Are Wine Grapes the Same as the Ones we Eat?

Question from Sheila: Are the grapes they use to make wine the same as the ones we eat?

Reply: Hi, Sheila. Thanks for writing! The short answer is “not usually”. The problem is that most “table grapes” have been hybridised to be juicy and the juice is watery. It’s perfectly legal and, technically, just as easy to use Thompson Seedless or some other table grape to make wine. It would be a great money saver too (Thompson Seedless from Fresno is about $200.00/ton; Napa Valley Cabernet is around $5000.00) but, aesthetically, it’s the next best thing to adding water. 

You can find wine that’s made from Concord grapes, which are native to America and make a lot of our grape juice, but it has a tiny market niche, presumably because the flavor is too strong – no one likes it. We all seem to prefer wine made of old-fashioned grape varieties that have been used for centuries. And, that’s why you have to speak French, Italian or Spanish when you order your wine. In most of the new world, the wine is named for the grape that makes it. 

Of course, the Europeans name their wines for the region and regulate which varieties can be used within each region, which makes it really hard on us poor consumers!    

Vitis Vinifera is the name of the species. They traveled to Europe from what we now know as Georgia and Armenia in ancient times and, of course, Europe made these varieties famous!

Wine grapes are good for eating, if a little inconvenient. They’re small compared to table grapes and, since they aren’t generally hybrids, they have seeds. There’s a common misconception that wine grapes are sour, probably because most wines aren’t sweet but, in fact, the grapes you buy to eat are usually between 15 and 20% sugar. Wine grapes are harvested between about 21% and 28% sugar – they’re delicious!

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