Background: The composition of grapevine berry at harvest is a major determinant of wine quality. Optimal oenological maturity of berries is characterized by a high sugar/acidity ratio, high anthocyanin content in the skin, and low astringency. However, harvest time is still mostly determined empirically, based on crude biochemical composition and berry tasting. In this context, it is interesting to identify genes that are expressed/repressed specifically at the late stages of ripening and which may be used as indicators of maturity.Results: Whole bunches and berries sorted by density were collected in vineyard on Chardonnay (white cultivar) grapevines for two consecutive years at three stages of ripening (7-days before harvest (TH-7), harvest (TH), and 10-days after harvest (TH+10)). Microvinification and sensory analysis indicate that the quality of the wines made from the whole bunches collected at TH-7, TH and TH+10 differed, TH providing the highest quality wines.In parallel, gene expression was studied with Qiagen/Operon microarrays using two types of samples, i.e. whole bunches and berries sorted by density. Only 12 genes were consistently up- or down-regulated in whole bunches and density sorted berries for the two years studied in Chardonnay. 52 genes were differentially expressed between the TH-7 and TH samples. In order to determine whether these genes followed a similar pattern of expression during the late stages of berry ripening in a red cultivar, nine genes were selected for RT-PCR analysis with Cabernet Sauvignon grown under two different temperature regimes affecting the precocity of ripening. The expression profiles and their relationship to ripening were confirmed in Cabernet Sauvignon for seven genes, encoding a carotenoid cleavage dioxygenase, a galactinol synthase, a late embryogenesis abundant protein, a dirigent-like protein, a histidine kinase receptor, a valencene synthase and a putative S-adenosyl-L-methionine:salicylic acid carboxyl methyltransferase.Conclusions: This set of up- and down-regulated genes characterize the late stages of berry ripening in the two cultivars studied, and are indirectly linked to wine quality. They might be used directly or indirectly to design immunological, biochemical or molecular tools aimed at the determination of optimal ripening in these cultivars.