To most shoppers, grapes are nothing more than nature's perfect snack food – they're sweet, conveniently packaged and the farmers have gotten rid of all those pesky seeds. That's been good for the grape industry as a whole; sales are way up. But for grape lovers who cherish fruit with real flavor, it's been a disaster.
But you can still find delicious grapes, if you know how to look.
The obvious first step is going to the farmers market, where you'll find a much broader variety of grapes than at most supermarkets. Look for grapes such as muscats and Concords (and their Japanese-bred cousin, the Kyoho).
But even standard grocery store grapes can be great if they've been allowed to ripen fully. One of the best grapes you'll ever taste is a fully ripened Thompson seedless – the workhorse variety in the California grape industry for more than a century.
When fully ripe, the Thompson (called the sultana in England) is powerfully sweet with a rich, flowery flavor.
The trick is looking for the right color. When Thompsons get good, they're no longer that pale shade of green we all know so well. Instead, the green is darker with a golden cast. In fact, they're almost amber. You'll probably have to go to a farmers market to find them like that -- they are too inconvenient for most supermarkets to be bothered with. But when you finally get a taste of them, you'll be amazed.
How to choose: Thompsons don't start to get really delicious until the color turns golden, almost amber. Don't be discouraged if the grapes shake off their stems -- avoiding this problem (called "shatter" in the business) is part of what prompted early picking in the first place. With red or black grapes, such as Crimson seedless and Concord, look for grapes that have a rich color and a matte finish rather than being simple and shiny.
How to store: Punch a few holes in the plastic bag the grapes came home from the market in to allow excess moisture to evaporate, then store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator.