Respected gourmet, food, and wine magazine Saveur painted a perfect picture of table grapes, poetically describing them thus: “Table grapes are nature’s candy: firm little ovals, they burst with a satisfying crunch as you bite into them, quickly melting away to a soft, juicy pulp.”
However, the incredible flavor of grapes reaches superlative levels at only certain times of the year. In terms of pinpointing perfect grape periods, much depends upon location and grape variety.
Wine grapes are a separate entity from table grapes. Wine grapes are wide ranging in flavor, variety, and provenance. Table grapes, on the other hand, generally come in green, red, and black. All colors come in seedless varieties, and all make a delicious snack in addition to stepping in as great accents in many dishes, both savory and sweet.
Growing a Variety of Grapes
Most commercial grape growers plant and harvest a variety of grapes. For instance, in northern Mexico, Gilberto Salazar’s produce business, Videxport, grows a variety of grapes, ensuring that a steady stream of these fruits goes to market throughout the year. Salazar’s operations are located in the Mexican state of Sonora, which, along with Baja California, accounts for the vast majority of table grape production in Mexico. Grape harvesting in the region runs from late April through December. For many months of the year, Sonora-grown grapes of all colors grace the produce sections of most markets.
Green Table Grapes
Several major types of green table grapes exist. Green table grapes from Mexico show up throughout the year in different guises. However, due to their perishability, not all grape varieties are available at all places throughout the year. Here are just a few for consideration:
The name of the Perlette seedless grape is derived from French, in which it means “little pearl.” Perlette grapes are among the earliest grapes available. A crystalline green color, the Perlette grape is crisp and juicy with an almost translucent appearance. These grapes are exported around the world, including to the U.S. and the United Kingdom, in the months of April, May, and June.
The Early Sweet grape is another seedless green table variety. They have a light green hue, feature large fruit, and stay fresh for a longer period than other grape varieties. Early Sweet grapes grown in Mexico are generally available in North America and Europe from late May through early July.
These seedless table grapes are long in shape and sweet. They are crispy and light green in color. They also have a slight flavor of the Muscat type grape. Available from late May through July, Sugarones are prized for their sweetness and low acidity.
Red Table Grapes
Red grapes are really more of a deep pink or blushing maroon. As with green seedless varieties, red grape varieties become available at different times of the year.
These brightly colored, round grapes have a rich, sweet flavor. The cluster of berries is usually medium to large in size.
Red Globe/Uva Globo
While red globe grapes have seeds, their flavor makes them worth the extra effort of spitting out (or crunching through) those seeds. The large, round Red Globes have a longer shelf life than many other types of grapes. As a result, they are well suited for exporting to more distant destinations, including England and the rest of Europe.
Black seedless grapes are very sweet. They have an elongated shape and are a gorgeous deep blue-black shade. Various cultivars of black grapes exist. Two of the more popular ones, Summer Royal and Sugrathirteen, ripen from June through early autumn. Another popular black grape, the Autumn Royal, is available from August through January.
Choosing the Best Grapes
Growers are the prefect people to consult for the best advice on choosing the best fruits. At Videxport, Gilberto Salazar runs his harvesting operations so that grapes are hand harvested and packed while still in the field. This ensures their freshness remains intact throughout their journey to markets. Salazar provides a few guidelines on selecting grapes at the store:
- Choose grape clusters of a uniform color, not ones with wide color variations
- Look for clusters that are intact and have not dropped many grapes
- If a gentle shake of the cluster dislodges several grapes, the bunch is likely not fresh
At home, store grapes in the refrigerator to prolong freshness and flavor. Be sure to wash them, but not until just prior to eating them.
Even within the three color groups of table grapes, there are wide varieties of choices. Varieties of grapes are available year round, presenting the opportunity to sample and compare flavors throughout the year.