So what do the fashion obsessed turn to when they want Ralph Lauren’s latest, but can’t quite stomach the hefty price tag? They look to his second labels. Offered by most of the big fashion houses, second labels are a way to get the style and prestige of couture at digestible prices. Not only are you getting what’s au courant in fabrics, cut and color, but you’re also getting the guarantee of quality as well as the image of the label.
These purse-tightening times call for dollar-maximizing measures. Luckily they exist for oenophiles and fashionistas alike. If it’s hard to justify paying $100 for your favorite Bordeaux, the chateau’s second wine is a smart way to get more bang for your buck. Most of the large and prestigious houses in Bordeaux have second labels that offer excellent value and drinking qualities. These wines generally shadow the style and characteristics of the flagship wines. So at $20-$50 a bottle, you’re uncorking wine that embodies the tradition, style and excellence of a grand vin, without the grand prices.
Second wines of classified Bordeaux chateaux are those that fail to make the exacting and very high standards of the chateau. Within the boundaries of a chateau, there are great differences in terroir: some sections have better soil than others, some better exposure, and some are planted with younger vines that yield lighter, less substantial wines. They grow up to four different grape varieties, some of which perform well in one year and some in another. Each variety is harvested and vinified separately, and, once the components have been aged, the winemaker starts tasting each barrel to select the blending proportions. It is during this elimination process that second wines emerge. They are good quality, just not the best.
The production of second wines in Bordeaux can be traced back to the 8th century but became commercially important in the 1980s when increasing competition forced chateau owners to select grapes more rigorously to justify high prices. This means that up to 50 percent of the grapes are cut and discarded before they ripen so that the vines concentrate their flavors and improve quality. By harvest time, up to 25 percent of the crop may further be eliminated. The winemaker selects from what remains. Having undergone such a selective process, it should be expected that even second wines from the most prestigious chateaux will be very good.
At a recent StarChefs tasting, the following second wines were recommended
by our panel of sommeliers. The next time you desire the opulence and
splendor of a Bordeaux, consider these great wines that just happen to
be great values as well.
Château Tour Simard Saint-Emilion Grand Cru
Chevalier de Gruaud Saint-Julien 1999
Clos Labère Sauternes 2000