Whether you’re just delving into wine or can tell your Rioja from your Ribera del Duero, you’ll know many folks rank Bordeaux as one of the world’s greatest wine regions. The names of the region’s many legendary châteaux are stamped upon our consciousness, but let’s be realistic. Unless we start shelling out the big bucks, some of these premium wines will remain forever out of reach for the everyday wine lover. Is there any hope for those of us who’d love to get our hands on a bottle of Lafite or Latour without maxing out our credit cards? In a way, yes. Allow us to introduce you to second wines.
Second wines are usually associated with crus Bordeaux wines, but larger estates will also produce them. These wines are made from high-quality grapes that didn’t make their way into the estate’s grand cuvée (their top bottling). The grapes often come from the same vineyards as the fruit that ends up in an estate’s most expensive wines. Second wines don’t see the same type of costly new oak aging. They may also lack some of the finesse and depth of flavor of the top cuvée.
Why should you bother? Second wines offer the suggestion of what those grand cuvées might taste like. Few of us can splash out on a bottle of Mouton Rothschild, but a bottle of Le Petit Mouton is more within reach. Of course, folks have caught on to this trick, so the second wines of the most prestigious châteaux have a higher price tag than they once did. But second wines from second to fifth grand crus classé wines are a terrific deal, especially in a killer vintage.
From the winemakers’ perspective, producing a second wine gives them the chance to be hyper-selective re: which grapes make it into their top cuvées while still allowing them to make the most of their brand name. For us consumers, we get the chance to drink high-quality wine from outstanding winemakers, but at a much lower price. While Bordeaux may have kicked off this trend, major estates in other countries like Italy, Spain and the US are beginning to follow suit. Amazing wine at a steal? Sign us up.