May 11, 2011

Table Wine

    1. Wine with no geographic designation, often considered to be the lowest quality available. (Fr: vin du table, It: vino da tavola); 2. An exceptional wine that does not conform to local wine regulations (e.g.“Super Tuscans”); 3. A non-fortified wine *

If it’s not sparkling or syrupy sweet or fortified, then it’s a table wine, according to most wine jurisdictions. In countries that have no appellation systems - the laws that govern the use of place names and set standards for growing and making wine - table wine is a broad category that includes just about everything (with the above noted exceptions). In more formal regions, France being perhaps the best example, a basic table wine is the entry point for decent wine (below that we find ‘vin ordinaire’). These can incorporate any sort of blend and can include bulk wine from other countries. In to order proclaim that a wine is a better quality, it would come entirely from a designated region using approved grapes and vinification techniques. In France, that includes vin de pays (‘wine of the country’), appellation controllĂ©e wines, cru and village wines, and the now somewhat rare VDQS. Now, all of these are technically table wines, but they’ve been lifted above the mare table wine category by reason of their pedigree.

Now, there are those who believe the local rules, while fundamentally well intentioned, are too limiting. Chianti, for example, is a great wine in all its incarnations. But the classic chianti formula calls for five different grapes. The dominant grape is sangiovese, which is a star in its own right. But the traditional chianti formula required a minimum of 15% other grapes, including, at one time, white grapes that contribute little to the mix. One could quietly forget to add the less desirable grapes, but that would invite scandal if discovered. And what if you have a goal that the local laws do not permit? Cabernet is a great grape to add to sangiovese. But if a chianti producer adds cabernet, then the wine can be disqualified as chianti. In that case, the wine would be demoted to mere table wine. For the producer, it’s a gamble and quite a big one. Chianti is a very marketable name, and having that word on the label, along with its guarantee of authenticity, is pretty helpful. But a wine that has flouted both laws and traditions must go it alone.

On the other hand, a wine trades on its uniqueness and demonstrated quality can’t be a bad thing.

* from The Frugal Oenophile's Lexicon of Wine Tasting Terms

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