The ‘second wines’ of the great estates offer oenophiles investment opportunities with immediate dividends, writes Jonathan Ray
If money were no object, I’m sure we’d all drink the finest wines we could lay our mucky little mitts on. Reality being what it is, though, most of the world’s greatest wines – you know, the Yquems, the Lafites, the Cheval Blancs, the DRCs, the Ornellaias, the Granges and the Screaming Eagles – are out of the range of most of us.
All is not lost, though, and wine lovers can take comfort in the rise of the so-called ‘second wine’. There was a time when the release of a second label was simply a means to offload a few cases of wine made with dodgy fruit that didn’t pass muster for the grand vin.
Today, however, the second and even third wines of great estates are produced from expertly managed estate fruit, by the very same winemaking teams and with all the same care and attention.
These wines are made to be enjoyed young, and as Christian Seely of Château Pichon Baron, producer of one of the best-value of all second wines, often says, they boast high quality and accessibility both in terms of price and readiness to drink. At the top end, second wines such as Carruades de Lafi te, Les Forts de Latour, Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux and Alter Ego de Palmer are almost as sought after as their elder siblings – and almost as pricey, too.
At the lower end, wines such as the ‘defrocked’ clarets, as pioneered by online wine merchant FromVineyardsDirect, are within reach of most of us. These come from some of the finest estates in all Bordeaux, where, in some years, certain grapes grow more plentifully than others and there is a bit too much Merlot, say, than is needed for the estates’ grands vins.
This excess will be sold discreetly to favoured restaurants or canny merchants such as FVD. The only caveat is that they can’t name the châteaux from whence these wines come, although they can hint. So it is that you can pick up a charming, fruit-forward claret from that lauded and fêted icon that entrances (go on, have a think) for little more than twenty quid.
Sometimes a great wine is not only too expensive (why not just sell it and go on holiday?) but also just too brow-furrowingly complex to enjoy.
A second wine has exactly the same know-how behind it, is ready to drink much younger and should be considerably cheaper. Crucially, it will have just enough stardust to put a spring in your step and a smile on your face.
Three of the best second wines of great estates
2014 Les Tourelles de Longueville (£48; Haynes Hanson & Clark)
The second wine of Château Pichon Baron – the legendary Second Growth of Pauillac – is invariably a delight. The grand vin is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas this is led by Merlot, resulting in a wine of seductive approachability and charm. It’s certainly fine enough to be judged on its own merits rather than those of its more famous sibling.
2017 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz (£61; Frazier’s)
Originally produced in 1960 by the great Max Schubert, this beautifully balanced blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz takes some of the excess fruit from Penfolds’ mighty Grange and is aged in casks used to mature Grange’s previous vintage. Little wonder it’s often known as ‘Baby Grange’ and is the most highly collected wine in Australia.
2013 Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve (£54.50; Waitrose)
If, like me, you’re a complete sucker for Seña, Chile’s first and – arguably – still fi nest icon wine, then you will love this cannily crafted Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend from the same winery and cellars in the Aconcagua Valley. Rich, deep, dark, profound and concentrated, it shares Seña’s impeccable pedigree but comes at a third of the price.