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What makes wine grapes different from table grapes?

Erin O'Reilly - Certifed Specialist of Wine

grapevines of table grapes

Just like apples, tomatoes, and even corn or potatoes, farmers grow different varieties of grapes depending on their final destination as a food product. Grapes are widely cultivated around the world as table grapes, raisins, juice, jellies, and – a personal favorite - wine. Here’s a quick comparison between table and wine grapes.

What are table grapes?

Table grapes are grapes that are selectively bred and grown to be eaten as fresh fruit. Unlike grapes that are cultivated to be fermented into wine, pressed for juice, or dried as raisins, table grapes need to be hardy enough to withstand picking and shipping to supermarkets that maybe thousands of miles away. Growers also select them to have large clusters of globe-like berries that are uniform in size.

Common table grape varieties

Everyone’s familiar with different wine grape varieties – from Merlot to Chardonnay. Similarly, there are many common types of table grape varieties. Here are a few of the popular ones you'll find in your supermarket or farmer’s market.

  • Thompson Seedless (a.k.a. Sultana)
  • Niagra
  • Concord
  • Flame Seedless
  • Crimson Seedless

Most of us only see ‘red’ grapes or ‘green’ grapes when shopping in the produce section of the grocery store. But the next time you’re buying fresh grapes, take a look and see what variety is on the label.

red wine and purple grapes in a vineyard

How are wine grapes different than regular grapes?

When looking at table grapes vs wine grapes, physical hardiness is the first major difference. You can enjoy table grapes year-round, meaning that just like other fresh fruits and vegetables, the grower wants to select fruit that will be firm to the touch and can hold up to packaging and shipping. In winter months, table grapes may travel thousands of miles to your kitchen.

In comparison, wine grapes are rarely shipped fresh over long routes, and are easily crushed just during picking. They’re much more delicate to the touch, and picking a single grape will often break its thin skin.

Another significant difference between table grapes and wine grapes is size.

Table grapes will be larger and wine grapes will be much smaller in comparison. Table grapes are physically bigger because they are grown to have more fruity flesh. We enjoy this quality in a fresh berry. You want that juicy pop in your mouth. Wine grapes need a lower skin to pulp (juice) ratio because the yummy flavors that make wine delicious are wrapped up in the berry skins.

Can you eat wine grapes?

You can absolutely eat wine grapes. If you ever find yourself in wine country during harvest season, you may even be able to pull off the side of the road and pick a few to try them. Sometimes local farmer's markets sell bunches of wine grapes as well.

Wine grapes are sweeter and have a more intense flavor than table grapes. The wine grower needs the grapes to achieve a certain level of ripeness so that after fermentation the wine will have the right amount of alcohol.

wine tasting in the vineyard

Do wine grapes have seeds?

Wine grapes have seeds - rather large seeds. Unlike their cousins, the table grape, wine grapes are selectively bred for robust flavor intensity in the final wine, arguably the most important quality. Table grapes are selectively bred for qualities that make them more enjoyable for fresh munching - spitting out seeds can be a pain.

The seeds in wine grapes add additional tannin and flavor complexity to the final wine, including nuttiness and spice. So, while we prefer seedless table grapes, wine grapes need seeds.

Can you make wine from table grapes?

You can make wine out of any type of grape. However, the quality of that wine will vary depending on the fruit. The wine made from table grapes will be less intense and less flavorful than their cousins, the wine grape.

At the end of the day, all grapes have their place on your table. Some in an artfully arranged fruit basket, others in an elegant Bordeaux bottle.

While we can't help much with table grapes, we do have a wide selection of wine varietals throughout our 6 wine clubs! Join a club to get wine shipments on your doorstep each month, or purchase individual bottles at our wine store! Cheers!

Erin O'Reilly Author Bio Image Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly, Certified Specialist of Wine, is a wine writer and educator. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers crafting wines that transcend time.