Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: May 11, 2023

Wine vs. Grape Juice: What's The Difference?

Wine vs. Grape Juice: What's The Difference?

Not a lot of people know what's with the wine vs. grape juice deal, and those who think that they do normally just answer with ‘alcohol.’ However, while that may be technically right, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Because of that, we’re looking a little bit deeper into what the key differences are, and how they’re introduced, right from the growing of the grape all the way up to whether it’s brought out as wine or a juice. So, let’s start with the beginning.

The only main similarity between the two is that they’re both made out of grapes. Beyond that, there are more differences than similarities, especially the deeper into what both products actually are.

One of the core differences between the two is the fact that wine is fermented, whereas grape juice isn’t. But then, that leads us to a whole other question, which is what exactly the fermentation process is.

But first, we need to break down a grapes make-up, as silly as it might sound. The juice and sugar that we normally get from grapes take up the inside of the grape; that’s why you need to crush it in order to get the juice out. However, there’s an excess of yeast in the skin of the grape, and when yeast and sugar begin to mix, this is the beginning of the fermentation process.

What Is Fermentation?

Fermentation is when sugar from fruit, such as a grape or an apple, starts to join with yeast and bacteria. In most cases, the fruit needs to be crushed and then have these two added; however, with grapes, it’s slightly more complicated than that. You see, grape juice and sugar are located on the inside of the grape, whereas yeast is abundant in the skin of the grape.

The likes of cider and other alcoholic beverages tend to go through a very similar process, although they might change slightly, depending on what kind of alcohol you’re creating, as well as how you want it to look, taste, etc.

Because of that, grapes naturally start fermenting as soon as they’re crushed, which means that it’ll start becoming wine unless you take care, even before you start crushing the grapes, but more on that in a little bit.

Once the grapes are allowed to ferment, the sugar will start to blend with the yeast and bacteria in order to start creating alcohol. As the fermentation process proceeds, the sugar content will gradually reduce to around the 2% range, while the alcohol content will gradually increase to between 9% and 12%, depending on how long you let it ferment for.

There’s also the likes of dessert wine, which can be used to in a number of ways with your dessert preparation. This generally follows the same fermentation process as normal wine, but it uses up more sugar and has a shorter process. Because of that, there’s a higher sugar content and lower alcohol content, so it can be used as a sweetener for a lot of desserts.

These kinds of wine normally have a sugar content of around 30%, compared to more typical alcoholic wine, which normally has a sugar content of 2%, and can go as low as 0.7%, depending on the distiller and their specific process.

Difference Between Wine And Grape Juice Processing

As we mentioned above, grapes begin fermenting as soon as they’re crushed, but grape juice doesn’t have any alcohol content. But, how can the both of those be true at the same time? Well, that’s down to a process that’s used before the grape are even crushed at all. As we’ve alluded to, the yeast in the skin of the grape ferments the juice, so the only solution to that is to get rid of the yeast.

According to most reports, back in the 1800s, a way was devised to heat the grapes in order to get rid of the yeast without destroying the juice itself. Once they’re heated enough, the grapes are then moved into further processing in order to be turned into the grape juice that we all know and love.

Once the yeast has been removed from the grapes, the grapes themselves can now be turned into grape juice. While you may think that this is a relatively easy process – the juice is already in the grape, right? – it’s a little bit more complicated than that. Manufacturers process their grape juice differently and have different formulae and recipes that make up their grape juice. The juice straight from the grape is just one core ingredient in a larger product. This is why taste and texture vary from brand to brand.

What About The Differences Between White Wine, Red Wine, And Grape Juice?

Wines are made almost exactly the same regardless of whether it’s red wine or white wine. As such, they’re both just as different to grape juice as you could possibly get. However, there are still some key differences between red wine and white wine.

The main difference is the fact that red wine uses the skin of the grape throughout the entire fermentation process, which helps give it its unique, distinctive color, taste and texture. White wine, on the other hand, uses colorless, or lightly colored grapes in order to give it its distinct appearance.

In summary, the main differences between wine and grape juice are:

  • Grape juice is heated to remove yeast before crushing. After that, it goes through a process to stay sweet and has a number of additives depending on the manufacturer. This is done so that it doesn’t begin to ferment.
  • The wine has yeast and goes through a fermentation process in order to become alcoholic. Through this, sugar mixes with yeast and bacteria in order to create alcohol.
  • Grape juice has a much higher sugar content, with wines sugar content being between 0.7% and 2%. However, dessert wine can have as much as 30% sugar, although a lower alcohol content than normal wine.

As we mentioned above, while there aren’t many differences between wine and grape juice, they are more complicated than simply stating that wine has alcohol while grape juice doesn’t, regardless of how true that may be.

Final Thoughts

As highlighted above, there are quite a few differences between wine and grape juice. One is an alcoholic beverage, whereas the other is not. One is fermented, the other is obtained exclusively from pressing the grapes.

You can’t have a glass of grape juice and pretend you’re drinking wine. The two beverages will never taste the same no matter how hard you try.

However, you could replace wine with grape juice in some recipes. In fact, if you’re cooking a risotto dish, for example, and you’re concerned about adding wine if kids are present, you could obtain pretty close results by using an appropriate grape juice.

What do you think? Would you replace wine with grape juice if you had to? Which do you prefer? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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About the Author Tim Edison

Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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