What’s in a Wine Grape

I wanted to do a post that’s a little bit of fun, so I thought I’d write about wine grapes today. What’s the difference between table grapes and wine grapes? A lot. I’ll start with the basics.

All grapes are part of the genus called Vitis and grow on vines. Within Vitis, there are many different species. Theoretically, you can ferment any type of grape and produce wine. However, different types of grapes have characteristics that make them better suited for one thing or another.

Vitis labrusca, also called fox grapes, are native to North America. This species includes Concord and Niagara grapes and usually have slipskins. It’s exactly what it sounds like, skins that slip off easily when they’re squeezed. They typically contain 6-16% sugar, a musky aroma, and are commonly used to make jam or juice.

Wine grapes, on the other hand, are known as Vitis vinifera and are native to Eurasia. They contain more sugar than table grapes, typically between 20-30%, which allows them to ferment to an alcohol content above 10%. In addition to sugar, these grapes have thicker skins and larger seeds than most other species. The skins and seeds contain tannins, which impart astringency, complexity, and color into wine. Because vinifera grapes are significantly smaller in size than other grape varieties, the skin to pulp ratio is high, giving an intense and concentrated flavor to wine.

To delve further, there are different varieties under Vitis vinifera. These would be the grape names you typically see on a bottle of wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. Varieties can be red or white, and they have different characteristics such as resistance to rot, cluster size, and of course flavor.

These characteristics make vinifera grapes excellent for wine-making, but not that pleasant to eat. Take a sip (or a chug…I’m not judging) now that you know a little bit more about your drink.

Image by: Yours Truly

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