I’ve noticed recently a new interest in making wine from table grapes. I’d never heard of that before, even though people have been making distilled or alcoholic beverages from just about anything for millennia. A grape is a grape, right? Why not use any kind of grape in wine making?
All grapes stem from family Vitaceae. Yet, it is in the lower sub-classifications where the overarching grape characteristics and distinctions give rise to their different uses, making certain grapes superior for wine making, and others for juicy munching on a hot summer day.
The basic characteristic differences between table grapes and wine grapes are that table grapes, in spite of having thinner skins, are sturdier due to their higher fruit meat (“pulp”) to juice ratio. They are economically better, as they travel better from field to store, and are often bred for seedlessness. Table grapes contain less acid and less sugar than wine grapes, although they still taste sweet when eaten straight.
Wine grapes, by contrast, have thick skins and lots of sugary juice inside. They don’t travel or save well, although there’s almost nothing closer to heaven than a dried, raisin-y Pinot Noir grape eaten straight off the vine! Wine grapes are typically very seedy as well, and their high sugar content leads to robust fermentation and higher alcohol content. By contrast, table grapes’ low sugar leads to less flavorful, less robust wine that doesn’t save well.
So perhaps the question isn’t why can’t you make wine from table grapes, but rather, why bother? Well, there are two good reasons for bothering. First, table grapes are more readily available and more affordable than wine grapes. Second, according to bunchgrape.com, today, there is a fix for almost anything that ails your budding table wine:
Commercially available tanning – Wine grapes, for example, gain a lot of their body and flavor from naturally occurring tannins that are mostly lacking in table grapes. You can solve this problem by adding commercially available tannin. Who knew?
Oak chips and extract – You don’t have to have a friend in the cooperage business. Get the same oak barrel bang by steeping your table grape juice in oak chips or adding oak extract.
Lots of great solutions for the creative, motivated types!