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Second-label Bordeaux

Second-label Bordeaux—less extravagant versions of more famous wines—are the hidden gems of France’s most prestigious vineyards. They tend to reach their prime closer to release and are therefore often the better choice. A second-label Pavillon Rouge, for example, will display a good measure of the greatness of Margaux for a fraction of the price and at an earlier date. Second labels can run from $50 to $120, so they’re not cheap, but the price difference can be as much as 80 percent. When a great vintage is declared, the second-label strategy really kicks in. Consider 2000 Bordeaux: A bottle of 2000 Latour now costs $600 to $800, but a wine like that needs ten or more years in the cellar. The 2000 Les Forts de Latour, the winery’s second label, is much more approachable. I compared the 2000 Les Forts ($100) to the Latour 2001 (the latter from a lesser vintage but still $300). Both were exquisite, but the Les Forts sang (especially after a full hour breathing). It had a juicy, herbal, slightly cedary nose blended with amazing fruit, and, in the style of a great Bordeaux, it was so tightly integrated with oak that it had none of the overbearing wood typical of young American cabernets. The 2001 Latour had a perfumed, flowery bouquet and distinct intensity, but it still needed years to unwind. Many reds are simply drunk too early; the second-label strategy delivers first-class wine with a lot less waiting.

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