So I was in the supermarket the other day when I saw a small display of odd grapes. They were identified by a sign calling them Black Corinth grapes, and this was subtitled "Champagne grapes." I stood there in the produce department and said, probably in a too-loud voice, "That's a dirty lie!"

Black Corinth grapes are a strange little seedless variety of vitis vinifera, the European grape. They are really tiny black grapes that grow in tight clusters. Indeed, in the wild they rarely grow larger than pinheads, but the ancients discovered that they could grow larger grapes by girdling the vines. Today, it is common practice to use plant hormones instead of girdling to produce reasonably sized fruit. They probably originated in the Levant, but later became associated with Corinth. Because of their size, they tend to raisin. Because of this fact, they are most commonly encountered in stores as raisins, or more specifically as currants (so named by formation off "raisins de Corinth"). They should not, however, be confused with black currants, which are a completely different type of fruit.

Champagne, including those sparkling wines made in imitation of true champagne, are almost universally made with Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes, with the occasional drop or two of Pinot Blanc or Pinot Meunier. Moreover, there is already a North American vitis labrusca variety called Champagne, which are of very low quality. So why are Black Corinth grapes called "the champagne grape"?

Marketing. A produce company in California several years back decided to try to sell the unraisined Black Corinth as a table grape, and did so by photographing the small clusters in champagne flutes.

Don't be fooled!

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