noun adjectives, and it all makes sense. So this sort of thing is quite common and entirely grammatical.

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I agree with you. It is not a far stretch for those using the jargon to also apply "varietal" -- a noun defined as "a wine made principally from one variety of grape and carrying the name of that grape"-- to the grape from which the wine is made. – JLG May 23 '12 at 14:26

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