What is Table Wine and What is So Special About it?


A rudimentary Google search enquiring for the definition of a table wine yields this result: “a wine of moderate quality considered suitable for drinking with a meal.” So…basically most wines. That’s not very helpful. Technically table wine can be any wine, but the overly vague usage of the word lends it an image of being too cheap.

This has caused many winemakers to abandon the ‘table wine’ label in favor of other appellations. However, depending on where you live, it can mean different things, signifying varying levels of quality. This article covers what you should know about table wines from the US and Europe. We’ll talk about which separates the two, and other things one might need to know.

What Is So Special About This Table Wine?

Often, table wines can resemble Schrodinger’s cat; you won’t know whether it’s dead or alive until you open the bottle.

Wine production can be a sticky business. It involves many winemakers who are only passionate about making wine can find these rules restrictive and suffocating. They might ban the usage of particular unapproved grapes, bar certain production practices, etc. The legal classification of wine has many issues that a winemaker must consider when they wish to play around with their techniques/ingredients. Consequently, many winemakers mark some wines as ‘table wines’. Instead, there should be some appellation that demands strict adherence to a specific procedure.

A wine may not specify a place of origin. It could either be a spectacular wine made by a producer looking to redraw the frontiers of winemaking. This could also be just an ordinary wine made to escape regulation.

Knowing which producers are fake and which might offer a unique experience is the key to picking the right table wine. Alternatively, a salesperson may be able to guide you to some ‘undiscovered masterpieces’. That in addition to being of premium quality, will likely come with amusing anecdotes regarding its genesis. This can be very handy if you’re looking to pick a wine for a party or event and want to make a good impression with your extensive knowledge of a thoughtful gift.

Does Table Wine Mean Different Things in the US and Europe?

Yes, it Does, and if You’re in the US, Things are Quite Straightforward.

In the American story, ‘table wine’ can mean anything that has between 7% and 14% alcohol content. It must also be unsparkling and unfortified. Unfortunately, this has resulted in table wines associating with low-quality drinks that are meant to do the job of being had with a meal. The usually-frugal prices for these bottles only add to this preconception.

The European Story is Much, Much More Complicated.

Table wine in Europe isn’t just a moniker on the bottle. It entails a much stricter legal classification than the one employed in America. Before, ‘table wine’ was one of two classifications used for all wines produced in the continent. The second classification is the heavily regulated one, called ‘QWPSR’, or ‘Quality Wines Produced in Specific Regions’, which is as literal as it gets.

Each country then classifies its wine based on these general guidelines. 2011 saw QWPSR being abolished in favor of two new categories: PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), and PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).

The Two Categories

This new distinction, among other things, is an indicator of the quality of wine that is marked. PDO marked wine is generally of a higher quality than PGI. In the case of some countries, this has meant a reclassification of the ‘table wine’ category as well. For example, in France, QWPSR was reclassified as three separate distinctions, whereas table wine (Vin de Table) indicated a wine that could’ve been produced anywhere in the country. However, with the advent of PGI and PDO, Vin de Table has been replaced with ‘Vin de France’. This subtle change removes the word ‘table’ from the label in an attempt to shore up the value of what would generally be classified as table wine.

Many makers in countries like Portugal, Germany, and Spain have disregarded these new rules altogether. Furthermore, vintage bottles from European countries are still widely available. However, these attempts are merely a way of rekindling the nostalgia some winemakers still hold about table wine as an appellation. As mentioned, most winemakers are moving away from the ‘table wine’ classification in favor of more marketable terms.

An Important Thing to Know

One important note about table wines is that their ABV (alcohol by volume) percentages are often misleading particularly in the case of table wine. Despite rigid legal standards, it has been observed that the average alcohol content in wine has been steadily increasing since the 1990s. Two reasons might be behind this.

The first problem is that wine marked above 14% ABV is taxed much more than those that stay within the 7-14% limit. Secondly, consumers want intricate wines that have all sorts of flavors. However, these necessarily come with additional but unwanted alcohol due to the way wine is produced. This results in producers deflating the amount of alcohol included in their drinks. So if you see a table wine with an ABV level higher than 14%, the producer is likely paying a massive tax for the label. On the other hand, if you see a table wine with low alcohol content, but with elaborate descriptions of complexity and flavor, the producers might be under-reporting how much alcohol it has.

The Winemaker’s Logic

Any wine that can be consumed with a meal can technically be considered table wine. Despite the association of table wine with a cheap, low-quality product, not all table wine needs to be ordinary. Many winemakers who wish to experiment without worrying about legal sanctions mark their product as table wine. This is because they don’t particularly care about the label. For better or worse however, this has the consequence of potentially not getting what you thought you were buying.

Some unethical practices, like under-reporting alcohol content for taxation and marketing purposes, are becoming increasingly common in the wine industry. Consumers want the swankiest, most complex wine available, and sometimes this comes with an excessive alcohol level. This might slip below the radar while producing the bottle labels. Alternatively, you might be pleasantly surprised by a drink that could have been created by particularly passionate winemakers who want to make good wine.

Final Thoughts

Most of us buy table wine as the go-to choice for several meals. However, pairing table wines with food is entire art in its own right. One handy tip before picking a table wine is to make sure to find out whether it is more suitable to drink before or after meals. We recommended to do some searching regarding those ‘undiscovered masterpieces’ to find the best wine to impress at parties and enjoy at home.

Thanks for reading! If you’re a wine lover like us (of course you are) check us out on Pinterest for a daily dose of wine content. You can also leave a comment below with any questions or interests you may like for us to cover.

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Bottoms up, we’ll uncork ya later!!  ?

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