Table Wine: Sip or Skip?



Table wines may make for easing sipping, but they’re often difficult to define. 

Things get even more interesting depending on where you are in the world, as Europe and the United States have their own definitions of table wine.

In this article, we’re including everything you need to know regarding table wine and if it’s worth sipping or better left skipped.

What is Table Wine?

Generally speaking, “table wine” refers to an inexpensive sipper that’s neither fortified nor sparkling. Of course, “inexpensive” is subjective, as what one wine enthusiast finds pricey, another might be willing to spend. Table wine doesn’t mean that the quality is less than other types of wine either. In fact, these wines may be the extra “run-off” of more expensive, quality wines.

If you’re still concerned about a table wine not tasting as excellent as more expensive varietals, meal pairing is a great way to bring out the best of its flavors. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon of varying quality will still taste amazing with rich, red meat dishes like New York strip steak

Let’s look to Europe for an example of table wines in the context of quality and classification. 

What Is Table Wine? Infographic | Macy's Wine Shop

European Table Wine

Table wine classification is much more complex and strict in Europe, as it must follow certain classification rules regarding appellation. Appellation refers to a protected wine region where a bottle of wine is produced. 

Wines produced within classification laws have “PGI” or “PDO” on the label, which stands for Protected Geographical Indication and Protected Designation of Origin. European Union wine regulations also require quality labels like “QWSPR (quality wines produced in specific regions).” Wines like French Burgundy and French Champagne are great examples of this, as their winemaking and classification laws are so strict.

Table wines fall at the fourth level of the classification system, with French table wines referred to as Vin de Table alongside Spanish table wines (Vino de Mesa) and Italian table wines (Vino da Tavola). Italian table wines also use “Super Tuscan” to describe red wines made from nonindigenous grapes. Examples of this include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

Table wines may not bear the same quality labels as wines higher up in the classification system, but this doesn’t mean their taste is any less. Some of the rules limit production to specific grape varietals and winemaking locations, which have nothing to do with taste.

Now that we understand more about European table wines, let’s explore what constitutes an American table wine.

Table wine on table at dinner | Macy's Wine Shop

American Table Wine

In the United States, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau considers table wines to have an alcohol content of no more than 14 percent alcohol by volume. Wines with an alcohol content between 14-24% are considered dessert wines. 

American table wines are moderate quality and brighter, with less complex structures, giving them a reputation for easy sipping. An example of this could be a low tannin, fruity Pinot Noir or Pinot Grigio, with its green apple-tasting notes and light textures. 

Overall, what constitutes a table wine in America is more subjective than in Europe, as much of this depends on individual taste instead of actual laws.

The Pros and Cons of Table Wine

One of the biggest concerns about table wine is their lack of “focus and depth,” especially when produced from high-volume wineries. Another complaint is that it’s impossible to find a wine for less than $20 that doesn’t taste watery and cheap. However, a major plus for table wine is that you can find great quality for less. 

This may require a bit of research into the specific brand or winery and paying attention to alcohol content. Shopping for a lower-priced wine of around 12-13% ABV could mean the wine is more structured.

Table wines are also a great choice for those who are new to wine or prefer lower-alcohol wines.

Since these wines are known for being light on the palate and easy sippers, they’re a great choice for those looking to begin their wine venture on a budget. 

If you’re interested in collecting wine as a hobby or pursuing a career in wine, sampling cheaper table wines will help you to identify quality, grape variety, and regions, just as well as more expensive types. Eventually, you will need to sample high-quality wines to compare, but table wines are an excellent starting point. 

Cheersing glasses of wine | Macy's Wine Shop

What’s in a Name?

While table wines may vary in quality and structure depending on where you are in the world, by no means are they always of lesser value than more expensive varietals.

If you’re curious about official table wines, look for those with less than 14% alcohol by volume in the United States. For European table wine, avoid labels like PGI, PDO, and QWPSR.

Looking for a table wine to sip tonight? Shop our premium selection of quality wines at various alcohol levels and affordable prices.

Check out The Wine Blog for more information on all your favorite wines.