What's a table wine?
Today's question is a joke, right? "Table wine" is wine for the dinner table. Duh!
Well, not quite.
Inspired by an exceptional French "Vin de table," let's devote today's column to a quick look at the term "table wine," which turns out to be a bit more complicated than you might think.
Historically, the term means just what it says: Wine intended to be consumed with food, as indeed most wines are.
But as a specific, legal definition, "Table Wine" confuses us by taking a distinctly different direction in the New World than it did in Europe.
In France, Italy, Germany, Spain and most other European wine-producing countries, "Vin de Table," "Vino da Tavola," "Tafelwein" and "Vino de la Mesa" all translate as "table wine."
With some variations - which are diminishing as the European Union gradually conforms regulations among its members - this simply reflects the lowest level of quality for commercial wine. It's a least-common-denominator label for wines made from grapes or regions that can't qualify for higher classifications like France's "Appellation Controllée" or Italy's "Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)."
This often translates to "cheap wine" or even, well, "swill." But notable exceptions occur, sometimes when a producer elects to go against tradition and make a high-end wine that simply doesn't fit the standards required for classification. This occurred with the early "Super Tuscans," which could not earn DOC status because they used non-traditional grapes or wine-making practices, so their producers claimed the basic "Vino da Tavola" in a conscious act of reverse snobbery. More recently, the intermediate "Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT)" rating accommodates these fine Italian wines, putting "Vino da Tavola" back in its place.
Because the term is reserved for the lowest-quality wines, European "table wines" may not disclose the grape varieties used, the geographical source of the grapes (except for the country), or the vintage.
In the U.S., regulatory authorities went in an entirely different direction. Under federal wine-labeling rules, which categorize wines on the basis of alcoholic content for taxation, the term has absolutely nothing to do with quality. Rather, any wine made from grapes, with alcoholic content between 7 percent and 14 percent by volume, is regulated as "table wine." In fact, if the wine contains between 11 percent and 14 percent alcohol - considered the normal range for, er, dinner wines - it may simply bear "Table Wine" on the label and need not specify its actual alcohol level. (Just to make things a little more complicated, by the way, wines over 14 percent in the U.S. are technically considered "Dessert Wine," even if they are not sweet.
All of which brings us up to today's tasting, a "vin de table" called Plan de Pégau from Laurence Feraud, producer of the respected Domaine de Pégau Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a bold and brawny Southern Rhone. His "table wine" earns no classification because it comes from vineyards outside the designated Chateauneuf-du-Pape region and adds Merlot, a grape that's not approved for the Rhone, into the blend. Regulations to the contrary, it is a fine, complex and even ageworthy wine ... and this, finally, takes today's discussion out of the realm of trivia and into the zone of seeking good values in wine: Never assume that the "lesser" categories aren't worth seeking out.
Plan Pégau "Lot 2001" Vin de Table Français ($13.99)
Labeled merely a "vin de table Français" because it comes from Southern Rhone vineyards not classified for Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a non-traditional mix of Syrah and Grenache with a bit of Merlot, this wine significantly exceeds expectations for the generic appellation. (Although vin de table is not authorized to bear a vintage date, the four-digit "lot number" manages to wink its way around that restriction.) Very dark reddish-purple, almost black in the glass, it offers a bowl of juicy, ripe berries, not easy to single out: Some raspberry, for sure, and maybe scents that evoke strawberry and blueberry as well, the kind of aroma that prompts people to ask, "How do they get all those fruit flavors out of grapes?" It's no mere "fruit bomb," though; the flavor follows through with a well-structured profile that adds fragrant pepper to all the fruit, then backs it up with crisp acidity, smooth tannins and a medium-bodied texture. If not overly long in the finish, that's a minor nit in an exceptionally impressive "table wine." U.S. importer: Hand Picked Selections, Warrenton, Va. (Sept. 7, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: It made an excellent match with both grilled eggplant and lamb-burgers with Near Eastern spice.
VALUE: Although a $14 price tag isn't out of line for a wine of this complexity and flavor interest, shop around: I've seen reports of this one going for as low as $9.99.
WHEN TO DRINK: Made for immediate enjoyment, but it should evolve well under good cellar conditions, bearing in mind that red Rhones often go through a "closed" period, during which they don't show much, from about four until about seven years after the vintage.
WEB LINK: Domaine de Pegau's Website is available in French, English and German at
California Wine Club tastings
From time to time, our friends at California Wine Club offer me a peek at the wines they'll be offering club members in the monthly program. With the Club's "Harvest Moon Wine Sale" now under way (see "The California Wine Club's Harvest Moon Wine Sale Going On Now," below), I thought this would be a good time to share with you my impressions of several that they're currently offering at a startling sale price of $8.25 per bottle.Daniel Gehrs 2001 Santa Barbara County Pinot Blanc ($8.25)
Clear straw color with a brassy hue. Attractive melon and citrus aromas are focused on fruit, leading into a crisp, lively flavor, white fruit and an intriguing minerality; good body and refreshing fruit. Zippy acidity ties it together in a food-friendly package, making an exceptional wine even at twice this price.Harmony Cellars 2000 San Luis Obispo County Chardonnay ($8.25)
This big boy will ring the chimes of those who like their Chardonnay full-bodied, up-front and buttery. Clear gold in color, it breathes butter, spicy oak and ripe tropical fruit on the nose and palate.Harmony Cellars 2000 Paso Robles Syrah ($8.25)
Dark garnet with reddish-purple glints. Light, fresh red fruit aromas lead into a fresh, appealing flavor that mingles juicy tart-sweet red cherries and fragrant white pepper. On the subtle side for a Syrah, it's an easy quaff, yet shows plenty of complexity to hold your interest.Sulla Boca 2001 California Cabernet Sauvignon ($8.25)
This clear, dark ruby wine shows reddish-purple highlights in the glass. Classic Cabernet blackcurrant aromas, fresh and true, add an appetizing hint of dark chocolate with swirling. Full, ripe black fruit flavors are well balanced by fresh acidity; smooth tannins suggest aging potential, but it's already very enjoyable, particularly if you allow it a little breathing time in the glass. A great companion with rare red meat.
At $99 for a full case of 12, any of these would make a first-rate candidate to be your "house" wine over coming months. For information on ordering these and many more artisanal California wines from California Wine Club, keep on reading ...
The California Wine Club's
Save up to 52 percent off normal retail with The California Wine Club's Harvest Moon Wine Sale. To view the full list of wines available, click
Choose from a great selection of award-winning wines on sale for just $99 a case. There are Super Savers for $5.50 per bottle, and all of their "Signature Series" wines are 20 percent off. Each wine in The California Wine Club is hand-selected from California's best boutique wineries. There's no bulk wine, no private labels and no closeouts - just great wine, guaranteed!
To order from their Harvest Moon Wine Sale call 1-800-777-4443 or visit
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
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Value from Spain (Sept. 5, 2003) http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/tswa030905.phtml
Discovering Loire reds (Sept. 3, 2003)
Do sulfites matter? (Sept. 1, 2003)
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Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Filipino adobo (Sept. 4, 2003)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Sept. 8, 2003