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home > food & wine dictionary > grapes

Food and Wine Dictionary

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Although other fruits are vinified, grapes are the basis for most of the world's wine and all of its fine wines. That's because certain grape species (which today have been refined to deliver the utmost in aroma and flavor) comprise the right properties to produce wine naturally-high amounts of fermentable sugar, strong flavors, color in the skins, and TANNINS in the seeds and skins (to assist AGING). It's surmised that over 5,000 years ago someone discovered a naturally created wine-and that it tasted good. That prompted grape cultivation, along with winemaking techniques to help nature along. Today, wine production has become relatively sophisticated, and the wine, presumably, has become much better. Grapes belong to the botanical family Ampelidaceae, and of that family's ten genera, the genus Vitis is most important to winemakers. There are numerous species within the genus Vitis, the most important of which is VITIS VINIFERA, the species that yields over 99 percent of the world's wines. Vitis Vinifera is native to Europe and East and Central Asia, but it has been planted all over the world. There are estimated to be thousands of varieties of this species, some of the best-known being CABERNET SAUVIGNON, CHARDONNAY, MERLOT, PINOT NOIR, SAUVIGNON BLANC, SYRAH, and ZINFANDEL. Other Vitis species that produce grapes suitable for wine include VITIS LABRUSCA, VITIS RIPARIA, and VITIS ROTUNDIFOLIA (all of which are native to the Americas). Even though these species are not the quality of the vitis vinifera grapes, some of them have played a critical role in worldwide grape production. That's because the vitis vinifera roots are susceptible to PHYLLOXERA, and the native American vines, particularly vitis riparia, are resistant to this louse. Most of the world's vineyards now have phylloxera-resistant rootstocks (other than vitis vinifera) that have vitis vinifera vines grafted to them. This resulting marriage allows the roots to survive while still producing the best wine grapes.

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Material adapted from the The New Food Lover's Companion

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on
THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

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