Are you missing out on superb Bordeaux? Second Wines from the great and the good amongst the Grand Cru Classe are highly sought after but many quality vineyards in Bordeaux produce them. They are a wonderful source of lovely wines that are much more affordable than the Grand Vins heralded as the first label . . .
Bordeaux is the only wine region in the world that legally defines a chateau’s second label, enshrining a guarantee of quality in French law. Second Wines have really come into their own over the past few decades with more and more chateaux adopting the practice. But this is by no means a 21st century phenomenon, the practice of making a Second Wine is an ancient one. Records show that the owners of Premier Cru Chateau Haut Brion produced a Second Wine dating back to at least the 1700s.
Second Wines were born as chateaux expanded and improved their estates centuries ago – and this process continues today. Primarily instigated by the prestigious Grand Cru Classe, most Second Wines came into existence in the 1870s – 1930s as separate brands to the Grand Vins (flagship wines). As their popularity grew within the markets they have been rebranded and reborn from the 1960s onwards as chateaux owners realised their potential . . . and wine enthusiasts discovered their appeal.
Second Wines are neither ‘factory seconds’ or clearance goods. Far from it.
The main attraction of a Second Wine is that you are getting a highly crafted vintage that mirrors the more expensive Grand Vin. Second Wines share the same expertise that goes into the making of the Grand Vin and often share its history. However they don’t share the same price. Second Wines from top chateaux are usually priced less than a fifth of the Grand Vin (with some exceptions that command more).
Being wealthy, the Grand Cru Classes, were the first to embark on the strategy of producing Second Wines. The process may have roots embedded in the distant past but what has changed is the clout that certain Second Wines have within the market. Today there are more than 700 Second Wines.
Evolution over time has seen chateaux develop and rebrand Second Wines that come from both second estates and second labels:
1850s – Carruades created by Chateau Lafite Rothschild. Rebranded as Moulin de Carruades in the late 1960s and then again as Carruades de Lafite in 1980s.
1874 – Second Wine created by Chateau Pichon Lalande, rebranded as La Reserve de la Comtesse in 1973.
1902 – Second estate Clos du Marquis used as a Second Wine by Chateau Leoville Las Cases until 2007 which saw Le Petit Leon created as a premium Second Wine.
1908 – Pavillon Rouge created by Chateau Margaux, reintroduced 1978.
1927 – Carruades de Mouton created by Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Renamed Mouton Cadet in 1930 which developed into a brand in its own right. 1993 saw Le Petit Mouton, created as a premium Second Wine.
1963 – Les Forts de Latour, created by Chateau Latour
What’s the difference between second estates and second labels?
1. Second Estates
Most Second Wines do not have the word ‘chateau’ in their label but in a few instances you will see some Second Wines that do. These are typically second estates that have been added to the principal chateau’s portfolio in times past. These second estates’ title, terroir and reputations have specific qualities to entitle them to produce wines in their own right rather than suffer the fate of having their lands swallowed up by their new owners.
Second estates are added to chateaux either through inheritance or by acquisition. The practice of buying up your neighbours is not a new one in Bordeaux. Successful chateaux often seek to expand by acquiring rivals that sit on coveted top quality land. These prime vineyards are sometimes absorbed into the buyer’s estate to enhance the Grand Vin or to increase its production. This happened to Chateau La Tour du Pin in 2012 when it was merged into the vineyards of Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc. (Sadly La Tour du Pin no longer exists, which is a shame as it was a lovely wine – however we do have some rare vintages available, 2006 and 2007.)
Alternatively second estate vineyards are exclusively used to produce a Second Wine. Chateau Moulin Riche, made by Chateau Leoville Poyferre, is an example of a successful Second Wine from a second esate. It was inherited by the owners of Leoville Poyferre in 1894 and was of sufficient status to stand alone from the Grand Vin. For many years it was effectively the chateau’s Second Wine but in 2009 it was granted independence in its own right thanks to its reputation. Leoville Poyferre then created an replacement Second Wine named Pavillon de Poyferre.
2. Second Labels
Second Wines also came about via methods of improvement. Chateaux have different plots of vines within their vineyards of varying age and grape variety. Each plot has its specific terroir and the batches of wines produced from these plots bear different characteristics. Chateaux develop consistent house styles by picking out the hallmark traits from these batches to create their preferred blend for the Grand Vin. However this presented a problem – what could they do with the quality wine that didn’t go into the blend? In the past this would have been sold off to the trade but as techniques improved and quality soared the chateaux realised this was a dreadful waste of a good product. The answer was to create a Second Label.
This process has been refined even further with a handful of Grand Cru Classe introducing Third and Fourth labels – Premier Cru Chateaux Latour produces Pauillac de Latour (3rd Wine) and Margaux produces Pavillon Blanc de Margaux (a white 3rd Wine) and Margaux de Margaux (4th Wine).
Nowadays most serious contenders on the Left Bank (the Medoc AOCs) produce a Second Wine. Second Wines are less common amongst Right Bank properties in Pomerol as their vineyards are much smaller.
My recommended Second Wine
Chateau Haut Manoir is the Second Wine of Chateau La Commanderie in Pomerol. It sits in the same pocket of land as top performing estates: Chateau Nenin is its nearest neighbour, Chateau La Conseillante sits to the east and Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc is less than half a mile away. Haut Manoir lies on lies on lands owned by the Knight Hospitallers of Saint John and it’s parent, Chateau La Commanderie, takes its name from the 12th century Hospitaller Commandry that was once situated there.
Haut Manoir will easily be appreciated by lovers of wine from this famous appellation. At £16.99 Haut Manoir was very well received by visitors to the Oxford Wine Festival when I introduced it there.
Fine textured and full bodied. Deeply layered flavours of black cherry, blackcurrant and chocolate with spicy notes of ginger and liquorice. Undertones of caramel and an elegant balsamic bouquet of black pepper and fig. Plush and polished with velvety tannins.
Food and Wine Pairing:
Haut Manoir bears all the hallmarks of a good Pomerol and being fuller bodied, sensuous and deeply flavoured it is perfect with game, roast lamb, duck and beef. It’s particularly good with venison, pigeon and wild boar sausages as well as Chinese dishes with Hoisin sauce, braised steak, hearty casseroles, truffle and mushroom based pastas, liver or kidneys.