Merchants and producers have gauged their ignorance and use this to their benefit and they do nothing to clarify the situation. Even to the point where frequently the name chosen for their second wine, as in the design of its label, are so close to the first wine (le premier vin) that they represent a real source of confusion.
Once, during a tasting at Pessac-Léognan, I found a particular wine rather feeble. I looked at the label and saw it was marked ‘Olivier’. I was very disappointed until I realised that this was not Château Olivier, but simply the name of its second wine. Since then Château Olivier have changed its name ( it’s now known as La Seigneurie d’Olivier du Château Olivier).
Nonetheless, second wines are necessary for the production of quality wines (by quality, I mean that the wines possess body, complexity and character on the palate). In Bordeaux, a Château has the right to sell all of its production under the name of its domain. However, all producers are aware of the unequal quality of the harvested crop even before their assemblage (blend). Some are better at it than others. But mixing the less good grapes with the good ones will always reduce the quality.
In viticulture, 2% to 4% of the terrain is frequently re-planted in order to keep the vines in a good state. Less good lots at the harvest therefore come from younger vines where the grapes don’t possess the density and concentration of the older vines; or where older plantations are planted on soils which are less good, or certain varieties didn’t perform as well due to the prevailing climatic conditions during the year.
What can one do with these wines? Create a second label: which will be distinguished from the first wine and which won’t carry the name of the Château on the label. A cru has the right to sell its production, even the same wine, under different names but is limited to a single one bearing the mention “château” on the label. The ‘second wine’ therefore will always be known by the absence of the word Château in front: for example, Clos Du Marquis, second wine of Château Léoville Las Cases can never be called ‘Château’ Clos du Marquis.
This necessity of selecting only the best grapes for the first wine has always been a major advance in the search for quality. At Château Margaux, for example, a second selection has existed since the 19th century. Pavillon Rouge, the second wine, was born in 1908. In the past, the grapes from less good lots were sold ‘en vrac’ (meaning in bulk, without any kind of packaging), without identifying the source, but with the name of the Appellation. This enabled merchants to make up their own assemblages (blends) which they then sold under their own name. For example, ‘Pauillac’ or the ‘le Haut-Médoc de la Baronnie’.
In the 1990s the market for generically labelled wines crashed. Consumers looked for a reference. Bordeaux merchants ceased the practise of making vins de marque and concentrated on the sale of more juicy offerings from the known crus. Proprietors preferred to sell under their own name wines hitherto sold anonymously by the merchants on the basis of a current price for the tonneau (4 barrels) from each Appellation. For both parties it was much more profitable. (j.m. quarin)
READ MORE IN PART-II:
|What perspectives are needed to make a good "second wine" - is that possible? And how does the châteaux with that topic? Can "second wines" be heterogeneously or are they a "joke"?|