At Château Grand Puy Lacoste, François Xavier Borie produces a ‘second wine’ called Lacoste Borie. He has always been watchful in excluding these wines from Grand Puy Lacoste . But he also refuses to include in Lacoste Borie all the vins de presse (wines from the press) which may be too tannic, too hard or dry, to ensure it is enjoyable to drink. So, to make a good second wine actually requires a third selection. To make a third selection of good quality requires a fourth, and so on. A requirement that not all producers, whether from greed or lack of know-how, have fulfilled.
In this sense, by no stretch of the imagination do ‘second wines’ in any way represent the first. For example, I like the gentle touch of Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. I could imagine finding these characteristics in its second wine La Reserve de la Comtesse. This is a long way from being the case. There exist only a few second wines capable of sharing the style of their older more distinguished brothers whilst maintaining a genuine personality of their own. One can’t ask that they may be as profound as the ‘premier vin‘.
By definition, if the all lots were as good as each other, they would pass into the assemblage of the first wine. On the other hand, nothing stops the producers from having more consideration for their second wine by making them rather more agreeable, more fruity, with body, without those drying tannins and why not some kind of personality to round it off? It’s possible if the proprietors could be bothered and wouldn’t consider their ‘second wines’ as simply ‘overspill’ of the first wines.
And besides, the market recognises the positive influence of these wines (see ( Les Fiefs de Lagrange, La Croix de Beaucaillou, Clos du Marquis, Pavillon Rouge, Alter Ego on the Left Bank and on the Right Bank Carillon de l’Angélus, Duo de la Conseillante, La Petite Eglise, Virginie de Valandraud, the last vintages of La Chapelle d’Ausone and Petit Cheval ). Le Pauillac de Château Latour, the ‘third wine’, is not made as Les Forts de Latour or even at Château Latour. It has its own identity, based on the vision of the professionals which make it. It is vinified with another perspective, with less tannic extraction, a different élévage (up-bringing). It also contains more Merlot in the blend than Forts de Latour, or Latour, in order to gain some immediate softness, whilst the other two wines are for keeping. It’s a third wine conceived to be made not from the discarded material of the first or second wines.
This is a similar story for the hugely accomplished Alter Ego de Palmer which is a beacon for ‘second wines’. Aware of this, Thomas Duroux manager of Palmer, even refutes the name of a ‘second wine’ preferring to speak of ‘another wine’ made by Château Palmer.
And this is the way José Sanfins sees things too. His new Brio de Cantenac is a delicious wine that delights our taste buds in a very different way to Cantenac Brown, the grand vin. And it is precisely this change in values and style that producers seem to find hard to come to terms with. The second vin is too often perceived as the poor parent whose only purpose is to help the grand vin shine more brightly, with no specific words to define it and nothing to promote it. Bordeaux is definitely a place for grand vins and struggles to broaden its range.
There is another aspect which concerns me about second wines: the absence of any notion of a vintage. In 2009 and 2010, both great years, I was amazed to find that the the general quality of second wines was no better. There is a good reason: when a parcel or cuvée is very good, they pass into the first wine and are sold for a much higher price. So, I would advise buying less well-known wines from the reputed Appellation.
Some famous crus sell their ‘second wine’ very expensively justifying the price as they do for their first wine. If they have a parcel which they may feel is almost at the height of the first wine, but not quite, they downgrade it to the second. In so doing, they win both ways. First, they improve their first wine by not adding wines which do not quite match the quality required. So their first label remains in global competition for the highest favours of criticism. Second, they also improve the quality of their second wine, by adding a parcel almost worthy of the first. In so doing they may produce less than 50% of the first wine while others are perhaps at 80% and 20% of the first and second respectively. Of course, the notoriety of a name helps to offset the drastic selection enabling them to sell the second wine more expensively.
The most recent example concerns the soaring quality of Pavillon Rouge 2009 and 2010. It is no coincidence. Consumers don’t know it yet, but since 2009 there has been a third wine at Château Margaux, which is not yet available on the market. It allowed the selection of the finest lots for Pavillon Rouge and especially to increase the proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in its blend. This beautiful new product shines in the remarkable 2010.
In conclusion my tastings underline the rather heterogenous character of ‘second wines’ in Bordeaux. Some attain a very high level whilst others are just, frankly, a joke. For the most part, they should be better, tastier, more exciting and show that Bordeaux can produce pleasing exciting wines, which are immediately enjoyable, besides those more mysterious wines destined for ageing, impenetrable when young and still not yet properly ‘educated’ (through their élévage). A market that cruelly escapes them. (j.m. quarin)
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