Fall is a special time for grapes. The domestic season is long, with fruit harvesting from May through October, but by September it’s time for peak production. This means grape lovers are in quality and variety heaven.
Part of what makes fall special for grapes is field conditions. Grapes love warm weather, and the fruit we are harvesting now has had the whole of summer hanging on the vine. This translates into high sugar content and wonderfully complex flavors. This is also the time we see an explosion of choices in grape varieties, as the standard red, green, and black seedless table grapes are joined by a flood of seeded varieties like Concord, Red Globe, and black Ribier. Even wine grape varieties are harvested and sold fresh for a brief period in September.
Selecting grapes is largely about stem condition. When harvested, stems are bright green and full. As the fruit ages the stems start to turn brown and dry out. You should look for fruit with healthy stems and with no broken leaky grapes. Often in the fall, green varieties will start to turn yellow — this condition is called "ambering" and is very desirable as it indicates a very high concentration of sugars. It’s best to remove grapes from the bag or container when you get them home — I generally wash mine and cut the larger bunches into snack-sized ones with kitchen shears and place them in a bowl in the fridge for snacking. Grapes will keep this way for a week at least.
Grapes are great with any meal, but are best as a fall snack — try some wonderful seasonal varieties today.
James Parker, global associate perishables coordinator for Whole Foods Market