Have you ever sat munching on a bunch of grapes and the question came into your mind?
Why didn’t these grapes become wine?
It’s a common question. Most of us just assume that winemakers have a bunch of grapes left over from production and those are the ones that find their way onto our tables.
But that isn’t the case. In fact, there’s a surprising amount of things that separate table grapes from the grapes that get used to make your favourite wines.
Of course, that leaves us with another question.
What’s the difference?
That’s the question that we’re going to explore with this examination of both table and wine grapes.
The Two Big Differences
There are two big things that separate table grapes from those that are used for making wine:
- How sweet they are
- How they’re grown
The latter has the biggest effect on where the grape ends up. And of course, the growing methods get reflected in the taste that the grape ends up having.
Let’s look at these two major factors separately.
How They’re Grown
If you’re a wine enthusiast, you’ll already have images of vast vineyards that stretch for as far as the eye can see. The grapes are left to the elements, as it’s the quality of the terroir and the elements themselves that often give the grapes the unique characteristics that define the wines they end up in.
Let’s look at the wine grape first. Typically, these types of vineyards have vertical trellises, which allow the producer to control how long the grape ends up being exposed to the sun. They do this by controlling the size of the canopy that hangs over the fruit.
With wine grapes, the end goal is always to concentrate the grape’s flavour in as efficient as manner as possible.
However, the secondary goal is to ensure the vine produces as many grapes as possible while still maintaining a high level of quality. This is referred to as the vine vigour. A vigorous vine will produce a lot of grapes, but these will typically be of a sub-standard quality that makes them unsuitable for all but the most basic of wines. Producers typically aim for a low level of vigour, especially when making prestige wines. Low vigour means fewer grapes, which results in a higher concentration of flavour.
When it comes to vigour, the opposite is true of table grapes. In fact, producers want to grow as many of these types of grape as possible, likely because they generally have a more standardised taste than the grapes used for wine.
Table grape producers typically reside in areas that have extremely nutritional soil. This prompts the vines to grow to their maximum production capacity, though this is at the expense of flavour concentration.
The growing method differs slightly too. While table grapes still require a trellis system, this is designed so that the grapes have as little contact with greenery and other grape clusters as possible.
For comparison, a strong table grape vine can produce as many as 30lbs of grapes per vine. However, it’s rare for a wine grape vine to produce much more than 12lbs of grapes.
The Sweetness Difference
The mention of flavour concentration may have already clued you into which of the two types of grape taste sweeter.
That’s right. Wine grapes are definitely the sweeter of the two. And it all comes down to their composition.
Wine grapes are grown to be as lean as possible. The aim is to increases their potency. As a result, the grape will generally have tons of seeds inside it alongside much thicker skin. You’ll also notice a much higher juice concentration of you ever take a bite into one.
They’re also chewier and difficult to transport, which is why you’ll rarely see people eating these types of grape. For as sweet as they are, the number of seeds and the chewiness of the skin makes for an unpleasant eating experience.
Table grapes, by contrast, a much fatter than their wine grape equivalents. This is because they’re less concentrated, and thus contain much more pulp. They also don’t contain any seeds, which is always a positive when eating. The thinner skins also mean that you don’t have to gnaw away at the grape just to get to the tasty part inside it.
While being less sweet than wine grapes, table grapes still contain plenty of sugar and are quite sweet. They’re also lower in acidity, which makes them easier to eat in large amounts.
So, just take a look at the grape if you ever want to see the difference between wine and table grapes. The larger grapes fall into the table grape category, whereas slimmer grapes are generally wine grapes.
Are There Any Similarities?
Of course there are. They’re both types of grapes after all.
The differences in table and wine grapes tend to stem from the growing methods.
But almost all grapes on both sides can count themselves as distant descendants of the Vitis Vinifera family of grapes. In fact, about 90% of all of the grapes in the world are a part of this family.
Every wine grape falls into this family, while there’s a little more variety when it comes to table grapes.
The Final Word
When it really comes down to it, there’s not a lot to separate table and wine grapes on the genetic level. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that most table grapes could become wine grapes, should the producer choose to make them that way.
It all comes down to the way the grapes are grown and the techniques that the producer users to manipulate flavour concentration.
So the next time you’re eating some grapes, just remember that these grapes wouldn’t be used to make a bottle of wine. Italian wine producers go to a lot of painstaking effort to grow grapes specifically for that purpose.
But on the flipside, you probably wouldn’t eat a wine grape either. There’s room for both types in the world!