Ah – champagne grapes! That’s precisely the type of exclamation I would have made when I came across these, except that I’d never heard of champagne grapes before and had no concept of what they were. Well, that might be a bit disingenuous, I suspected they might be grapes – but why so small, why so many, and why the evocative and memorable name?
The champagne grape wins some sort of award for being the most confusingly named grape. For starters, our little champagne grapes have nothing to do with the manufacture of champagne. Champagne is, of course, made from grapes – but those grapes are either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes, larger, thicker-skinned brutes. The pseudonym “champagne grape” allegedly owes its existence to one Mr. Allin Corrin – a grape producer from Reedly, Califronia. According to lore Mr. Corrin arranged to have this variety of tiny grape featured in Sunset Magazine next to a flute of champagne and the blurb “champagne grapes”. Supposedly, that single image in Sunset Magazine had a strong enough national reach to indelibly brand the grape with that name forever more. I would like to believe this story as much as I’d like to believe the story about gyoza and Chinese ears, but there seems to be little evidence to back up the claim beyond a passel of unsourced Yahoo Answer results.
Prior to being called champagne grapes, these little guys were known as Black Corrinth grapes, due to their origin in that region of Greece – still the primary produce of the grapes to this day. Of course, like all grapes, Black Corinth grapes undergo that magical change when they’re dried – a magical change that transforms their name. While most grapes become raisins, the champagne grape actually becomes a currant.
Wow, you might be thinking, so that’s where currants come from! Well, no – not really. In all likelihood the currant you’re thinking of is the blackcurrant or redcurrant, two very similar berries in taste and appearance that just happen to be totally unrelated to grapes. The full name of the dried champagne grape is the “Zante currant”, but the “Zante” part is commonly dropped, adding to the whole confusion.
Long and complicated name history aside, you may well be wondering how the Champagne grape actually tastes. The answer is, quite delicious! Each tiny grape is incredibly sweet and flavorful, not to mention seedless. The taste is like that of a larger grape, but concentrated into a smaller space, like a Jelly Belly compared to a Jelly Bean. The little grapes are sweet all the way through – never tart or harsh.
Of course, being so tiny and numerous, you might well be asking yourself what to do with them. Well, for starts there’s nothing wrong with just casually snacking on them – much as a recumbent Pharaoh may be want do. One of the perks of the diminutive size of the grapes is that the stems are nearly thread-thin and supple enough to eat. You can simply snack down on the little grape without bothering to stop and pluck out each tiny stem.
If you’re looking for something a little grander to justify your champagne grape purchase, they can easily be substituted into any recipe that call for any other sort of table grape – just be sure to account for the extra sweetness they bring. It’s easy enough to scatter a handful of these over your salad, (to be paired with a nice vinaigrette perhapss). If you’re feeling even more adventurous, you can try the grilled cheese and champagne grape receipe below:
Recipe – “Crying over my Champagne” Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- A couple slices of bread
- Softened butter (enough for bread and sautéing)
- Some sliced cheese – cheddar is nice.
- Very thin slices of red onion
- About 2 tablespoons worth of champagne grapes
- Heat a skillet to medium heat.
- Add the rest of the butter to the pan and sautee your red onions. (Cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently).
- Butter each slice of bread on one side.
- Lay a slice of bread, butter side down, on a plate and add the cheese slices.
- Add the sautéed onion, followed by the champagne grapes. Try to spread everything evenly.
- Place the other slice of bread on top, buttered side out. (Press down slightly to keep it all together).
- Cook over medium heat for about a minute to a minute and a half on each side, until nice and melted.
- Cut the sandwich in half (diagonally!) and serve.
The red onion is such a strong taste, that it can overpower the gentle sweetness of the champagne grapes. Sauteeing them makes the onions milder, but if you like your sandwich to have bite you can skip this step.
All in all, these grapes are a perfectly nice way to fill your fruit bowl with something a little out of the ordinary. If you’re a fan of grapes, or sweet fruit in general, you’ll want to give these a shot.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, these are very nice for snacking on.
Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, I like to have a varied fruit bowl.
Final Synopsis: As Jelly Bellys are to Jelly Beans, so are Champagne grapes to regular table grapes.