Eric Asimov, perhaps the most accessible wine writer alive today, has been the New York Times chief wine critic since 2004. In a recent article about decoding wine labels, he uses the term variety in reference to the type of grape or grapes that go into a wine.
Variety? Doesn't he mean varietal?
No, he most certainly does not. The word varietal is, as veteran wine, travel, and sports author Bruce Schoenfeld often laments, is an adjective, not a noun. Alas, Eric and Bruce are rare exceptions in an industry gleefully oblivious to its perpetuation of this grammatical misuse. Why? Probably because the word variety is more pedestrian, applicable, and less specific to wine than the word varietal. When used in conversation or writing, varietal sounds (to many) better than grape or variety. It also sounds more highbrow, which is comical if you consider its inaccurate use.
Though at this point it might seem like swimming against a very strong current, there’s still plenty of space for the correct use of both variations of the word:
"The dominant variety in the most recent vintage of Ridge’s Geyserville bottling is zinfandel, though carignan's varietal character complements zinfandel's brawn with structure and focus."
Whichever word you prefer, now you know which one is correct in which context.