Make Second Wines Your First Choice!

So you’re sitting in a lovely, fine-dining restaurant that has an extensive wine list, including pages of selections from France, with a focus on Bordeaux. You’ve always liked French wine, and as you thumb through the list in a leather-bound binder, sitting on a white linen tablecloth, your eyes practically bug out of your head when you see the prices of some bottles whose names you’re familiar with—Chateau Margaux, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, and Chateau Palmer. Oh, and my favorite, if lesser-known as a “right bank” Merlot-based wine, Chateau Angélus.

So maybe you can’t afford the headliners, or even if you can, you’d rather not spend that kind of money, especially in a restaurant that might have a 100-300% markup. I can sympathize. But there are some great options out there for you: second wines and second labels.

“Second wines” are produced from fruit grown in the same vineyards as go into the Chateau’s Grand Vin, but didn’t make the cut into those top wines. For example, these could very good grapes but from younger vines. They can be and often are outstanding wines in their own right and often much more affordable.

All five of the 1855 Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés (the highest classification) have second wines: Château Lafite-Rothschild/“Carruades de Lafite,” Château Margaux/“Pavillon Rouge,” Château Mouton Rothschild/“Le Petit Mouton,” Château Latour/“Les Forts de Latour,” and Château Haut-Brion/“Le Clarence de Haut-Brion.” Even my beloved Château Angélus, which is a St. Emilion wine and doesn’t belong to the 1855 classification, has “Carillon d’Angélus.” Another of my favorites, Château Brane-Cantenac, a Second Growth (Deuxième Cru), has a tremendous, great-value second wine called “Baron de Brane” of which I’ve had several vintages and have ordered in restaurants.

Even the famed Napa Valley, whose winery prices also often hit the stratosphere, has second wines: Checkerboard/“Impetuous,” Pahlmeyer/“Jayson,” Opus One/“Overture,” and Duckhorn/“Decoy.”

There are always bargains out there. You just have to go looking!