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Re-Post: Best Hidden Secrets Of The Wine World: Second Labels

December 18, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

During 2011 I wrote a number of posts for the project called The Art Of Life Magazine – of course talking about my favorite subject, wine. The project closed, but I still like the posts I wrote, so I decided to re-post them in this blog. Also, in that project, posts were grouped into mini-series, such as “Best Hidden Secrets” you see here – I will continue re-posting them from time to time.

Also note that the series was written for a slightly different audience – I hope none of my readers will take offense in the fact that sometimes I’m stating the obvious…

Second labels. Second is a keyword here. Second – meaning second best? How good it is to be second best?

When it comes to competition, second best is always only second best. Second best means you scored less, you ran not as fast as the best, you jumped not as far as the best. By all means, you really tried – but someone else was better in the same art.

Luckily, the notion of “second best” is not applicable to the world of wine. Of course, you might have your favorite (the best) wine, and then second favorite wine, and the third, and the fourth and many others.  However, those are your personal favorites which are driven by your own personal taste. It is entirely possible even that someone’s most favorite wine is totally not drinkable for someone else (I think this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the wine world.

So what is the second label? Many wineries around the world have one wine which is considered the best, most well known and well regarded. Such wine would be their “First Label”. Typically, those wines have two” external” characteristics: they are very expensive and made in the limited quantities – and one way or the other, these subsequently become driving factors to produce so called “second label” wines, which are at least less expensive (quantity still might be an issue).

Actually, officially designated second labels started in Bordeaux in France simply to avoid throwing out the grapes which didn’t make it into the best wines. What started from so called “first growth” Bordeaux wines from famous 1855 classification in the 18th century, the second label movement spread widely across many wine making regions in the last quarter of 20th century (you read more on the subject here). From being only a Bordeaux phenomenon, it became adopted by many wineries all over the world as their main wines elevated to the “cult” status.

Today many of the cult wines from California, Italy and Spain ( other regions joining in as well) have their second labels. It is interesting to point out one essential difference between Bordeaux second labels and the rest of the world. Based on In Bordeaux AOC rules, second label or not, if Chateau is specified on the wine label all the grapes (100%) for that wine have to come from the vineyards which belong to that Chateau. This is not the case for most of the world. For instance, when particular AVA (analog of AOC in USA) is mentioned on the wine label, it means only that at least 85% of the grapes in that wine should be coming from the specified AVA, and 15% of grapes can be coming from any other places. I’m not saying that this is good or bad – this is just something to take into account when talking about second label wines.

Now, putting all the technicalities aside, what is all the fuss? Why are we talking about some kind of “second labels” as a great secret of the wine world? Very simply, it is all about QPR. Let me give you an example. If you hadn’t done so recently, go check how much Chateau Latour or Chateau Lafite costs. 2008 (somewhat of a sleeper vintage, not declared as outstanding) Chateau Latour will cost $1,600 or more, and Chateau Lafite is somewhere in the $2,000 – $2,500 range. No, not for 5 cases – these are the prices per bottle… 2008 Les Forts de Latour, second label of Chateau Latour, will cost about $250 per bottle, and Carruades de Lafite, second label of Chateau Lafite, will cost about $600.This is still very steep, but I’m sure you can see the magnitude of price difference.  In addition to the better QPR, second labels are ready to be enjoyed much faster compare to the main wines.  You need to wait for 15-20 years for great Bordeaux to open up, and second labels often cane enjoyed right away or after the short time in the cellar.

Let’s talk about some practical examples, but instead of Bordeaux, let’s start from Italy.

LeVolte_2008Le Volte is so called Super Tuscan wine made by Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. Their flagship wine, Ornellaia, has won numerous accolades and consistently rated above 95 points by various wine critics. You can buy Ornellaia for about $180 – $220 per bottle. Le Volte is produced by the same winery (it is technically a third label, with Le Serre Nouve being the second) from the grapes which were not selected for the main wine, and you can buy it for about $20-$25 per bottle (about one tenth of the price of Ornellaia).

2008 Le Volte was very tight and aggressive initially. After a while, it changed beautifully showing luscious fruit (dark fruits) and silky smooth tannins. It can be enjoyed right now with the appropriate breathing time (an hour in decanter might be the right call), but it will benefit from another 5 years in the cellar.

Croix_de_Beaucallou_2005Here is another example – Crouix de Beaucaillou, second label from Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou. Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou is so called second growth winery from Saint-Julien region in Bordeaux – again based on 1855 classification. Taking 2008 as a reference year again, their flagship wine, Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, can cost $110 and above (just for comparison, same wine from 2005, which was one of the best years in Bordeaux, will cost you $180+, and 2009 prices start from $250). 2005 Croix de Beaucaillou can be found for about $45 per bottle, which is one fourth of the price of the first label. This 2005 Croix de Beaucaillou opens one with beautiful nose of ripe black plums, oak and spice box. On the palate the wine is very restrained initially, and then opens up with some cedar notes and exhibits pronounced acidity and powerful tannins. Despite my earlier statement about second labels being ready to drink earlier, this particular wine definitely need more time in the cellar (but we should still keep in mind that 2005 was a great year).

After learning the first great secret of the wine world – beautiful Rioja wines, now you are armed with even more knowledge and you can have a lot of fun exploring the world of hidden gems, the second labels. Just to leave you with a little reference, below you will find a table with names of some of the second labels throughout the world, you can enjoy hunting for. And stay tuned, as more secrets are coming!

Note: this post was prompted by the post “Second Label Values” by the fellow blogger wpawinepirate.

Reference: Second Label Wines

Primary Wine Second label
France – Bordeaux, 1st growth
Chateau Haut-Brion Le Clarence de Haut-Brion
Chateau Lafite Rothschild Carruades de Lafite Rothschild
Chateau Latour Les Forts de Latour
Chateau Margaux Pavillon Rouge
Chateau Mouton Rothschild Le Petit Mouton
France – Bordeaux, others
Chateau Ausone Chapelle d’Ausone
Chateau Cheval Blanc Le Petit Cheval
Château Rauzan-Ségla Ségla
Château Léoville-Las Cases Le Petit Lion de Marquis de las Cases (Clos du Marquis before 2007)
Château Léoville-Poyferré Château Moulin Riche
Château Léoville Barton La Réserve de Léoville Barton
Château Gruaud-Larose Sarget de Gruaud-Larose
Château Lascombes Chevalier de Lascombes
Château Pichon Longueville Baron Les Tourelles de Longueville
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Reserve de la Comtesse
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou La Croix de Beaucaillou
Château Cos d’Estournel Les Pagodes de Cos
Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto
Ornellaia Le Serre Nouve, Le Volte
Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5°
Alto Moncayo Alto Moncayo Veraton
Bodegas El Nido Clio
Clos Mogador Clos Manyetes
USA – California
Bryant Family DB4
Duckhorn Migration, Decoy
Harlan Estate Maiden
Pahlmeyer Jayson
Paul Hobbs Crossbarn
Screaming Eagle Leviathan
Quilceda Creek Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Red
  1. December 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Great job!!!! I will keep this post for future reference. Thanks for the acknowledgement.

    • talkavino
      December 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm

      Thank you! Second labels is a very interesting subject…

  2. December 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Great post, Anatoli!
    I was given a bottle of Les Forts de Latour a while ago and just loved it: what a great wine!
    Be well and happy holidays!

    • talkavino
      December 21, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Stefano, thank you very much! For the most of the cases, second labels are well worth wine lovers’ attention. While Screaming Eagle is completely out of my league, I have a couple bottles of Leviathan which I’m looking forward to opening one day.

      Happy Holidays to you as well!

  1. January 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm
  2. January 31, 2013 at 11:31 am
  3. March 3, 2015 at 1:46 pm
  4. April 21, 2017 at 10:59 am

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