Bordeaux’s best kept secret

There are still a few ways to drink like a king on the wage of a pauper.

Admittedly, the Asian-fueled wine boom is making life very difficult for Claret lovers who take issue with spending more than a £1,000 for a bottle of 2009 Bordeaux. OK, so maybe the price of Château Lafite Rothschild is an exception, but such is the inflation amid Bordeaux’s top wines that for many traditional buyers, I suspect the prices the châteaux command have become irrelevant; many of them have simply opted to spend their money elsewhere.

But for the canny buyer wanting to drink from the top châteaux without spending a small fortune, there has always been an opportunity to drink beautifully crafted, aged Bordeaux at a fraction of the going rate—buying second wines.

In short, second wines are made from the wine that the châteaux believe isn’t good enough to go into the grand vin, or final blend. They have their origins in the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the Bordeaux market really took off in the early 1980s that their introduction became more widespread. Today, as winemakers strive for ever more perfection, more second wine is being made.

The principle behind them is simple: In order to retain the quality of the first wine, or grand vin, grapes from certain parcels of vines—mainly those that haven’t reached maturity yet or patches of the vineyard that aren’t quite as good as the rest—are excluded at various stages along the wine-making process.

Traditionally, these were sold to wholesalers, but in recent years, they have been produced and bottled as second wines.

The upside is that one gets all the craft, winemaker knowledge and vinification expertise that goes into some of the finest Bordeaux estates in the world, often at a third of the price.

Clos du Marquis, the second wine of the second-growth property, Château Léoville-Las Cases in Saint-Julien, is perhaps the most famous example, having first been produced in 1902.

The wine is often succulent, with a smooth, seductive character. It has been argued by many that Léoville-Las Cases is of first-growth quality; if this is true, then Clos du Marquis looks like a very interesting purchase. It looks even more interesting if one considers that the price for a bottle of 2005 Château Léoville-Las-Cases is around £175, compared with around £35 a bottle for the second wine, Clos du Marquis. That is a savings of around £140 a bottle, or £1,680 a case.

All of the classified Bordeaux growths have second wines, but among my favorites are: Sarget de Gruaud Larose, the second wine of Château Gruaud Larose; Les Pagodes de Cos, Château Cos d’Estournel‘s second wine; Lacoste-Borie, the second wine of Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste; and L’Esprit de Chevalier, Domaine de Chevalier’s second wine.

The downside is that it appears the wine-buying world is fast waking up to what was once one of the best deals in Bordeaux. In particular, second wines for the first growths have experienced steep price inflation in the last three months, a factor that U.K. importer Mark Walford of Richards Walford says is due to a surge in the Asian market.

“Where the traditional market had perhaps taken the view that they would rather buy a lesser château in its first manifestation rather than buy second wines from famous châteaux, the Asian market has preferred to buy wine from leading châteaux rather than delving into the unknown,” he says.

Figures complied by Fine + Rare wine brokers show that in the last three months, the price of Carruades de Lafite 2009, the second wine of Château Lafite, has risen 34% to £2,679 a case. In the same period, Les Forts de Latour 2009, the second wine of Château Latour, has risen 44% to £1,589 a case. Pavillon Rouge 2009, the second wine of Château Margaux, has risen 24% to £995 a case.

In April, I visited Paul Pontallier, director of Château Margaux, who described the wine as one of the most outstanding for the last 30 years and “the best Pavillon Rouge they have ever made.”

The wine was first made in the 19th century, but disappeared between the 1930s and 1970s. Production started again in 1977, when André Mentzelopoulos took over the estate.

The Pavillon Rouge 2009 has superb concentration, with a silky finesse to it. Given that Château Margaux 2009 is now retailing for around £750 a bottle, against that Pavilion is considerably cheaper.

Pavillon Rouge

Château Margaux, Bordeaux, France

Vintage: 2009
Price: about £82 or €98
Alcohol content: 13.5%

Château Margaux’s second wine Pavillon Rouge can date its lineage back to the 19th century. The 2009 is a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot, and is made up of wine that wasn’t deemed good enough for the final blend. Winemaker Paul Pontallier believes this to be the best Pavillon Rouge he has made. The ’09 is a very forward vintage and will drink early but will improve. However, given its quality, this is a very enticing purchase from the vintage. In the glass it is very dense and dark, while the nose is replete with floral notes such as violets and red berry. The palate is concentrated with silky tannins and a very sophisticated freshness. For such concentration and power, there is a real lightness to this wine.

 

Source: http://online.wsj.com/

 

 

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