Table grapes. Pablo Neustadt/©ICEX.
The grape or Vitis vinifera is the fruit of the vine, a member of the Vitis family, comprising around 600 species. It grows in clusters of round or elongated berries and, depending on the variety, its skin can be green, yellowy, red or purple, and its juicy pulp can present differing degrees of sweetness.
It has been grown since prehistoric times, and the grape currently produced in Europe originated in Asia, from where it spread around the Mediterranean basin. The Greeks and Romans developed viticulture, which was introduced into America by the Spanish colonists.
In order for grapes to be used for table consumption, rather than wine-making, they must have a low level of sugar and acidity and be the right size, colour and shape. Their selling season is autumn and winter.
Spain is one of the largest producers of table grapes in Europe, chiefly in the province of Alicante (Valencian Community) and the Region of Murcia, although table grapes are also produced in Málaga, Seville and Almería (Andalusia) and in Valencia (Valencian Community).
Grapes from Vinalopó
There is one table grape in Spain with a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), the Uva de mesa embolsada de Vinalopó (Vinalopó bagged table grape), produced in the mid-west of the province of Alicante (Valencian Community). The clusters are covered with a bag, to protect against adverse weather conditions and delay ripening, and the grape has a fine skin and an exquisite flavor. The PDO covers three varieties: Ideal, also know as Italia, which produces large bunches, has a distinctive yellow color and a flavor reminiscent of Muscatel; Aledo, a later variety, with a pale white berry and flesh with a sweet, neutral flavor, widely consumed in Spain on New Year's Eve and highly prized for export; and, lastly, the Rosetti variety, now practically in disuse. Spain has a tradition dating back to the 19 th century where all the family members, gathered together after New Year's Eve dinner, each eat twelve grapes in time with the chimes that welcome in the New Year, a tradition stemming from a surplus harvest of this fruit.
Other important varieties of table grape are Muscatel, which has a white, black or red skin, a large, round berry, a delicate aroma and delicious, sweet flavor, grown in the Region of Murcia, Alicante (Valencian Community) and Málaga (Andalusia), and from which the well-known Málaga raisins are obtained by a drying process; Dominga, a variety native to the Region of Murcia, which has a large berry and an oval to ellipsoidal shape, a yellow to greenish-yellow color and neutral-flavored flesh; the Sweetwater variety, which is green, has a fine skin and less flavor; and, lastly, Cardinal, a big, oval, bluish-black grape with highly aromatic flesh, grown in the Valencian Community. In Almería (Andalusia), the main varieties grown are Ohanes, a white grape, low in sweetness, named after the town it comes from, and the Napoleon variety, which is a violet color has a hard skin and produces big bunches.
These days there is a tendency to boost production of seedless grapes, which are much sought-after on the international market, notably the seedless Superior variety. In Spain, these grapes are grown mainly in the region of Murcia.
Grapes are ideal as a dessert, on their own or combined with other fruits, and in juices. Their flavor combines well with cheese and the sweetest grapes, with foie gras. The Muscatel grape is used as an accompaniment to ajoblanco, a traditional cold soup based on almonds and olive oil. It is also used as an ingredient in the preparation of sweets, salads and meat, and its sweetness creates a contrast in all sorts of recipes.