Number of Wine Varieties: A Quizzical Yet Not Known Number – James Melendez

Here are some wine books and their view of number of wine varieties:

    • The Wine Bible states 5,000 varieties
    • The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Wine also states 5,000 varieties
    • The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia states there are “thousands of varieties”
    • Grapes & Wine – “they say there are some 8,000 varieties” curious but no mention where this number comes from
    • Wine Grapes – No mention of total number just the identified number in this volume of 1,368 grapes
    • Wine Science: Principles and Applications states “grapevine cultivars approaching 15,000..” this includes synonyms “  “ A comprehensive system of cultivar classification would be useful.  Regrettably no such system exists.”

And have seen this across the web: “There are 24,000 names for varieties of wine grapes, corresponding to between 5,000 and 10,000 actual varieties. However, only about 150 are commercially important.”   And I cannot find the originator of this comment – I have seen on Wikipedia—now removed.  Just on casual inspection the 24,000 is completely off because examining the synonyms of a few varieties depicts vast numbers for 10,000 varieties would mean 2.4 synonyms.

But look at these varieties as example:

Tempranillo, Négrette, Ojaleshi, Red Veltliner, Riesling are each greater than a dozen synonyms each.  That is the 2.4 synonyms per variety (based on 10,000 varieties) is quickly dis-invalidated on casual inspection.

I had made an assumption early on because shouldn’t the citations have a reference point?  I guess not.  From my academic training: facts, metrics, numbers should all be referenced, qualified.  Vagary is particularly unhelpful and in the wine world should be more precise.  Without an attempt at precision continues the world of confusion.

I gave up on asking librarians to locate the reference points because they truly did not exist.  A taxonomy is needed to understand what is a variety and what is a synonym.  Here we are in 2013 without a complete list of wine varieties (I don’t say exhaustive) as the count does increase over time but one is much needed.  There probably as better taxonomies for corn or rice or other fruits, plants, grains.

I have been working on this list for a bit of time and have found two things happening simultaneously–the number of varieties in my database is decreasing and the number of synonyms is increasing (not surprising).  But my initial varietal count did not approach the 5,000 or 10,000 number or even close to that.  My goal is to complete my list this year.  Though I probably won’t release the list this year as I am working on my wine book where I will release those results–I would certainly release highlights.

I do hope to have the most reliable list thus far created and will certainly update over time; an arduous endeavour but one worth doing.



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© 2013 James Meléndez / Jaime Patricio Meléndez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved. James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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About James Melendez

I love wine and have had the privilege of working in the wine trade as a senior national wine marketing manager for a wine, food and home goods retailer in 30+ US States. I executed into making wine experiential and made 'wines of the world' programme work in a highly regulated framework for a successful business proposition. My "wine" site also incorporates those categories intimately involved with wine such as food, travel and lifestyle. This site incorporates my many dimensions of interest. I love to review and also talk about many aspects of wine. I have been privileged to visit many wine countries and find them enthralling no matter how many times I visit. I love all aspects of wine: viticulture, history, winemaking, brand development, wine regions and many more aspects. This is a living tradition that needs documentation, education, reporting and reviewing. Do I have favourite varieties and styles? I love so many varieties and often it is situational and yet there are time honoured wines that I anticipate and I am passionate about. I like all colours of wine and all styles. I have had a mad passionate affair with sparkling wines and they are always top of mind. Wine nourishes our soul and is the key to connecting with other people at our dinner table. Salute, James © 2014, 2017 James Meléndez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy. James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social medias.
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