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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is “vino da tavola”?

—Anton, Pueblo, Colo.

Dear Anton,

Vino da tavola” means “table wine” in Italian. “Table wine” has different legal meanings and connotations depending on where and how it’s used. In the United States, before the passage of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a “table wine” was defined by the federal government simply as any wine up to 14 percent alcohol by volume for taxation purposes, but that percentage has been increased to 16, and it has not yet been determined whether the category will still use that designation. (Read more about the impact of the new law on wineries.)

Elsewhere in the world, table wines are usually considered the most basic of wines, ones that don’t meet the standards of more specific geographic or classification designations. This has given “table wine” an identity as a sort of cheap, innocuous bottling, which it may or may not deserve.

For example, Italy has a strict system for identifying and classifying their wines, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). It became a source of contention when winemakers who used non-traditional grapes and blends or tried a winemaking process that was outside of a DOC definition were unable to carry the more prestigious DOC title and had to be referred to as vino da tavola, despite being high-end wines. If you’ve ever heard of super Tuscans—impressive wines with big price tags—you might be surprised to hear they were considered vino da tavola, because they used nontraditional grapes and methods that didn't conform to DOC regulations.

It was a significant rebellion, and it resulted in the creation of the more flexible designation Indicazione Geografica Tipica, or IGT, in 1992. But there are still plenty of talented winemakers around the world who make terrific wines but can’t legally be considered anything but their country’s version of “table wine.”

In most cases, though, the term identifies affordable wines made to be enjoyed while young.

—Dr. Vinny

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