Book Review, Darby Higgs, Varietals, Variety, What Varietal is That, Wine

Book Review: What Varietal is That?

Who else has the COVID blues? I’m sure some have it worse than I do. My symptoms are a general melancholy, restlessness, and boredom. One would think that with all the extra time on my hands with shelter-in-place, I’d have more time to devote to this blog, and my social media platforms. However, contributing to my COVID blues is the inability to get out and explore, which results in a lack of content and creativity. How many times can you post a picture of a bottle of wine in the same dining room or boring backyard?   

Fortunately, not long ago I received an email from Darby Higgs, offering me a complimentary copy of his new book, What Varietal is That?  (Also fortunately, we recently moved – yes, mid-COVID – and our new house has a much nicer, park-like backyard, perfect for relaxing with a book and a glass of wine.)

The following book was provided by the author as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are my own. I received no additional compensation.


What Varietal is That? is an informative and educational book detailing 86 major wine grapes from around the world. It’s a fairly short read, only 127 pages in all, but those pages pack a punch! Darby’s subtitle for the book is “A Beginner’s Guide to the Most Important Wine Grape Varieties”, but don’t let that fool you, or dissuade you if you don’t consider yourself a “beginner.” There are a lot of varieties listed that I’d never heard of! And I’m a proud member of the Wine Century Club, with well over 140 different varieties under my belt…or more accurately, in my belly!  

After a brief introduction, in which he takes on one of the most controversial topics in wine: “varietal” versus “variety”, along with some history and a dabbling into science, Darby gets to the heart of the matter. Starting with white grapes, the author details the country of origin, typical aromas and flavors, and food pairings, along with a description of the wines produced and the history of each grape. Conveniently organized in alphabetical order, the book is a worthwhile reference for wine students of any level. 

What Varietal is That? is available in digital format at Smashwords for just $6.99. You can also order a paper copy from Amazon

If you like What Varietal is That?, and enjoy Australian wines, check out Darby’s other book, Rare Ozzies: A Hundred Rare Australian Wine Varieties. In this one, Darby outlines 100 grapes used in Australian wine production. 

Check these books out and dive right in. You may learn a few things, like I did, and they’ll help you through the rest of the COVID blues summer. 


  • By Kent Reynolds 

Bubbles, MWWC, Variety, Wine

Life in a Bubble – #MWWC27

bubble-724x499It’s that time again! The Monthly Wine Writing Challenge!

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

The theme for #MWWC27 is “Bubbles.” Like probably every other person out there in the blogosphere, my mind immediately went to Champagne, or any other sparkling wine. There are many to choose from; Cava, Prosecco, Cremant, California Sparkling, and so on. Then, like probably every other wine writer out there, I thought: “too obvious; everybody will be writing about that.” Ah, but then again, like Vizzini, from The Princess Bride (only the best movie ever made), perhaps I can outwit my opponents by doing exactly what they expect me to do!

But lest I get involved in a land war in Asia (watch the clip, it’ll make sense), I decided to write from what I know and let the words flow as they may. This is a decision made largely due to the fact that I have not a lot of experience with wines that tickle the nose. You see, many members of my family get headaches after drinking sparkling wine, so I don’t often buy it. We can debate whether the bubbles cause the headaches, or that they result from some other cause. The fact remains that sparkling wine rarely makes an appearance in my home. I do try to keep a bottle of Prosecco or Cava on hand for those unexpected special occasions, or a spontaneous brunch in need of a Mimosa, but that’s about it.

So what is there to say about bubbles, then? Life.

We humans are a predictable lot. We like routine, and take comfort in the familiar. We take the same route to work every day. We shop at the same stores, and eat at the same restaurants, because we know what to expect. I even know people who will order the same thing off a menu every time they go to a particular restaurant. They don’t like change, or trying new things. We like to live our lives in big, comfortable, predictable bubbles. Boring! Yet many people approach wine in the same way.

While there are at least 10,000 grape varieties in the world, realistically about 1,300 are used in commercial wine production. So why, then, do so many people “only drink Chardonnay”? Or Cabernet Sauvignon? Or Pinot Noir? Because that is the comfort bubble in which they live. They know what to expect. They are predictable. These people are really missing out! There is so much variety out there; so many flavors to experience and enjoy, why limit yourself?

I love variety. When I go to a favorite restaurant, I like to try different things each time. It’s the same with wine. Sure, I have my favorite, go-to varietals, but why limit oneself? century_club_sealI love variety! Sure, a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon will pair with my steak, but what about a Chilean Carménère? Shall I open a familiar Sauvignon Blanc this warm summer evening, or a different and exciting Grüner Veltliner? I recently submitted my application to the Wine Century Club. Yes, it’s a real thing! All you have to do for membership is try at least 100 different varietals. And you know what? Blends count! It’s really not that daunting a challenge, if you are willing to get out of your bubble and try new things.

Life bubbles are limiting; restricting. They only allow you to experience what is within reach and safe. I encourage you to step out of your bubble and try something new. The next time you are in your local wine shop, or better yet, the unfamiliar wine shop in the next town over, instead of reaching for that familiar bottle of Chateau Drink Often, try something adventurous and new. This is my challenge: Explore. Experience. Enjoy life outside your bubble.