Table Wine Classification in Europe

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007 at 12:00 am

table wineTable wines are among the most inexpensive types of wines available in the market, and sometimes considered as the lowliest. These are usually drunk during a midday meal or used to make wine-based cocktails. Its definition is different depending on where you live.

In the United States, a table wine is a legal definition to differentiate it from the stronger (meaning more alcohol content), fortified wine and sparkling wine. Meanwhile, Europeans define table wine as the lowest quality level of wine produced. It doesn’t have an appellation nor even a broad regional designation.

European table wines

Different countries in Europe label table wine differently. In France and Luxembourg it’s called "vin de table." This is similar to Spain’s "vino de mesa," "vin de masă" in Romania, "vinho de mesa" in Portugal, Italy’s "vino da tavola," Greece’s "epitrapezios oinos," and Germany’s "Deutscher Tafelwein" and "Deutscher Landwein."

It is part of European Union’s guidelines to categorize wine into either "table wine" or the superior "quality wine," which is different from the three categories in the US market. Table wine is typically not permitted to disclose even its region of production, with some countries like France only allowing the use of postal codes to prevent the name of appellation to appear anywhere on the label. Also, the vintage date of table wine is not displayed, though "lot numbers" that can bear a striking resemblance to dates are permitted.

The fraction of national production classified as table wine varies dramatically from country to country. For instance, majority of France’s wine production by volume is for vin de table, while in Germany only 5% is Deutscher Tafelwein.

European table wines are generally harvested from vineyards and regions that have high yield, while vinified in an industrial manner. Back in the 1950’s, when a lot of Europeans used to drink more wine, there was a need for vast quantities of cheap wine. Nowadays, with a dwindling demand for wine, much of the surplus wine goes into the "wine lake," which will then be distilled to become industrial alcohol.

Despite being classified as not at par with the superior wines, there are some exceptional table wines that have quality wine characteristics although prepared as a table wine (either using non-traditional grapes or unconventional wine making processes) or just because the wines were not grown in a prestigious region.

The best-known examples of these are the Super Tuscans, which are made either with more than allowed quantities of international varieties or without the once-mandated inclusion of small proportions of Italy’s indigenous grapes.

In 1992, Italy created the Indicazione Geografica Tipica, an classification specifically made to permit Super Tuscans to leave the table wine tag and become one among the quality wines.