The Simple Pleasures of Table Wines

Inarguably, wine offers many pleasures, the most obvious being derived from the consumption of ethyl alcohol, its effects on our physical and emotional states. I cannot deny this pleasure, nor do I wish to – it is a pleasure in which I, too, indulge. As with all drugs, it is a matter of dose.

Beyond this chemical-driven delight, wine offers other pleasures. For the collector, it may be finding a rare bottle, and for the adventurer, encountering a new varietal. However, for many of us – the wine lovers, the wine enthusiasts, and the casual wine drinkers – this pleasure is derived from something less concrete.

I am thinking especially of the enjoyment provided by “table wines.” Legally, this term carries specific meaning. In the United States, the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) (the agency responsible for regulating wine labels) defines a “table wine” as containing alcohol by volume of less than or equal to 14%. In Europe, a table wine is one that is not made according to any appellation standards for production and quality. That is, it is a wine that cannot be labeled Bourgogne or Toscana. It is not a Margaux or Chianti. Essentially, a European table wine is defined by what it is not.  

Generally, we think of table wine as a still, dry (i.e. not dessert) wine to serve with a meal.

The category itself is therefore rather vague and broad, ranging from refreshing white wines to fresh reds. It includes pizza wines and Chinese takeout wines, grilled cheese wines and burger night wines.

Often, there seems to be a negative connotation to these wines, which are relegated to “everyday drinking”. Who would Instagram a sub-sensational red wine beside a slice from the corner pizza place? #MediocreMonday?

What, then, of the easy pleasures of table wine? Wine without pretension. Table wines are made to drink young, without decanting, without time in anyone’s cellar. They are ready for the everyday, any day, ready to show off the freshness of the vintage, as refreshing citrus or silky berries. Yet, covering such a wide territory of wines, “table wine” becomes difficult to present as a sexy descriptor.

Yet there is a comfort in their enjoyment. A cozy, homey kind of pleasure in drinking pure, honest wines, with straightforward flavors that please any palate. When I am fortunate enough to enjoy a classic meal made at home – something that can be prepared easily and quickly – I enjoy the flavors, though they are not complex. Maybe I enjoy them because they are pure and honest. I enjoy how the table wine complements the dish – honest discourse at the dinner table, if only between the wine and the food.

The drinkability of table wines may be dangerous, the silky tannins of a red, the refreshing acidity of a white, each deceiving in its own way. And while table wine often refers to still wines, I extend this also to non-vintage or entry-level sparkling wines, wines with bubble and perhaps a touch of sweetness. It could even be Moscato from a can on your table tonight.

Use the right hashtag, and convince even the most critical Instagram users, mainly yourself, of the simple pleasures of simple wines.

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