Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Current State of Table Wine

"Be careful Anaïs, abnormal pleasures kill the taste for normal ones."
- from Henry & June

The term 'vin de table', table wine, conjures up a variety of emotions for wine neophytes, enthusiasts and experts. Since I did not grow up in a winemaking region, table wine has always meant those wines on the restaurant menu marked simply "red" or "white". Inexpensive and sold by the glass, these are meant to accompany the meal, not to be sniffed and swirled but to be gulped with a heaping plate of spaghetti.

But as the depth and breadth my wine knowledge has expanded I have become a wine snob of sorts, seeking out 'abnormal pleasures' and snubbing the simpler pours. So my Twelve Under $12 series was meant to bring me back from the abyss and see if I could find pleasure in 'normal' wine.

I began this journey the way most people buy wine, wandering the aisles and looking at labels. My purchases were rather random, with vague recollections of grapes, regions or winemakers. I did not consult store staff, magazines or fellow bloggers, relying rather on instinct. An educated instinct, perhaps, but close to the way most bottles make it home.

So, what did I find?

On the plus side, I did not find truly undrinkable wine. While some wines were more interesting than others, and some even presented great values, most were simply decent liquid to help wash down weekday fare. Moreover, my explorer instinct let me to discover/re-discover some grapes and regions I had not tasted: verdicchio, baga, box wine, Romanian wine, torrontes....

On the negative side most wines were thin, flabby, uncomplex and, given the diverse geographic source of the grapes and prolific blending, few had that "sense of place" or regional style. Only one or two transported me to a higher sensory level, commanding my undivided attention. Not disappointing, but "hollow"...


Most memorable (red): the Portuguese Marques de Marialva seamlessly married with food while maintaining enough complexity for simply sniffing and swirling. A steal at C$10.95, the SAQ has inexplicably marked it down another C$2. A must buy.

Most memorable (white): the verdicchio was cheap and fun, but the Domaine de Tariquet was an absolute joy for the senses, confirming that the Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne appellation is a great source of terrific white values.

Best value: While the new price of the Marques de Marialva is compelling, the amazingly cheap Romanian pinot noir (Chevalier de Dyonis) gets the nod here, a good Pinot Noir for under C$10.

Most intriguing: The Moulin de Gassac was a beguiling wine, perhaps the only bottle that displayed a sense of place - a true 'vin de pays'. I found it an intellectual turn on, an abnormal pleasure? But I would have to hide that from my wife (she hated it), and I feel it would be too "edgey" for many newbies and New World wine lovers.

Lost notes: I had a few cheapies that I didn't blog, including the nice 2007 Robertson Chenin Blanc - I can't find my notes, but I will go get another bottle and report back.

So, go break the bank and try some table wine - you will learn something, you may even be pleasantly surprised, and you won't break the bank.



Brooklynguy said...

hi joe - good stuff. completely agree with you on cotes de gascogne, some really delicious wines and the prices are very reasonable. i've been trying to think about the $12 and under wine challenge, but with limited success. probably i do not try enough from outrside of the places that I know, like muscadet or southern france, things like that. i am too afraid that if i buy that $9 greek or portuguese wine it's like throwing the $ away, if i've not previously enjoyed those wines. so far i've found 2 reds (1 from outside comfort zone) and no whites that i can recommend. i'm going to reclassify this as under $15 challenge in NYC and then see what i can come up with.

Edward said...


Well said.
I'd third the Tariquet. A more thirst quenching wine would be hard to find.

Temporal said...

Recently I was on ski trip in the French alps where we had an inexpensive carafe of table wine with our meal while we sat outside in the sunshine at lunch time. I was quite surprised what 4 euros would buy you there. So on the way back we stopped at a hypermarche and I bought somewhat a random selection of wines costing from 1.50 euro to 10. I was surprised with the quality of some of these wines as it was a lot better than I would have expected. A friend came around for dinner with the most expensive bottle from his local supermarket (12 euros, some kind of mass produced plonk from Chili). We set it against a 2 euro vin du table from France and the French wine won hands down.

So yes these wines can be good for mid week wine drinking which is what I guess the French do with them. Though I will not be giving up my boutique Burgandies or Italian wines any time soon.

Joe said...

Neil - I deliberately chose the arbitrary number of $12 simply to force myself well below my comfort zone - I was shocked at how restrictive that was. I would generally not recommend buying $9 Greek/Portuguese - ask the shopkeep for ideas in that price range - if you trust them, they might find a gem for you. This was an experiment in wine buying and I was willing to throw $$$ away in "the pursuit of science" ;) - $15 is certainly much less restrictive...

Hi Ed - Thanks for the nod, and glad you liked the Tariquet - I have had a few of those VdP Cotes de Gascogne, not been disappointed yet.

Temp - thanks for your comments. While in France last summer I kept looking at those cheapies but never bought. Remember though, that taxes can skew the result - I assume in France they tax the crap out of imported wine - the gap you noticed (2 vs. 12) likely wouldn't exist here.

Cheers, all!

RougeAndBlanc said...

I absolutely loved the big brother of Moulin de Gassac, the Mas De Daumas. If the little brother is this good, I will definetely drink it while the big brother matures.

Joe said...

Hi Andrew - I have never tasted the big brother, but I would love to someday. Like I said, I liked it, but it was not for everyone. Cheers!