What happens to the bad grapes of the big Bordeaux wine brands like Chateau Margaux?
Ever heard about Chateau Margaux, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Palmer?
Ok, that was a rhetorical question: of course, you have! Everybody knows that these names are among the most famous and expensive wines from the French region of Bordeaux.
What most people don’t know, is that some of these wines and many other big brands that I haven’t listed here are made only on good vintages and after an extremely careful selection of the fruit during harvest.
Bad grapes of the big Bordeaux wine brands
Indeed, even among the vineyards of the most prestigious wines of Bordeaux, there are lower quality grapes. They may come from slightly less perfect soils or from younger vines or from parts of the vineyard where the sun exposure is not totally perfect.
And in those years when the weather conditions are so poor that the grapes are not healthy and concentrated enough to make a perfect Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé, some of these producers prefer not to make their wine at all, rather than detracting from the quality and putting in danger their brand’s reputation.
This was the case of LVMH-owned Chateau d’Yquem, a famous Sauternes producer. Chateau d’Yquem didn’t make 2012 vintage due to not satisfactory quality of the harvest.
So, you may think: what happens to those grapes that can’t make it into one of the top wine brands? Are they going wasted? Luckily no, they are not going waste.
What are the Second wines?
In fact, most of the Bordeaux brands use these grapes (that are perfectly fine, just not good enough for a Grand Cru) to produce minor wines, the so-called “second wines” (also called “second labels”) or even “third wines”, in rare cases fourth wines.
For example, Chateau Margaux produces the eponymous first wine and a second “quality” wine labelled “Pavilion Rouge”.
The second wine of Château Latour can be found under the name “Les Forts de Latour“. Domain’s third wine will have the name “Le Pauillac de Château Latour”
Second wine of Château Mouton Rothschild is named “Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild”.
And Château Lafite Rothschild releases their second wine under the name “Carruades de Lafite-Rothschild”.
Château La Tour Carnet releases their second wine under the name “Les Douves de Carnet”.
Here we talk about pricy wines: Is expensive wine worth it?
The famous producer from California Opus One Winery also makes second wine called Overture. (the first one is Opus One).
This is not a new practice, it dates back to the 18th century but became commercially significant only in the last 30-40 years.
And it is something that does not involve only Bordeaux: a similar practice is used by many other European producers that divert their “bad” grapes towards wines of minor appellations.
As it happens for example, in Italy, to grapes that are not good enough for the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and are then used in the minor Rosso di Montalcino DOC appellation.
What are the pros for consumers?
First of all, I guess many of us will not be able to drink Grand Crus on a regular basis, so these “second labels” can give us the chance to taste great wines from amazing producers without breaking the bank.
The “second” wines will most probably be less concentrated and rich than the Grand Crus and will mature much faster, but you will still be able to appreciate the craftsmanship of a great producer, at a fraction of the price of the top wine.
What are the cons for consumers?
Unfortunately, this practice has become a bit of a commercial expedient for some producers to make cash both with the second wine and with the increase of prices for the first wine.
In fact, nowadays, even in excellent vintages, some of the grapes will go into the second wine, so the Chateaux keeps under control the production of the top wine with the normal consequence of driving up prices.
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