We all know that wines are not the same, but the same is true for grapes. There is a difference between table grapes and wine grapes and they cannot be interchanged. The difference starts right in the vineyard and in the vines that have been planted. The vitis vinifera is the type of vine that produces wine whereas the vitis labrusca is the vine that produces table grapes.
Now that we have the basics down regarding the actual vine, let’s move onto the difference in actual grapes. First of all, the skin which is typically referred to in wine terms as pomace – the substance which remains once grapes are pressed. The thinner the skin, the more likely you are looking at a table grape. The thicker the grape skin, the more likely you are dealing with a wine grape. The grape skin plays a vital role in the winemaking process, especially in that of red wine where the skins are left to macerate giving the wine its color and tannic quantity.
Another substantial difference is that found in the pulp. The pulp of table grapes is typically more compact and firmer and in that of wine grapes it is generally juicier and tender, ready to become must. Then there is taste. Table grapes have a higher sugar content than wine grapes, but less acidity. This means that if we used table grapes in the winemaking process, the end result would be a wine with low acidity and not very suitable for long aging, given that the acidity of a wine is what determines its capacity for aging. For those Italian families who have grandparents who make their own wine at home generally use the wrong grapes – grapes that are better off on the dinner table than in your glass. This become a type of “novello wine” which had to be drunk within six months of production or it would become undrinkable due to the fact that table grapes are simply not capable of creating aging wines.
Now when all is said and done, no one is stopping you from making wine from table grapes, especially if you are making it for your own harvest and dinner table. But if you are planning on having anyone else drink this wine or even plan on marketing it, table grapes are absolutely inappropriate. It pays off in the long run to take care of your vitis vinifera than to have a cellar full of undrinkable wine!