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15 Types Of Grapes To Know, Eat And Drink

Do you know Cotton Candy from Moon Balls? Ever tried a Lemberger?

You might think you know grapes, but given the sheer volume of variety in these juicy orbs that are eaten and pressed into beverages, there is a lot more to this fruit than what you see in the produce section and wine shop.

Grapes have been cultivated domestically for thousands of years, a trade that started in the Middle East in areas including Israel, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran and Turkey, to name a few. Another fun fact: According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the world uses 70 percent of the grapes grown to make wine. And while an estimated 10,000 types of grapes exist in the Vitaceae family, only around 1,300 of these are used in winemaking. But even if you make vino out of the fruit, that doesn’t discount them from being a tasty, healthy snack option with limitless potential.

“Wine grapes are smaller than table grapes and have many seeds in them,” says Peter Becraft, winemaker at Anthony Road in the Finger Lakes region of New York. “That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy them on their own or use them in making jam.”

In the United States, these berries (yup, they’re berries) are the sixth-largest crop. All 50 states produce the fruit, with California, Washington and New York taking the lead. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the U.S. had approximately 1,049,600 acres of grape-growing land in 2014, and harvested more than 7 million tons of the fruit.

Frankly, it’s overwhelming when you start to think about all the grapes out there. To get you started on your next grape adventure, check out the profiles of these 15 popular varietals. To keep it simple, we separated them by red and white. You may already be familiar with some, while others sound like they were concocted in a fantasy novel, but all are edible and delicious.

Red Grapes

1. Moon Drops

Moon Drop grapes on the vine. You may have also seen a related varietal called Witch Fingers.

Just this year this elongated purple-skinned grape made its way to markets, and boy are we happy it did. The person to thank for this variety is Dr. David Cain, a plant breeder and scientist who works for the grape-growing company Grapery, developing new types. He has been working on the Moon Drop for about 15 years, cultivating the plant from a Middle Eastern sample. No, it’s not a GMO fruit; Cain practices old-school plant breeding, which is why it took so long to develop this novelty.

Characteristics: Finger-like shape with dark purple, almost black skin. The flesh is firm and crunchy, giving this variety a nice snap that also helps it maintain in the refrigerator for days. It’s sweet, but not too sugary, and tastes a little like grape jelly.

Where they grow: Central California

Season: Late July to late September

2. Concord

This cultivar was developed by Boston native Ephraim Wales Bull in 1849 in a small farmstead outside of Concord, Massachusetts. Bull started selling the grapes in 1854, and since then they have remained one of the most widely used fruits in the country. The famous juice we know so well appeared shortly after in 1989 thanks to New Jersey dentist Thomas Welch. This beverage remains 100 percent pure grape juice — that jammy sweetness comes solely from the fruit.

Characteristics: If you have ever had Welch’s classic grape juice, then you know exactly what the Concord tastes like. Bright, sweet and full of that signature dark grape flavor. In the early fall, you might see these perfect blue-purple orbs popping up in the farmers’ market. They have easy-to-peel skins and large seeds. As an added bonus, they smell fantastic!

Where they grow: The Finger Lakes region in New York, Yakima Valley in Washington, Michigan and Lake Ontario

Season: August to September

3. Pinot Noir

Believe it or not, your favorite bottle of bubbly may come from one of these purple bunches.

Classically this grape is used to make wine, and though the Burgundy region in France popularized it, growers all over the world now cultivate this vine. Lately, good samples are coming out of the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California. You also find this grape in sparkling wines, namely champagne (more on champagne grapes later).

Characteristics: You find this thin-skinned vitis vinifera in tight clumps of deep purple fruits. “Pinot noir has flavors and aromas of ripe cherry, wild strawberry, earthiness and caramel,” says Dreaming Tree winemaker Sean McKenzie. This is the profile you find in both the raw fruit and wine, which is why these grapes have such a following. You may also detect rose, black cherry and currents.

Where they grow: All over the world but mainly in France, Oregon, New Zealand and California

Season: August to September

4. Lemberger

Also known by the equally awesome name blaufränkisch, this grape is used for making dark, tannic wines with subtle spice notes. Originally this early-budding varietal grew in the Württemberg wine region of Germany, but in the last few decades the Finger Lakes of New York and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia have been having a lot of luck with the vines.

Characteristics: The plump grapes have a dusty blue color with a tannic berry essence. If you peel the skin back, you get more sweet, dark fruit flavors. Notes of pepper tend to come out in the grape, especially when made into wine.

Where they grow: Germany, Austria, Canada and New York

Season: August to September

5. Sweet Jubilee

Looking for an extra-large, extra-grapey grape? Look no further than tight clusters of Sweet Jubilees.

This grape hails from the Grapery’s Flavor Promise series, and made the scene in 2012. It’s one of the seeded varietals they grow, but proves so big you can cut it like an apple and just pop those suckers out. Eat them raw, sliced on a peanut butter sandwich or lightly grilled to give your salad a fruity, smoky kick.

Characteristics: You will know these grapes by the large black ovals that make up a bunch. They are sweet and firm with a clean grape flavor.

Where they grow: Central California

Season: Mid-August to early September

6. Valiant

It can’t be easy to cultivate grapes in Alaska, but thanks to its durability in freezing temperatures and harsher soil conditions, the fast-growing valiant does quite well there. These large blue grapes are used for juicing, jams and as a table grape, though they can be on the sweeter (almost sugary) side.

Characteristics: These cold-weather beauties taste a lot like Concords, and have an easy-to-remove skin and high-sugar flesh. They’re larger than the average table grape and aren’t as astringent.

Where they grow: Alaska, Canada

Season: Late August to September

7. Champagne

No, this isn’t the grape that the French make sparkling wine out of, though we understand how that might be confusing. Actually, this teeny-tiny grape’s official name is the Zante currant (though it’s not technically a currant) and is sometimes also called the black corinth. They are thought to have originated in Asia and/or Greece, but now are mainly grown in Europe and the United States. They are popular with chefs too, and at Rebelle in New York City chef Jessica Yang uses them alongside more standard grapes in her grape clafoutis. “Champagne grapes provide sweetness while the combination of table grapes add an element of tartness,” she says.

Characteristics: These are some of the smallest berries you can find, roughly the size of a pea, which makes them perfect for decorating a plate, popping in you mouth as a snack or giving to kids. They are tender and sweet, with a pleasing crunch.

Where they grow: California, Europe, Mediterranean

Season: June to September

8. Crimson Seedless

You now know the name for the red seedless grapes you’ve been serving with cheese plates for years. Say it loud and proud: Crimson Seedless!

Most of the red table grapes you see in the store are Crimson Seedless, thanks to David Ramming and Ron Tarailo of the USDA Fruit Genetics and Breeding Research Unit in Fresno, California. They bred these popular berries and released them to the public in 1989. Essentially, this is the classic grape many of us are used to, and since they have a later growing season you especially see them in the winter. Chef Yang also works with these grapes: “They add an element of tartness and have a thick skin, which keeps the juiciness and gives them a nice pop when you bite in,” she says.

Characteristics: They are firm and sweet with a pleasing tartness and have a long shelf life. The color is usually a pale brick red, sometimes with greenish streaks.

Where they grow: California

Season: August to November

9. Kyoho

Extra-large Kyoho grapes are prized in Japan for their size, uniform roundness and unparalleled flavor.

With fruits that get as big as a plum, these are the largest grapes you can find. In fact, the name “Kyoho” translates from Japanese to “giant-mountain grape,” a moniker that stemmed from Mount Fuji. These black beauties were specially bred in the 1930s and are a cross between the Ishiharawase and Centennial grape varieties. In Japan, this grape is served for dessert or juiced and mixed into traditional chuhai cocktails.

Characteristics: Large, dark black-purple berries with a big inedible seed and thick, bitter skin. You will want to peel off the outside to enjoy the sweet fruit underneath, which has a similar taste to the Concord grape.

Where they grow: Japan

Season: July to August

White Grapes

10. Cotton Candy

Sure doesn’t look like cotton candy, but one taste of these inimitably sweet green grapes and you’ll be like a kid at the fair again.

One bite of this juicy green grape and you will understand why they are so popular. Yes, they taste just like cotton candy, but in a healthy, natural form. “We weren’t breeding for a specific flavor, just grapes with a great flavor,” says Jim Beagle, CEO and co-owner of Grapery, which grows these sweethearts. “It’s amazing how much they taste like cotton candy.” You can find this varietal trademarked under the Grapery’s banner, and thus far it is only grown in California.

Characteristics: Cotton candy in grape form, hands down

Where they grow: Central California

Season: Mid-August to late September

11. Riesling

Riesling grapes are good for so much more than German and Austrian wine. That said, they make really great German and Austrian wine.

Riesling grows best in areas with cooler climates, like Austria, Germany and the Finger Lakes in New York. “Riesling is the most versatile grape grown, giving one the potential to make wines from bone-dry to dessert wine–sweet,” says Anthony Roads winemaker Peter Becraft. “The natural acidity of the grape provides structure, freshness and balance for the grape’s sugars. Riesling is wonderfully expressive of its site and the vintage it was grown in.” They taste great pressed into non-alcoholic juice, too.

Characteristics: As a grape, this specimen runs on the sweet side, with floral undertones and high acidity. This fruit also picks up the terroir of the land, meaning if the soil has more minerals in it, the grapes reflect that. All of these traits make it a great grape for winemaking. Becraft, for one, calls Riesling “the best food wine ever invented.”

Where they grow: Austria, New York, Germany, Canada and Alsace

Season: August to September, though Riesling grapes for ice wine are picked at the first frost, usually October.

12. Gewürztraminer

From pink grapes come white wine! Stranger things in winemaking have occurred.

You don’t have to have wine to understand what a bottle of gewürztraminer tastes like — just pop a fresh grape in your mouth. “For me the tastiest grapes in the vineyard to munch on are the gewürztraminer grapes,” says Becraft. “They really taste of the wine they turn into — so good.”

Characteristics: It may surprise you find out these white grapes have a pink-red skin, nothing like the almost clear wine you tend to see in the glass. While the size proves standard for the fruit, the flavor remains less grapey, and instead comes across as soft and clean with a hint of stone fruit.

Where they grow: All over the world

Season: July to September

13. Moon Balls

Created by Dole, you won’t often find these white-seeded grapes since they are only grown in South Africa and thus far production is limited. The company hopes to cultivate more in other parts of the world, so next year there might be a plethora of Moon Balls just waiting to orbit your kitchen.

Characteristics: These round hybrid grapes come out large and green, almost like an edible bouncy ball. They posses a thick skin and supple, sweet flesh that proves a bit more sugary than most table grapes.

Where they grow: South Africa

Season: February to March

14. Sultana

Also known as Thompson Seedless, these small white grapes originally hailed from the Ottoman Empire. Today, they are a favorite with chefs and are the chief fruit used to make commercial raisins. In the kitchen, prolific chef Chris Cosentino takes the little berries and gives them a blast of heat. “They are great blistered, which brings out most of their sweetness,” he says. “We’re using them in a great dish with squid, watermelon radish, serrano, mint, basil and cilantro.”

Characteristics: Sultanas are small, light green oval-shaped grapes that pack a wallop of sugar. Once dried, the sugar concentrates and produces that earthy-sweet raisin flavor everyone knows. Even when you see a darker raisin, that’s still a sultana.

Where they grow: Turkey, California and Australia

Season: July to September

15. Fry Muscadine

You might not realize that this large, brown-gold orb is actually a grape, but we assure you it is. Turns out the fry muscadine has a lot in common with beach bunnies: They bronze in the sun and get a taut, crispy outside. These heat-resistant cultivars were introduced to the market in 1970 by R. Lane of the University of Georgia.

Characteristics: Coming out about the size of a cherry tomato, these fruits turn a nice gold color when ripe that just adds to their sunny sweetness.

Where they grow: Georgia

Season: September