The Difference Between Wine and Table Wine

You are planning a special dinner party. You’ve planned the food, the music, the decorations, and the games. However, you’re a little uncertain about the wine. Should you use ‘Table Wine’ or not? Will it seem too cheap?

In fact, you don’t really know the difference between table wine and other wines. It all seems so confusing. Table wines, after all, are the inexpensive, poorly-produced wines that no one really wants to consume, aren’t they?

Well, no. Not actually. Read on to find out why a table wine might be the best option for your dinner party, and why it could be a really smart choice to keep on hand for your home.

Table Wine—A Definition

Table Wine—A Definition

If you’re confused as to what a table wine really is, you’re not alone. The cause of your bewilderment is not hard to discover.

The reason is that the definition for table wine is different in different parts of the world, and the definition keeps changing. In fact, in France, there is no official definition of table wine anymore. But people still use the term.

Also, if you’re not an expert, you need to firstly define what sparkling and dessert wines are, simply to avoid confusion when comparing different bottles. Sparkling wine is wine that contains bubbles (carbon dioxide). Dessert wine is a sweet wine. It can be sparkling, or regular, or a table wine.

Basically, the definition embraces the fact that regular wine is produced under a set of strict regulations, which ensures its quality. Table wine does not necessarily adhere to those regulations. This is where, historically, you get the understanding that table wine is not good quality. This is due to the idea that if you don’t adhere to certain standards, the quality will be of lower value.  

Yes, table wine is often cheaper, partly due to not having to pay for the regulations. However, this doesn’t mean that it is necessarily of inferior quality. It can, in fact, be a superior-quality wine.

In addition, to define table wine or regular wine, we need first to distinguish what source the wine has.

Wine can be made from rice, elderberries, pomegranate, cherry and plum. We are not going to be talking about this kind of wine, as it would not be relevant to the table wine niche. For table wine, you’ll learn more about wine specifically made from grapes.

Technically speaking, table wine is any wine that will be consumed during a meal. However, because of the confusion, it may be best to unpack the term region by region, and discover the wide variety of meanings it can have.

Table Wine in the USA

Now, in the United States, a table wine constitutes any wine that is 14% or less alcohol by volume (ABV). It is any unfortified, non-sparkling dry wine. This means any inexpensive grape wine that is an ‘easy-drinker’. It will inevitably be cheaper, but can often be of superb quality.

Remember, with these beverages, it is the quality of the starting material that actually determines the quality of the outcome. The quality of the wine is not determined by the production.

Furthermore, wine generally tastes just as good after one year as it does after four.

These wines are produced in great quantities and often with quick production methods. In fact, table wine can be understood in a fairly similar way world-wide. However, you shouldn’t dismiss table wines altogether. You might be missing out on some amazing wines simply because of the procedure of classification.

Table Wine in Europe

That brings us to Europe. In Europe, table wines used to be wines that met minimum production restrictions. At one time, wine was divided into two groups: table wines, and Quality Wines Produced in Specific Regions (QWpsr).

The latter wines were only grown in specific regions under specific conditions, which means that everything was very strictly regulated. Therefore, in theory, these wines were supposed to be of higher quality.

That fits with the definition from the USA, and it is the reason the misunderstanding of table wines persists.

However, the wines are now defined differently in Europe, and it is important to understand these if we are to truly grasp the value of table wines. Understanding how the terminology evolved over time helps one grasp the details of the wine today.

As an example, we need only look to France to see the complexity of classification that they used to have and how it has changed to what you should look for today. Previously, France used the following references:

  • Table wine, from anywhere in France
  • Country wine, from a wine region
  • Higher quality wines from a wine region
  • Wines of specific origin and quality

The EU then replaced this with only two categories:

This meant that France had three categories:

  • Vin De France (equivalent to table wine)
  • A form of PGI
  • A form of PDO

In this way France has averted the table wine categorization, with its associated idea of low quality.

However, you still hear the term table wines because vintners have carried on using the term. Italians are simply calling it ‘wine’ (vino), and Spain, Portugal and Germany just ignore the European ruling and carry on labelling their bottles ‘Table Wine’.

Is Table Wine of Low Quality?

Table Wine is definitely not necessarily low quality. In fact, the opposite can be true. One of the reasons is that to be labelled as PGO or PDO, a winemaker has to adhere to a very strict of requirements for production and growing.

Some vintners simply wish to make wine, not worry about labels and processes and procedures. They want to experiment, and use different varieties of grape than would be permitted. They might want to produce grapes with new, untested methods.

The whole procedure of getting one’s wine labelled is not only bureaucratic, but also time-consuming. This makes it rather expensive. Some winemakers wish to forego the hassle and the cost.

They might also believe that PGI or PDO has negative connotations. So, they would rather use the label ‘Table Wine’ and have greater leeway in making their wines.

Is Table Wine Necessarily Cheap?

In the USA, table wine is extremely affordable. This is not the case in Europe. Some bottles can cost $45 with a Vin De France label on it, or $170 for some Italian wines. It depends on the quality and its popularity. So, the label ‘Table Wine’ then starts to have little meaning, as do the PGI and PDO labels. To buy your bottle, what you need to seek instead, is quality.

What To Look for in a Table Wine

Now, a table wine could come from a vintner who has the courage to make waves in the industry. Or it could come from a place that has top-quality grapes from a region that is yet unknown for its wines. The best thing is to look for a good salesperson at a shop you know. Chat to them, and find out all the unknown good wines that only professionals know.

The wines often come with a back-story, which is a great conversation-piece for the dinner table when you serve the wine.

If you have to shop according to a tight budget, yes, the price tag does give some indication of quality. Most often a $25 wine will be better than a $15 bottle of wine, but not always. So, it is one piece of your arsenal of features when assessing table wines, but not the biggest one.

Classification of Any Wine Quality

Wines can be divided into three tiers of quality:

  • Everyday wines: With these beverages you can enjoy good flavor, the wine has some body and it should be balanced. They are lower quality, and are sold early and inexpensively.
  • Premium wines: These are more complex as well as more refined than the ones above. They also have more character. With these bottles you’ll enjoy good balance, and they may taste in the mouth. They bear the label of the region or variety.
  • Luxury wines: This category offers flavors that can be recognized. They are more complex and brim with character. The complexity increases with age.

Whilst quality does begin with the type of grape, it can also depend on climate and soil conditions. Thus, technically speaking, one type of grape can be used to make differing qualities of wine. This means that you shouldn’t only look at the type of grape for quality, but rather other factors, as considered above.

Recommendations for a Good Table Wine

We cannot leave your without at least one recommendation of a good table wine from each of the regions we have been talking about:

  • Domaine Romaneaux Destezet Syrah, from the Rohne Valley in France. The wines are produced organically and biodynamically, and range between 50 and 100 years old. It is highly popular.
  • Rosso di Ca’ Momi from California USA. This wine is ideal for days that are a little chillier, or for when you eat heartier meals. It is a beautiful red wine.
  • Denavo Debavolino Vino Bianco from Emilia Romagna, Italy. It is a challenging natural wine with floral notes, and excellent acidity. It is unfiltered, and has a light orange color.
  • Cote des Roses Rose, from the south of France. Smell the notes of grapefruit, red currant and rose in your wine. Even your pickiest guest will be pleased.
  • Bogle Chardonnay. Included are notes of honeycomb and vanilla, and it’s very silky.
  • Famega Vinho Verde comes in a beautiful sky-blue bottle. It comes from Portugal, and is bright, floral and perfect for summer.

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In Conclusion

Perhaps you walk past the ‘table wine’ section at the store because you’re underestimating this category of wine? Now, by understanding a little more, you can pick the right bottle at a good price! And even if you travel globally you’ll be able to make smart wine decisions from now on!

Any tips for other wine lovers who don’t yet know it all? Please share!

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