Grapes and Grape Juice

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GRAPES AND GRAPE JUICE. There is culinary potential in nearly every part of a grapevine: the skins (food coloring), the pulp and juice (jams, vinegars, wines, and brandies), the seeds (oil), the leaves (dolmas), and even the wood, which makes aromatic fuel for grilling and smoking.

In size, shape, color, flavor, texture, sweetness, acidity, astringency, and relative seed presence, the grape is almost infinitely variable. French ampelographer (vine expert) Pierre Galet counts more than 9,600 varieties among the nearly twenty million acres of grapes grown on all continents except Antarctica (Galet, 2000). And, although many older varieties have disappeared from commercial production, new varieties are constantly being created and tested by breeders.

Approximately 50 percent of all commercial vineyards are in Europe. Over half of all grapes are used for wine production. The rest are consumed fresh; canned; as raisins, jams, or juice; or distilled (Monette, 1988).

Grapes are unique in their ability to achieve Epicurean heights in an astonishing range of conditions: fresh, dry, unripe (sparkling wines like champagne), over-ripe (dessert wines like port), frozen (the vinous nectar Eiswein ), evaporated and acidified (balsamic vinegar), slimed over with yeast (sherry), and even rotten with mold (another vinous nectar, sauternes).

No other fruit has reached so broadly or deeply into human culture as the grape. Art, history, psychology, medicine, politics, world trade, and religion are all infused with the imagery and substance of vineyards (Johnson,

Grapevine "family tree."
Genus and Species Selected Varieties Comments
(American) Vitis or Muscadinia rotundifolia Scuppernong, Magnolia The fruit and flavor of muscadines is virtually unknown outside the southeastern United States. Relatively low sugar, low acid, very thick skin, few large berries per bunch that ripens very unevenly. Fruity dessert wines are traditional, although some newly developed varieties have more neutral flavors and can be made into table wine.
(American) Vitis aestivalis Norton, Lenoir This is the American species most suited to dry table wine. The fruit is late-ripening but has high sugar, high acid, low pH, thick skin, unstable color, vinous flavor, and is always seeded. There are relatively few small berries per bunch
(American) Vitis labrusca Catawba, Concord, Isabella, Niagara, Steuben.
Note: these varieties may not be pure species
This species has relatively low sugar, low acid, low pH, soft pulp with thick skin, few moderate-size berries per bunch. Best suited for consumption fresh or as juice and jelly. Not suited for dry table wine, but can make pleasant sparkling, aperitif, and sweet fruity wines. Fruit flavors described as foxy or like passion fruit.
(American) Vitis berlandieri, riparia, and rupestris Riparia Gloire, Rupestris du Lot, SO4, 5 BB, 3309C, 110 R These species are used mostly as phylloxera-resistant rootstocks to replace the tender roots of V. vinifera, but they are also in the parentage of European-American hybrids. Riparia berries are small, mostly black, contain high acid, and being early ripening can achieve fairly high sugar and herbaceous flavor.
(Eurasian) Vitis vinifera Chasselas, Flame Seedless, Muscat blanc, Sangiovese, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, Riesling High sugar content, sometimes seedless, colors of many hues. Bunch and berry size is highly variable, but mostly better-filled bunches than American types. Table grapes that ship well, all types of wine grapes from mundane to sublime, and the best raisins.

1989). Before the advent of modern medicine in the nineteenth century, unhealthy water was often rendered harmless and limbs saved from amputation by the antiseptic properties of wine. All forms and transformations of the grape enliven basic foods and are not only healthy but therapeutic.

Grapes and Their Origins

Wild vines are common around the globe. In the family Vitaceae, there are more than a thousand species divided among sixteen living and two fossil genera, including Ampelopsis, Parthenocissus (both used for ornamental purposes), and Vitis, the "grapevine" genus. The French botanist J. P. de Tournefort first defined the genus Vitis in 1700, and it was one of the first plant genera studied by the great botanist Linnaeus (Galet, 1979). The word vitis means 'vine' or 'centurion's staff' in Latin. It derives from the verb viere, meaning 'to braid or weave together', and is descriptive of climbing vines entwined with tree branches.

There are approximately sixty-five named Vitis species native to the temperate zones of Asia, Central America, and North America. A majority of the approximately two dozen North American species are found east of the Rocky Mountains. Unlike Vitis vinifera, which has a long (more than seven-thousand-year) history of cultivation, native American species remained largely in a wild state until European colonists began to select among them for their fruit quality and disease resistance.

Grape seeds carry the embryo of genetic material from two parents, thus every seedling is genetically unique. Purposeful and natural crosses have led to improved varieties over time (Morton, 1985). As food, grape seeds are high in fatty acids yet low in their effect on blood cholesterol levels. With a high smoking point, grapeseed oil is the secret to truly French "French fries."

As the source of food and drink, the grape is generally divided into two campsthe Eurasian (Vitis vinifera ) and the North American (see Table 1).

Sine Qua Non: American Roots for European Grapes

It was only after the phylloxera (plant louse) crisis in 1860s Europe that the roots of American vines became far more precious than their fruit, and hybridization became as important to the creation of new rootstocks as it had been to the creation of interesting new grape varieties. Technically speaking, a hybrid is the offspring of two individuals that differ by at least one gene and can be the progeny of crosses between varieties of the same or different speciesand rarely of different genera, as is the case with Vitis × Muscadinia crosses. Hybrids between American and European typesfor example, Foch, Chambourcin, Seyval, and Vidal Blanccan be good choices for vineyards where cold temperatures or fungal disease pressures make growing vinifera varieties difficult or uneconomical.

Grape Juice

Raw grape juice, with help from passing yeasts, naturally ferments into wine first, then turns into vinegar. In fact, only timely and deliberate action prevents this from occurring. Pasteurization is the most common method for keeping grape juice from infusing itself with alcohol or acetic acid. American varieties make strongly flavored and deeply colored single-strength juice. By comparison, vinifera grapes would be quite insipid and cloying because of their high sugar content. This can be corrected by acidifying the grape juice with lemon juice, ascorbic acid, or tartaric acid. Most grape juices benefit from dilution with water or seltzer. Adding ginger ale to Concord grape juice creates the approved designated-driver libation "purple passion." One would think that muscat varieties would make charming grape juice, but their special aromas and flavor do not survive the pasteurization process. (Cirami, 1996).

Grape juice is adept at transmutation. The juice of very unripe grapes, known as verjuice or green juice, is an acidic substitute for citrus called for occasionally for sauces or deglazing. Slightly unripe grape juice can be used for sparkling wine.

Highly acid but ripe grapes are the main ingredients for a potable grape foam produced in the French appellation of Crépy, just over the border with Switzerland. Fresh Chasselas must is put into a small stainless steel keg along with a few family-secret ingredients. By New Year's, when the tap is opened, white foam will blast out into waiting flutes. Consumption begins immediately, as it is considered bad luck to allow the foam to settle into a liquid of young wine.

Food writer Harry Nickles (1969) describes another use for grape juicea sweetmeat made in a village near Sparta from fresh unfermented grape syrup (epsima ) and flour. The process involves boiling the juice to reduce the volume and increase the sweetness, then adding the ashes of burned vine canes to clarify the juice as it settles. After decanting the sediment and straining, the liquid is further reduced by boiling. Finally, flour is added and the mixture is poured into a shallow pan where it cools into a chewy confection known as grouta.

In France fresh juice is boiled down into a syrup and simmered with other fruits to create a jam without sugar called raisiné.

Dried Grapes

Dried grapes are known as sultanas or raisins (both seedless and seeded), and even as currants. They are found in recipes for many types of foodfrom meat stuffing to vegetarian couscous, from teetotaler baked goods to sauces and fruitcakes soaked in rum, port, or brandy.

Whereas it is generally fermented or distilled in Europe, grape sugar is particularly important in the cuisine of the Middle East. Sun-dried raisins are one form of portable grapes. Drying causes grapes to lose their water, but they retain their minerals, vitamins, fiber and about 324 calories per 100 grams. Another method of concentrating grapes for transporting is to repeatedly dip a string into grape juice and allow it to dry. Eventually many layers of dried grape juice will create sort of grape sugar candle.

Black Corinth or Zante (from the Ionian island of Zákinthos) currant grapes are a classic product of Greece. Without treatment with growth regulators such as gibberellin, the vines produce tiny, mostly seedless grapes, which make soft, tart little raisins that lend themselves to baked goods and stuffings.

Currants often join pine nuts and rice in a cocoon of grape leaves or dolmas. These leaves can be harvested any time in the growing season and briefly blanched before using. Or they can be found preserved in a saline and acid solution in glass jars at specialty shops. Generally speaking, the leaves of vinifera table grapes are ideal for this purpose, whereas the leathery and hairy-backed leaves of native American vines are not.

Vines Beyond the Grape

Grapevines can provide welcome shade to patios. To avoid bees at the barbecue, however, one should consider planting male-rootstock varietiessuch as Riparia Gloire or SO4with large leaves (also good for dolmas) and no fruit. After the leaves have fallen, the canes from these patio vines can be woven into durable and functional wreaths and baskets for the kitchen. Chopped sections of grape canes can be stored in small paper bags for later addition to the smoker along with hickory or fruitwoods. The smoke has a strong flavor, so a little goes a long way.

See also Beer; Fermented Beverages other than Wine or Beer; Fruit: Temperate Fruit; Wine.


Cirami, Richard. Tablegrapes for the Home Garden: A Practical Guide to Growing Tablegrapes in Your Garden. Australia: Winetitles, 1996.

Galet, Pierre. A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification. Translated and adapted by Lucie Morton. New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1979.

Galet, Pierre. Dictionnaire Encyclopédique de Cépages. Paris: Hachette Livre, 2000.

Johnson, Hugh. Vintage: The Story of Wine. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1989.

Lang, Jenifer Harvey, ed. Larousse Gastronomique: The New American Edition of the World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. New York: Crown, 1990.

Monette, P. L. "Grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.)." In Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry, Vol. 6. Crops II ed. Y. P. S. Bajaj, pp. 337. Berlin and New York: Springer-Verlag, 1988.

Morton, Lucie. Winegrowing in Eastern America. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Munson, Thomas V. Foundations of American Grape Culture. 1909. Reprinted by the Denison Public Library, Denison, Tex., 1975.

Nickles, Harry G. and the Editors of Time-Life Books. Middle Eastern Cooking. New York: Time-Life Books, 1969.

Lucie Morton