Second or secondary?
Instead, these "lesser" grapes go into a separate wine to be sold under a different label, known as a "second label," thus protecting the integrity of the winery's No. 1 wine.
Chateau Lafite was one of the first to do this, and its second-label, Carruades de Lafite, ranks as a very fine wine in its own right, often selling at retail for $30 to $40 or more, depending on the vintage.
In modern times, virtually every Bordeaux winery has a second label - during my recent visit to the region, I enjoyed tastes of such good "seconds" as Les Tourelles de Longueville at Chateau Pichon-Longueville and La Dame du Montrose at Chateau Montrose. Wise wine-shoppers quickly learn that a trustworthy property's second wine can represent good value if the price is right; if not of the same quality as the top label, it nevertheless carries the parent winery's prestige and pride.
In the New World, a similar concept has emerged along slightly different lines, one that my wine-educator friend Jason Brandt Lewis likes to call "secondary brands." In California, for example, very few wineries produce true second labels by the Bordeaux definition - Laurel Glen's "Counterpoint" and Ridge's Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon probably qualify - but quite a few of the high-end California wineries produce lower-price wines, most often using purchased grapes in contrast with the grapes that they grow themselves for their No. 1 wine.
Just a few of many examples include Glass Mountain (secondary label of Markham) and Hawk Crest (Stags Leap), and the old Liberty School, which was for years a secondary brand for Caymus but has since been sold and now stands on its own. In addition to Counterpoint, a true second label, Laurel Glen also produces a variety of secondary brands including Quintana (made from purchased Northern California fruit); Terra Rosa (made in California from South American fruit, varying in source from year to year) and the delightful, affordable REDS, a varying blend of California grapes. A number of New Zealand and Australia wineries also produce secondary brands (see my tasting note below for a delightful example); and many of Spain's top wineries produce several labels under the same roof, as with Sierra Cantabria in Rioja and its high-end label, San Vicente.
While there is no guarantee that a great winery won't embarrass itself by producing poor wine under a secondary brand name, it seems reasonable to assume that if you enjoy the products of a particular maker, it makes sense to give his other brands a try, particularly if they come at a relative bargain price.
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A fine secondary brand
This "secondary brand" product from New Zealand's excellent Grove Mill Winery is a pale greenish-gold in color, with pleasant aromas of cooking apples with green conifer and herbal notes. Full-bodied, dry and tart, mouth-filling flavors follow the nose; a faint peach-pit bitterness lingers in a long finish. U.S. importer: Appellation Imports, Annapolis Junction, Md. (May 18, 2000)
FOOD MATCH: Copper River salmon fillets steamed with garlic, ginger and lemon vodka.
Wine-shipping laws and consumerism
Meanwhile, consumers in Virginia have banded together to file suit challenging their state's laws on this issue, and they are passing a virtual hat in cyberspace to help keep the wolf from their pro bono attorney's door. For more information or if you would consider helping out in some small way, please click to the Matt Hale Fund Drive, a page we have set up to help in this effort.
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Vol. 2, No. 18, May 22, 2000