Bordeaux "second wines" offer first-class bargains

Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:21am EDT
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By Marcel Michelson

PARIS (Reuters) - If you can't afford a top bottle of Grand Cru from Bordeaux, you might be delighted to learn that most leading chateaux also make less expensive "second wines."

In the quest for quality, Bordeaux vintners such as Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Latour and many other famous names have become more selective in order to obtain a signature taste and avoid vast differences between various vintages.

Bordeaux wines are blended wines and a vintner composes a vintage by using various grape varieties in changing proportions and increasingly keeps the juice from specific parcels apart up to the mixing stage. There is also a difference in age of the barrels used for aging. New oak leaves a different imprint on the wine than older wood.

That means that a large part of the "unfinished" wine production does not end up in the main label bottles. Rather than selling all this in bulk to the wine trade, the best of the leftovers is bottled on the grounds with a different label.

Often these so-called second wines mature less well than the first wine and need to be drunk at a younger age. They can also use grapes from younger vines than those destined for the main wine as a result of regular replanting in the vineyard.

Sometimes, the estate may also decide a vintage does not make the cut for a first wine and presents it as a second wine.

Chateau Rauzan-Sgla did not sell a first wine in 1987 and the best juices went to its second wine Sgla. Rauzan-Sgla, a Margaux Grand Cru, celebrates its 350th anniversary this year and marked this with a label designed by Karl Lagerfeld for the 2009 vintage which was bottled this year.

Among the first Chateaux to present a second wine were Chteau Loville-Las Cases with Clos du Marquis in 1904 and Chteau Margaux with Pavillion Rouge in 1908.   Continued...