Anyone who has ever seen a bottle of table wine or sat down with one of these wicker-wrapped drinks has asked: what is table wine for?
Table wine is used for dinner drinking at restaurants or other establishments, although a table wine varies from place to place it does have other uses in the right circumstances.
In the United States, table wines are generally cheap, low alcohol content wines sold with meals at restaurants. In Europe, the answer is much more complex as each country has its own regulations and categories surrounding table wines.
This article will go over the different types of table wines around the world, how to pick them, and what they are best used for.
What is American Table Wine?
Under United States law a table wine is any non-fortified, non-sparkling wine with a maximum alcohol content of 14% ABV, or alcohol by volume. These are the only qualifications to be considered table wine.
In America a table wine can be red, white, blush, or any style in between, so long as it meets regulation. Without a strict set of standards American table wines can be shockingly diverse in their form, flavor, and feeling. However, this also makes recognizing American table wine easy, since it is clearly labeled and fits into specific restrictions.
It should be noted that the “table wine” designation is optional in America, and a wine might fit the qualifications without being called a table wine. So if you pick up a wine that seems more potent than it should be, know that you might have picked up a table wine by another name.
What is European Table Wine?
Compared to the straightforward classification of American table wine, Europe is more complicated. In Europe wines are broken up into two primary categories: Quality Wines Produced in Specific Regions, or QWPSR, and table wine. QWPSR wines are created in designated wine growing regions across Europe, while table wines are not.
The trick in this system is each nation in the EU maintains its own rules and sub-classifications for both types of wine. So the only way to understand exactly what makes a table wine different in Europe is to research the wine classification regulations in that country. The only constant is that table wines generally cost less and contain less alcohol than QWPSR wines.
To make matters even more complex, not all winemakers follow their national guidelines, and instead use different terms for table wine. This is most common in Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Germany, where local vintners completely ignore EU naming conventions for table wine.
Why Does Table Wine Exist?
Table wine might seem like a confusing product at first glance, as a generally weak, cheap wine taken with meals at restaurants. Given the restrictions on alcohol content, there are stronger drinks for less, and better wines for more money, so why would someone create table wine?
To understand why table wine exists, it is important to know that wine making is a heavily regulated industry in many countries. Each type of wine is held to rigorous standards, from alcohol content to fermentation processes. Table wines, on the other hand, are often far less regulated compared to other forms of wine.
This means table wine provides the vintner with a chance to experiment, since across America and Europe they have fewer restrictions. So if a vintner wants to try a new blend of grapes or a different aging process table wines give them a chance to get around the strict regulations on the industry.
A bottle of table wine sitting across from you at dinner could be the next culinary masterpiece, the result of an innovative vintner thinking outside the wine industries strict regulations. Or it could just be a cheaply made, low-alcohol wine for dinner drinking, that’s the question surrounding every bottle of table wine.
Tips on How to Pick a Table Wine
Table wines are available outside of restaurants and vineyards, with bottles being sold everywhere from wine shops to gas stations. Since American table wines can come in any form of flavor besides fortified and sparkling, picking a table wine is more about knowing a quality product than choosing a better flavor.
The first and most obvious step is to thoroughly read the labels on wine bottles, since vintners are required to make certain information available on the bottle. Information like who made the wine, where it comes from, and what its ABV are will help you make an informed decision when buying.
The next step is to avoid big name wines from big name regions, since it is more expensive to grow and produce wine in these regions and with these grapes. This means table wines made there tend to be more expensive but lower quality, while less well known areas and grapes are cheaper to use, so those savings get passed on to buyers.
When considering location, also aim for warmer climates like California, since these areas tend to have fuller and easier wine harvests. A more consistent harvest means the vintner saves money on creating the wine, and this means you save money buying it.
A final factor to consider is why a particular bottle might be on sale or at a discount, if this comes up. Generally wines are put on sale either because they are not selling well, or because they are past the growing season and need to move product. Neither of these mean that on sale wine is worse than full price, it just means they are less popular or out of season.
What Else is Table Wine Good For?
Table wines are primarily designed for drinking, but they can have other uses as well. For a number of reasons, table wines are good for cooking if you need wine as an ingredient.
First, it is important to know that wines labeled “cooking wine” are often full of preservatives and additives that make them last longer, but also affect their taste. Using a real wine is the best way to maximize the flavor of whatever you are cooking.
To this end table wines make a great cooking ingredient, since they are cheap to buy and have many of the qualities of regular wine. You can also feel better about only using part of the bottle, since most recipes don’t need a full bottle of wine and wine will go bad after a few days once opened.
If you lose a bottle of Bordeaux this way, you lose a lot of money in the process, but if you lose a $10 dollar bottle of red table wine to oxidation, that’s a much smaller loss. This combination of lower price with standard wine qualities makes table wines an excellent choice for cooking, especially on a budget.
Table wines are a curious phenomenon in restaurants and wine stores, which beg the question: what is this wine for?
The short answer is drinking with dinner, since they cost less and contain less alcohol than other wines, depending on where you live. The longer answer, is that they can be used for drinking or cooking by consumes and they give vintners a chance to experiment with new techniques or just dodge price-raising wine regulations.