Since the explosion of new varieties of grapes on the market, you may have seen these tiny grapes mixed in with the standard varieties of table grapes. These grapes come in red, white, and black varieties.
Also known as Corinth grapes, or Zante Currant grapes, these tiny morsels are frequently marketed as Champagne grapes because they resemble tiny bubbles, and because of a photoshoot that showed them elegantly displayed by a champagne flute.
The name is where any association with Champagne ends. These grapes have nothing to do with Champagne or winemaking. These grapes are strictly for eating. Unlike many of the new hybrids hitting the market, Champagne grapes have been around for a while, but have not managed to become as popular in the United States as other grape varieties, like the Thompson’s seedless.
Where did these teensy little grapes come from? What’s their story, and are they useful for anything besides healthy snacking? Keep reading to find out the backstory behind these bubbly little grapes.
Where Do Champagne Grapes Come From
Whether you call it a Zante Currant, a Corinth, or a Champagne Grape, these grapes have been around since before the fall of Rome. The first recorded mention of them is from 75 AD by Pliny, The Elder.
These raisins were later a source of trade between the Venetians and the Greeks and appeared in English markets in the 14th century. During this time, they acquired the name Resync de Courant. They later became known as Corinths, since this was their main port of trade.
Champagne grapes, or Corinths, eventually made their way to the United States, with the help of grower, Colonel Agoston Haraszthy, who began to cultivate the Red and White Corinth in California in 1861. Black Corinth grapes were introduced successfully in 1901 by David Fairchild.
Peak production of these grapes hit in the 1930s, with 3,000 acres devoted to these grapes, a number that has stayed consistent.
The Champagne Grape has been used to produce raisins since Pliny The Elder first mentioned them, and are still one of the grapes most commonly used for this purpose.
In the US, they are sold as Zante currants, Corinth raisins, or Corinthian raisins. Countries outside the US sell them as currants, although they are distinctly different from actual currants, which are also sold dried and are an entirely separate berry.
That’s quite a lot of history for a tiny raisin!
What Do Champagne Grapes Taste Like?
Champagne grapes are a crisp grape with a sweet flavor that is balanced by a slight tartness. When these grapes are dried to produce currants, the sugar is concentrated, making them even sweeter, although they retain a touch of tartness.
Dried into currants, the flavor is enhanced. Currants have a slight spice to them, which is why they are so popular in desserts and jams. The tartness keeps them from being overwhelmingly sweet, like some other dried fruits.
The tiny stems of the Champagne grape are often eaten along with the grape, because of the difficulty in removing them. This does not spoil the flavor because the stems are very tender and difficult to distinguish from the skin.
How To Use Champagne Grapes
Champagne grapes are very popular on fruit trays because their small size makes them visually appealing. They are often used as an edible display for events, draped over wine glasses, or displayed in bunches.
These grapes have more than just aesthetic appeal. They also pack a culinary punch. Cooked whole, or used dried as currants, Champagne grapes add something special to both sweet and savory dishes.
- Pan-Seared Scallops with Champagne Grapes and Almonds.
- Lavender Champagne Grape Pie Bites
- Champagne Grape Granita
- Mini Cheesecakes with Champagne Roasted Grapes
- Cream Scones With Currants
- Easy Irish Soda Bread With Currants
- Cod Baked With Currants
Don’t be afraid to get adventurous with your cooking! Champagne grapes and currants have been used in cooking for centuries! If you can’t find currants, regular raisins will also work, though they lack the zip that makes Corinthian Currants so popular.
Where To Get Champagne Grapes
Champagne grapes have been a more common sight in grocery store produce aisles lately. You can find them at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and sometimes in your local grocery store. If you can’t find them in the store, you can order them online through Melissa’s Produce. Champagne grapes are available from late spring to early fall.
Corinthian Currants are available year-round since they are dried and not fresh. Some grocery stores may stock them, but if you can not find them in the store, they are available through online retailers such as Amazon.
How To Grow Champagne Grapes
If you think you want to give growing your own Champagne grapes a try, keep a few things in mind. Even though champagne grapes will grow in zones 6-10, they do the best in zones 7,8,9. Like all grapes, they require well-drained soil and need at least 8 hours of full sun. This is a European variety, which means it is more susceptible to diseases, so look for vines that are certified virus-free.
- Plant your vines against a trellis or arbor. A sturdy fence will work as well.
- Soak the roots of your vines for 3 hours until planting.
- Trim the roots and remove any broken ones.
- Plant them about 12 inches deep.
- Water them frequently until established.
- Water at least once a week, unless there is frequent rain.
- Carefully maintain a soil pH below 7.
- After the 3rd year, you can allow the vine to produce freely.
Champagne grapes are one of the more difficult grape varieties to grow. They require a great deal of attention and are susceptible to powdery mildew, downy mildew, and black rot. Commercial growers use hormones or a practice called girdling to make sure the grapes form tight clusters.
Otherwise, the bunches end up bedraggled, and not like something you would use to decorate a fruit plate. You may want to start with a hardier variety of grape before venturing into Champagne grapes. Concord grapes are an excellent beginner variety
Champagne Grape Fun Facts
- The white waxy substance you sometimes see on grapes is called “bloom”. Grapes produce it as a defense against the sun. It wipes right off and is a sign that your bunch of grapes is fresh.
- Champagne grapes are the smallest of all the seedless grapes. They are only slightly larger than a pea.
- Although they come in white, and red varieties as well, the most common champagne grapes are black.
- Champagne grapes are sometimes used by winemakers to add color and to help blend their wines.
- There are wild varieties of Champagne grapes, that have tiny fruit, the size of a pen tip.
- Currants and raisins were once considered a luxury food.
There you have it! Champagne grapes have a long and interesting history, you wouldn’t think such a small fruit could have such an impact on cuisine and horticulture.
Find yourself a bunch of Champagne grapes the next time you’re at the store. Or enjoy some currants and as you eat them think about all the people who have enjoyed them for centuries.