Experiencing the beauty of Bordeaux wine can be a bit like trying to view the Mona Lisa on a busy day at the Louvre: you know it’s there, but it’s difficult to get close enough to really enjoy it.
That’s largely because the capital spend for great Bordeaux can be tremendously expensive. In my case, economically tragic, actually 😉
I had the recent good fortune to learn something new about enjoying great Bordeaux from top estates:
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I attended a presentation in New York City where Hortense Bernard, General Manager at fine wine purveyor Millesima USA, demonstrated that by selecting second label wines from top estates, wine lovers can indeed enjoy great Bordeaux at a fraction of the cost of first growth wines. According to Bernard, “Second labels have existed since the 18th century and were once wines that the estates kept for family. Nearly all of Classified Bordeaux estates offer second labels, and today we see these ‘second wines’ garnering more and more market share, as customers discover the great value they offer.”
Not to feel anxious about the ‘second label’ terminology: it is not a definition of lesser quality. In fact, French law requires that second label wines be made from grapes sourced from the same estate as their corresponding first label wine, albeit sometimes from younger vines. Furthermore, second labels typically share the same winemaker, terroir, grape and vinification as their first growth counterparts. And you can look to enjoy second label wines in the short term, say, between six and eight years after release.
In their presentation handout, Millesima, a company offering a comprehensive selection of fine and rare wines via its e-commerce site and retail shop New York City, was good enough to provide additional pointers for enjoying Bordeaux, tips that every wine lover should know:
Seek Out Smaller Vintages
Instead of focusing on vintages that attract investment and collector attention, try instead vintages of lesser renown that are drinking well. For example, Hortense recommends the 2002 vintage that released to less applause but which is, in fact, drinking quite well at the moment.
Become Familiar with Fifth Growths
While investors and collectors routinely focus on the upper end of the Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855 which ranks wines from First to Fifth Growths, Bernard suggests exploring the Fifth Growths, noting that, “Many of these wines are affordable and real treasures.”
Discover the Cru Bourgeois
The Cru Bourgeois classification represents a list of wines hailing from the Médoc, excellent quality wines that just happen to not be included in the 1855 classification. Says Hortense, “Something we love about the Cru Bourgeois is that you can experience a renowned vintage from a famous appellation and a famous proprietor, very inexpensively.”
Consider Lesser-Known Appellations
Seek out outstanding estates in lesser-known appellations – Bernard suggests, for example, Moulis – or around the fringes of famous appellations such as Saint-Emilion, noting there are indeed treasures to be found.
The evening’s wines successfully echoed the presentation theme and included:
Domaine de Chevalier, L’Espirit de Chavelier Blanc 2011
From Pessac-Léognan, the evening’s solo white showed good dimension, an especially pleasant weight on the palate, fruity, with a long honeysuckle finish.
Connétable de Talbot 2008
Well-knit wine with ripe fruit, attention-getting structure, long in the mouth, from Fourth Growth estate was a bit tight early in the evening but opening up when re-tasted as the evening wore on.
Château Sociando Mallet, La Demoiselle de Sociando Mallet 2008
Sensational fruit, soft in the mouth, reverberating finish. Gorgeous, drinking insanely well.
Château Prieuré-Lichine, Confidences de Prieuré-Lichine 2008
Silky, nicely balanced wine with firm tannic structure, will be even better with just a bit more patient wait time.
I must mention that this tasting / presentation was an educational wine event in truest spirit, one that delivered high-context, incredibly relevant content in an intimate setting. I hope more trade event presentations take note of the benchmark.
Special thanks to the knowledgeable and responsive Denise Barker, Assistant Wine Buyer for Millesima USA.
Event coordinated by Vigneto Communications.