Grapes can be broadly categorized as either table grapes or wine grapes, though many grapes can be used as both.
Table and wine grapes. Table grapes are eaten out of hand or used in baking and cooking. Wine grapes are used for making wine. Grapes can also be used for making raisins or for producing grape juice.
Grape color. After dividing grapes into table grapes and wine grapes, grapes can be further divided by color into white grapes and black grapes. White grapes—which are popularly called green grapes–include amber and yellow and green grapes, and black grapes—which are popularly called red grapes–include almost black, blue-purple, red, and pink blushed grapes.
Seeded and seedless grapes. After division by color, grapes can, once again, be divided into seeded and seedless grapes.
All of this is a lot of work for a berry fruit that is simply good eating or drinking.
But wait, grapes can be divided botanically, too.
North American and European grapes. There are two principal species in the grape family. One species is native to Europe and the other is native to North America.
The species Vitis vinifera is often called the European grape. European grapes—there are many subspecies–are characterized by tight skins and generally high heat requirement for ripening. European grapes are the most widely cultivated worldwide and produce the best grapes for winemaking as well as the most popular table grapes.
European grapes are believed to have originated in western Asia near the Caspian Sea and have been in cultivation for more than 7,000 years. These grapes were pictured in ancient Egyptian mosaics, Greek friezes, and Roman murals. There are thousands of varieties of European grapes. Two famous European table grapes are the ‘Thompson Seedless’ and the ‘Flame Seedless’. Famous European wine grapes are ‘Chardonnay’ and ‘Zinfandel’.
North American grapes fall mainly into the species Vitis labrusca. These grapes are known as American or North American grapes and are often called slip skin grapes because their skins slip easily from the fruit pulp. These grapes require less heat than European grapes to ripen. Slip skin grapes are often used to make jelly or unfermented grape juice. Slip skin grapes are sometimes called ‘Concord’ type grapes and include the black Concord grape, the green Niagara grape, and the red Catawba grape.
The subspecies Vitis rotundifolia is another native North American grape. Vitis routundifolia grapes are often referred to as muscadine grapes. These grapes are tolerant of greater heat and are often grown in the South. Muscadine grapes produce only half a dozen large grapes per cluster and are usually black or coppery purple colored.
American grape varieties have a distinctive grapey flavor that is often referred to as foxy—which can also be characterized as musky or earthy. The foxiness of American grapes is contrasted to the sweet and winey flavor of European grapes. American grapes can be found in most temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. These are the grapes that the Norse explorers found when they first discovered North America in about 900 A.D. and called it Vineland.
In addition to the ancient stock of European and American grapes can be added to modern hybrid grapes, which are sometimes referred to as French hybrids. Hybrids are generally human-made plant combinations.
Hybrid grapes. Modern hybrid grapes varieties originated with the European grape, Vitis vinifera. The hybrids were developed beginning in 1865 after a grape root aphid called Phylloxera vastarrix devastated more than 2½ million acres of European grapes in France. Because American grapes were generally immune to phylloxera, European grape stems were grafted to American rootstock to create the modern hybrids. Hybrid grapes allowed Italy, France, and Spain to become the largest grape-producing countries in the world.
Grapes are woody, deciduous, perennial climbing plants with coiled tendrils, large, toothed leaves and clusters of inconspicuous flowers that develop into bunches of juicy berries. Vines can grow to 55 feet or more in length and have as many as 50 clusters of fruit on one vine. Grape clusters can contain from 6 to 300 grapes each.
The juicy pulp of the grape is covered with a skin that has a thin powdery coating called the “bloom.” Individual grapes can be seedless or contain between 1 and 4 seeds. Grapevines flower in spring and the fruit is ready for harvest about three months later.
Serve. The flavor of fresh grapes eaten out of hand is difficult to beat. But, if snacking is not enough, table grapes easily combine with other fruits: try grapes in fruit cups, fruit salads, and fruit compotes.
Combine grapes with avocado, grapefruit sections, melon balls, or strawberries.
Choose. Select table grapes that are fresh, plump, and bright. “Bloom” is the velvety powdery look that you see on fresh grapes. That’s good! Grapes that are too shiny have probably been handled just a bit too much.
Fresh-harvested grapes will have stems that are green and firm. These grapes will be the most flavorful. If the stems have turned brown or black, the grapes have begun to age.
There are dozens of varieties of table grapes to choose from: green-skinned, red-skinned, and blue-skinned, seeded and seedless.
Table Grape Varieties:
Here are some of the best-known table grape varieties you are likely to find at your farm market:
• Almeria: green-skinned, small-seeded, medium-large fruit with firm, juicy flesh, and tangy sweetness. Ripens late midseason, fall through mid-winter.
• Autumn Royal: blue-skinned, seedless, medium to large oval fruit with a crisp, sweet-tasting flesh. Ripens late mid-season, fall through early winter.
• Baresana: white, seeded, large, round-oval fruit with juicy, sweet flesh. Ripens mid-season.
• Beauty Seedless: blue-skinned, seedless, small to medium-sized, oval fruit with firm flesh and spicy flavor. Ripens early, mid-spring to summer.
• Black Corinth: purple-black, seedless, very small fruit that is crunchy and very sweet. Also known as Zante currant or champagne grape. (Zante is the name of the Greek island where these grapes were cultivated 2,000 years ago.) Ripens mid-season in summer.
• Calmeria: green-skinned, seeded, large, elongated oval fruit with meaty, crisp flesh that is rich and tangy-sweet. Ripens late, late fall to mid-winter.
• Cardinal: red-skinned, seedless, large fruit that is round to elongate with a firm, crisp fruit with a Muscat-like flavor. Ripens early, late spring to mid-summer.
• Candice: red-skinned, seedless, small, oval fruit with juicy flesh and mild red grapey flavor. Ripens mid-season.
• Catawba: red-skinned, seeded, medium-sized, roundish fruit with sweet and rich juicy flesh. Ripens late summer through fall.
• Chasselas: red-skinned, seedless, plump, juicy fruit.
• Christmas Rose: dark red, seeded, large, oval fruit that is very crunchy with a juicy, sweet fruity flavor. Ripens late midseason, late summer to mid-winter.
• Concord: purple-black skinned medium to large, round fruit with juicy flesh, sweet near the skin and tar near the seeds. Use for dessert, juice, and jelly. Some varieties are seedless. Ripens mid-season.
• Delaware: red-skinned, seeded, small to medium-sized roundish fruit with sweet, juicy flesh. Ripens midseason, late summer through fall.
• Emperor: red-skinned, seeded, large, oval fruit with firm, crisp flesh with a mild cherry taste. Ripens midseason to late, late fall to early spring.
• Fantasy Seedless: blue-black skinned, seedless, large oval fruit that is firm and very sweet. Ripens mid-season.
• Flame Seedless: red-skinned, seedless, small to medium-sized, round fruit with crunchy bite and mild sweetness. Ripens early to mid-season, early summer through fall.
• Flame Tokay: red-skinned, seedless, large to very large, oblong fruit with crisp, juicy, sweet flesh. Ripens midseason, early fall through late fall.
• Italia Muscat: yellow green-skinned, seeded, very large fruit with tender juicy flesh with a heavy, sweet muscat flavor. Ripens midseason, late summer through late fall.
• Kishmishi: same as Thompson Seedless.
• Red Malaga: red-skinned, seeded, large fruit with crisp flesh and sweet flavor and low acidity. Ripens early mid-season.
• Marroo Seedless: blue-black, seedless, medium-sized fruit with firm, juicy flesh and sweet, mellow flavor. Ripens mid-season.
• Niabell: blue-skinned, seeded, very large round fruit that is sweet to semi-sweet. Slip-skin Concord type. Ripens mid-season.
• Niagra: green-skinned, seeded, medium to large oval fruit; the flesh is juicy, foxy and sweet. Ripens mid-season.
• Perlette: green-skinned, seedless, medium-sized round fruit with firm, juicy, sweet flesh. Use for desserts or raisins. Ripens very early, late spring through mid-summer.
• Queen: red-skinned, seeded, large fruit with firm, juicy flesh, and very mild sweetness. Ripens in midseason, late summer.
• Red Globe: red-skinned, seeded, very large, round fruit with firm flesh with mild, sweet flavor. Ripens mid-season, fall to mid-winter.
• Red Malaga: red-skinned, seeded, large, oval fruit with crisp, firm flesh and neutral flavor. Ripens in early midseason, mid-summer through early fall.
• Ribier: purple-blue skinned, seeded, large to very large, plump, round fruit with sweet juicy flesh with mildly astringent skin. Ripens mid-season.
• Ruby Seedless: red-skinned, seedless, medium-sized, oval fruit with firm, crisp, juicy flesh that is sweet-tart taste. Ripens late mid-season, late summer to early winter.
• Steuben: blue-black skinned medium-sized fruit with rich, tangy flavor. Ripens mid-season.
• Sugarone: green-skinned, seedless, large, elongated, plump fruit with firm, crisp flesh, and light, sweet flavor. Ripens early.
• Thompson Seedless also called Sultanina: green-skinned, seedless, small to medium elongated fruit that has a crisp, juicy flesh that is sweet. Also used for raisins. Ripens early to mid-season, summer through fall.
• Tudor Premium Red: red-skinned, seedless, large fruit with sweet, crisp flavor. Ripens late mid-season, late summer through late fall.
Also of interest:
How to Plant, Grow, Prune, and Harvest Grapes