Enjoying Bordeaux: Second Label Wines

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.

bordeaux-assortedI 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.

bordeaux-talbotIn 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.

Domaine Hubert Chavy Bourgogne Rouge La Taupe 2008

Narrative does provide and communicate context around wine. That’s important, at least at certain stages of appreciation. But, ultimately, you have to turn the volume down on narrative and decide for yourself if the wine is real or not, if it’s really there for you in the way you want to enjoy it.

domaine-hubert-chavy-bourgogne-rouge-la-taupe-2008One of the most real wines to land on my table of late is Domaine Hubert Chavy Bourgogne Rouge La Taupe 2008. The wine possesses remarkable epicurean utility and an air of romance, qualities that are becoming antique in the current wine market.

That’s not to suggest that this Bourgogne Rouge is out of step: I mean that style and fashion are two different things.

Rock beats scissors.
Style beats fashion.

You leave certain things to the glam and trophy wines.

Elegance, romance, real life?
Leave those things to wines like this one.

Chateau Lilian Ladouys 2009 Bordeaux-St. Estephe

It’s not particularly difficult to remember the beautiful things one comes by on equally beautiful, rainy fall days, when the city looks monochromatic against the grey drizzle.

lilian-ladouys-2009But, I am struck by the fact that I am still thinking about the Chateau Lilian Ladouys 2009 which I had tasted on just such a day during a recent and rather lovely tasting of Bordeaux wines held in an intimate space at Beautique on Manhattan’s west side.

With history dating back to 1654 when it was named Chateau La Doys, ownership of the St. Estephe property known today as Chateau Lilian Ladouys passed during the 18th century to the Barre family before being purchased in recent years by French businessman Jacky Lorenzetti, who also owns full or significant stakes in several other Chateau in the Medoc.

Host Hortense Bernard, Millesima USA
Host Hortense Bernard, Millesima USA
This elegant Bordeaux is produced from the property’s 47 hectare vineyard planted to 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc in a gravely, clay, limestone soil mix typical of St. Estephe. Average age of vines is 40 years.

Vinification is carried out in stainless steel, malolactic fermentation done in barrel on 10% of the fruit, 90% in tank. The wine rests in 40% new French oak for 14-16 months.

Tasting Notes:

Dense, velvety palate full of ripe red and black fruit, notes of pencil lead, earth, tobacco and spice. Harmonic, with well-integrated wood toast. Good grippy tannins and a finish that goes on for miles.

Tasting hosted by Millesima USA.

Event coordinated by Vigneto Communications, great job as always, a pleasure to taste in a venue whose character so well fit the personality of the wines.

Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc 2010

Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc 2010

It was 1967, the Summer of Love, and guys in my neighborhood were trading in their baseball gloves for electric guitars. The Beatles told us that all we’d need is love, barbers looked for new careers, and overnight an explosion of color and fashion replaced yesterday’s blue jeans and white tee-shirts.

Things were changing.

By the time ’69 rolled around, outdoor gatherings of young people were happening coast to coast and in Europe. I squinted through summer sunlight at a grassy slope packed so tightly with moving bodies wearing tie-dyed clothing that, from a distance, it gave the impression of being some massive, psychedelic bed quilt. Reaching the hill, the air filled with sounds of Jimi Hendrix amid atmospheric layers of pot smoke, sweat and the musky, vague-ish mint scent of patchouli.

bonny-doon-vineyard-le-cigare-blanc-2010

I recall for you that period of personal flower child history because it is where I landed in a vivid flashback inspired by memory-prodding musky notes of Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Le Cigare Blanc reaching my brain, linking me to some dreamy reverberation of being a teenager during the late ‘60’s.

First produced in 2003, Le Cigare Blanc is the “white analogue” (says BDV’s Randall Grahm) to Boony Doon’s flagship and massively impressive red Le Cigare Volant, an homage to the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Sourced from the biodynamically farmed Beeswax Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco area of California’s Monterey County, the wine is a blend of 55% Roussanne and 45% Grenache Blanc. The blending prescription apparently changes vintage to vintage depending upon the particular characteristics of each vintage year. Grapes are fermented together (the blend is completed up front) in double barrel and stainless steel with opportunity to tweak the final wine using unblended reserve.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

A fragrant blast of pear, subtle musk, natural honey, notes of herb, mint and flowers. Complex, earthy, urgently sensual. Good weight on the palate, yet tender and plush in the mouth, enlivened by a citrus-y, mineral vein of acidity. Long, savory finish balanced with a delicate hint of bitter goodness. A blissed out, trippy, idealized, revolutionary wine for drinking, eating and loving 🙂 

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Salmon lox, crustaceans (dreaming of angel hair pasta and crab meat in a delicate cream sauce), toast points with avocado and soft boiled egg, fatty sea fish, vegetable torte, quiche, creamy cow’s milk cheeses (brie, robbiola, etc.)

Related posts:

Highlights from Burlington, VT Wine & Food Festival 2013

The Scent of Memory

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