Confused about second labels, second wines, third labels and petit chateau in Bordeaux? Mary Gorman-McAdams, Master of Wine and director of the International Wine Center, and Allison Hupp, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits wine educator for Northern California, led an educational program to provide the keys. It was sponsored by Vins de Bordeaux during the annual SommCon® conference and exposition for wine professionals and serious enthusiasts. The three-day conference in San Diego last November featured some 50 sessions, workshops and educational programs led by recognized experts in their fields.

Mary and Allison set the stage for a tasting of eight wines by defining the categories.

Second labels: wines made from fruit (such as younger vines) or lots of finished wine that did not make the cut or grade for the châteaux Grand Vin. Good second label  and second wines can be found from $20 to $50, although the best can approach or exceed $100 (e.g. Les Forts de Latour; Carruades de Lafite).

Second wines: defined as “totally different” wines made from specific plots on the estate that were never and are not part of the plots for the Grand Vin; essentially a different unrelated wine.

Third labels: third wines which were launched as the selection process, even for second wines, became more rigorous . Well know examples include Le Pauillac de Château Latour, Margaux de Château Margaux and Pauillac de Lynch Bages.

Petit Château: not so much a definition but a concept. Typically used for wines that are affordable and produced by smaller, family-owned, less well-known estates.

Mary said documentation traces the origins of second wines and second labels to the 17th century, when Château Margaux was reputed to have sold off grapes considered not acceptable for its Grand Vin.

“However, Pavillon Rouge was only officially launched much later in 1906,” she said.

In Pauillac, La Réserve de La Comtesse first appeared in 1874 but isn’t produced every year. She said many others launched during the early 20th century. Some examples of second labels:

  • Château Lafite-Rothschild – Carruades de Lafite
  • Château Margaux – Pavillon Rouge
  • Château Pichon – Longueville Comtesse de Lalande – Réserve de la Comtesse
  • Château Palmer – Alter Ego
  • Château Angélus – Carillon d’Angélus

Second Labels

The increase in production of second label wines has been driven by a variety of reasons: pressure to maintain the quality of each Grand Vin; increased vineyard size of many top châteaux; replanting and use of lots made from younger vineyards; and introducing the wines of the estate at a lower price to attract broader audiences.

Allison said that for many châteaux, 20%, 30% and even 35% of production is typically diverted to second and third wines.

For the tasting, the eight wines were from the 2014 vintage, considered a miracle because it had the wettest winter in 50 years, but very little frost; early bud break; cool summer; delayed ripening; long Indian summer; long hang times; ripe grapes with fine tannins; a “Cabernet” vintage.

They said 2014 was characterized by: mid-weight wines; elegance over power; high acidity; deeply colored, with aromatic complexity; medium flavor concentration; lacking the richness and concentration of 2010; tannins fine and smooth; left bank more structured than 2012; right bank less powerful than usual – easier drinking; Saint Estèphe and Pessac Léognan considered the stars; excellent for dry whites and sweet Bordeaux.

We tasted wines in pairs, based on appellation: Pessac-Leognan white Bordeaux; Margaux and Pauillac from the left bank, higher percentages of Cabernet; and Saint-Emilion, right bank, more Merlot.

Wine 1 – La Croix de Carbonnieux Blanc, 2014, Pessac-Leognan, $25 (70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon). Light green-gold’ herbaceous, bell pepper Sauvignon Blanc nose; mid-body; tight acids; long crisp finish; can use a little time. 15.5-16 on the 20-point scale.

Wine 2 – Chateau Brown Blanc, 2014, Pessac-Leognan, $30 (70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon). Mid gold; floral; light apricot, citrus; hints of oak (eight months in 50% new barrels); round, ripe, soft finish. 16

Wine 3 – Chateau Moulin de Tricot (Petit Chateau), 2014, Margaux, $45 (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot). Mid-garnet; herbaceous, slightly green, vegetal nose; hints of Brettanomyces; tight tannins; long semi-chewy Cabernet finish. 16

Wine 4 – Baron de Brane (second label, Chateau Brane Cantenac), 2014, Margaux, $35 (65.4% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 0.6% Carmenere). Bright red; complex nose; berries, mint, smoke; nice structure and style for the price; round, smooth finish. 16.5

Wine 5 – Les Griffons de Pichon Baron (second wine, same plots as the Grand Vin), 2014, Pauillac, $50 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot). Mid-dark garnet; Pauillac nose; cedar; tobacco; cocoa; mid-body; balanced; good fruit, style; long rich finish. 16.5-17

Les Griffons

Wine 6 – Chateau Fonbadet (Petit Chateau), 2014, Pauillac, $39 (68.7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31.3% Merlot). Dark garnet; smoky, herbaceous, slightly green nose; seems younger; tighter acids and tannins; shorter finish. 16-16.5

Wine 7 – Chateau Coutet (Petit Chateau), 2014, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, $29. (60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon). Mid-brick; smoke, cocoa, herbaceous nose; mid-body; balanced; easy-drinking, fruity, semi-chewy finish; a little short. 16

Wine 8 – Les Chenes de Macquin (second wine, Chateau Pavie Macquin), 2014, Saint-Emilion, $35 (90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon). Mid-brick; mint, cocoa, bell pepper, light oak (100% aged in one-year old barrels for 12 months); mid-body; rounder, riper, more fruit than the other wine; longer more stylish finish; excellent value. 16.5-17