The cultivation of the domesticated grape began 6,000–8,000 years ago in the Near East. The earliest archeological evidence for a dominant position of wine-making in human culture dates from 8,000 years ago in Georgia.Yeast, one of the earliest domesticated microorganisms, occurs naturally on the skins of grapes, leading to the innovation of alcoholic drinks such as wine.
The earliest known production occurred around 8,000 years ago on the territory of Georgia. During an extensive gene-mapping project, archaeologists analyzed the heritage of more than 110 modern grape cultivars, and narrowed their origin to a region in Georgia, where wine residues were also discovered on the inner surfaces of 8,000-year-old ceramic storage jars. The oldest winery was found in Armenia, dating to around 4000 BC. By the 9th century AD the city of Shiraz was known to produce some of the finest wines in the Middle East. Thus it has been proposed that Syrah red wine is named after Shiraz, a city in Persia where the grape was used to make Shirazi wine. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics record the cultivation of purple grapes, and history attests to the ancient Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans growing purple grapes for both eating and wine production. The growing of grapes would later spread to other regions in Europe, as well as North Africa, and eventually in North America.
In North America, native grapes belonging to various species of the Vitis genus proliferate in the wild across the continent, and were a part of the diet of many Native Americans, but were considered by European colonists to be unsuitable for wine. Vitis vinifera cultivars were imported for that purpose.
More about: Seedless grapes
Grapes are a type of fruit that grow in clusters of 15 to 300, and can be crimson, black, dark blue, yellow, green, orange and pink. “White” grapes are actually green in color, and are evolutionarily derived from the purple grape. Mutations in two regulatory genes of white grapes turn off production of anthocyanins, which are responsible for the color of purple grapes. Anthocyanins and other pigment chemicals of the larger family of polyphenols in purple grapes are responsible for the varying shades of purple in red wines. Grapes are typically an ellipsoid shape resembling a prolate spheroid.
Table and wine grapes
Commercially cultivated grapes can usually be classified as either table or wine grapes, based on their intended method of consumption: eaten raw (table grapes) or used to make wine (wine grapes). While almost all of them belong to the same species, Vitis vinifera, table and wine grapes have significant differences, brought about through selective breeding. Table grape cultivars tend to have large, seedless fruit (see below) with relatively thin skin. Wine grapes are smaller, usually seeded, and have relatively thick skins (a desirable characteristic in winemaking, since much of the aroma in wine comes from the skin). Wine grapes also tend to be very sweet: they are harvested at the time when their juice is approximately 24% sugar by weight. By comparison, commercially produced “100% grape juice”, made from table grapes is usually around 15% sugar by weight.
In most of Europe and North America, dried grapes are referred to as “raisins” or the local equivalent. In the UK, three different varieties are recognized, forcing the EU to use the term “Dried vine fruit” in official documents.
A raisin is any dried grape. While raisin is a French loanword, the word in French refers to the fresh fruit; grappe (from which the English grape is derived) refers to the bunch (as in une grappe de raisins).
A currant is a dried Zante Black Corinth grape, the name being a corruption of the French raisin de Corinthe (Corinth grape). Currant has also come to refer to the blackcurrant and redcurrant, two berries unrelated to grapes.
A sultana was originally a raisin made from Sultana grapes of Turkish origin (known as Thompson Seedless in the United States), but the word is now applied to raisins made from either white grapes or red grapes that are bleached to resemble the traditional sultana.