Almost every major vineyard in Bordeaux produces two red wines: the grand vin and a "second wine." A bottle of the former bears a famous chateau's label and a daunting price tag. A bottle of the latter displays a different label and a price marked down by as much as half. The important question is, what's the difference in quality? In some cases, it's next-to-nothing. Our taster points you to outstanding second wines from the 1999 through 2001 vintages.
By John Anderson|June 11, 2004 at 12:00 AM
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The most encouraging news from Bordeaux over the past three decades? The emergence of “second wines.” Today, virtually every major property in Bordeaux produces two red wines: the grand vin and a lower-priced second wine. The grand vin is the top wine — the one that bears the name and label of the famous ch�teau. The second wine will bear a different label, but the grapes will have been grown on the same property. And the price will be significantly lower, probably half that of the grand vin. Why do this? One word: selection. Red bordeaux is made from a blend of two grape varieties — cabernet sauvignon and merlot — with smaller amounts of cabernet franc and petit verdot sometimes added in. At harvest time, the grape varietals invariably come in at different levels of ripeness. What the wine maker wants, of course, is perfectly ripe grapes. The less than perfect grapes plus the produce of the younger vines — those less than 10 to 15 years old — go into the second wines. And because wine making at the greatest Bordeaux estates is so perfectionist today, vats of thoroughly ripe grapes may also go into the second wine simply because, say, too much cabernet sauvignon would alter the traditional balance at Ch. Pichon-Lalande, an estate famous for its plush, merlot-dominated wines. Still, it’s not a good idea to buy second wines in mediocre or average vintages. That’s when the wine maker has to strive hard just to make a success out of the grand vin, much less the second. But in a great year when all the varieties come in ripe and there is no dross, it’s quite another matter. Having tasted a wide range of 2000 second wines, I can attest that there are bargains galore. Can’t afford Ch. Lafite-Rothschild ($150 a bottle)? Think Carruades de Lafite ($70). It’s a beauty. The same thing is true all the way down the ladder. The 1999 vintage is no 2000, but the likes of Pavillon Rouge du Ch. Margaux and Bahans du Haut-Brion are excellent. And in a very fine year like 2001, there are many gems. Snap them up. Don’t worry about cellaring. And enjoy. BORDEAUX SECOND WINES Estimated retail prices are shown.
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