Second Label Wines
Bargains by design
by Jonathon Alsop
General Motors produces both Chevrolet and Cadillac. Wright architected everything from private homes to The Guggenheim. For every Paul McCartney, there's a John Lennon. The Portland Maine Seadogs get paid by the New York Mets, and there's no shame in that.
Vineyards and wineries also have more raw material and talent left over than they know what to do with. Naturally enough, they launch second and third labels. Triple-A-Ball wines can be very good, and they are always much less expensive than the marquee bottles. They are bargains by design.
Cypress is the second label of the already-affordable J. Lohr, and it maintains the signature golden, oaked style. Woodbridge, especially the chardonnay, is always a bargain, priced dozens of dollars below the parent Mondavi chard.
In Europe, grapes often get classified, de-classified, and re-classified along the way. Miniature versions of great wines are available, though they're not technically second labels. Coudoulet de Beaucastel from outside Chateauneuf-du-Pape is around $20, but the famous Chateau de Beaucastel itself is often over $50.
In great vintage years, the sub-label wines are great, obviously, and represent super values in the marketplace. There has been a string of solid years recently: 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 are all good choices in France. 1997 was huge for Chianti and California cabernet, 1998 for pinot noir in the Pacific Northwest. These days, it's hard to go wrong if you stay in the middle of the road.
Second, Third, Fiftieth Label
Christian Mouiex makes the most expensive red Bordeaux on the planet, Chateau Petrus, which sells for $1000 a bottle in great vintages (1989, 1990 and 1995) and just slightly less in ordinary years. He also makes Christian Mouiex Merlot for about $9 a bottle, and it's great every year. During the tremendous vintages, it's an even better bargain. The price disparity is so great, that it must be a 50th label instead of a second or third. Mouiex's talent and experience making the $1000 wine spill over into the $9 wine, to everyone's delight. It's available literally everywhere around town.
Top Bordeaux Chateaux ($50-$100) And Their Second Labels ($10-$30)
Ch. Margaux = Pavillon Rouge de Chateau Margaux
Ch. Lynch-Bages = Haut-Bages-Averous
Ch. Talbot = Connetable Talbot
Ch. Pichon-Longueville-Lalande = Reserve de la Comtesse
Ch. Haut-Bailly = La Parde de Haut-Bailly
Ch. Haut-Brion = Ch. Bahans-Haut-Brion
Ch. Latife Rotschild = Moulin des Carruades
Ch. Latour = Les Forts-de-Latour
Ch. Cos d'Estourne = Marbuzet
Ch. Gruaud-Larose = Sarget de Gruaud-Larose