Definition - What does Varietal mean?
Varietal is used in several ways to describe wine or wine grapes:
1) The original use was to distinguish between wines made with one grape variety and wines made from blends of grapes. Varietals are wines made with at least 85% of one grape. The name of the grape appears on the label.
2) Eventually, the term varietal was transformed into an adjective or adverb to describe the characteristics of a wine. If a wine is "varietally true", it means that it shows all the typical characteristics - mouthfeel, color, flavor, aroma, etc. - of the grape varietals used in the wine.
3) The final use is in reference to the grape or vine. Pinot Noir is a varietal, or grape variety, that produces a red wine.
WineFrog explains Varietal
When the New World first erupted into the wine world, they used labels derived from the Old World wines with which consumers were familiar, such as chablis, burgundy and champagne. This caused a backlash, as producers in France, Italy and Spain complained that the reputation of their regions were being tarnished by these newcomers. At the time, prior to prohibition, Germany and those regions influenced by Germany - Austria, Alsace and Czech Republic - were the only regions using varietal labeling.
After prohibition, California switched to varietal labeling. Australia also went through a three-decades long transition to varietal labeling. In the end, this switch aided in launching these New World wines into the market. Consumers became familiar with the characteristics of the grape varieties themselves, preferring to purchase a Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River, Australia over an undefined red blend from an appellation in France they didn’t recognize.
In order for a wine to qualify as a varietal in most wine regions, it must be produced from 85% of the grape listed on the label; in the United States, that percentage is only 75%. Producers can use more than the listed percentage for their region, but not less.
Common varietal wines around the world include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. These have developed a following and are produced in almost every region around the world. It makes for an interesting Varietal Tasting, when you compare the same grape type from many different regions.