This year, there was one theme that kept emerging in my tastings of the 2009 vintage. The wines that stood out as performing far beyond expectations this year were the second wines of the top properties which sell for a fraction of the grand vin.
The high quality of the grand vin (great wine or first wine) from the top chateaux is a given considering the climatic conditions so their quality is not surprising. I will definitely be buying a long list of second wines for my own cellar which will include second wines of Cos d’Estournel (Pagodes de Cos), Palmer (Alter Ego), Pichon Lalande (Reserve de la Comtesse), Latour (Les Fort de Latour) and Haut Brion (Le Clarence de Haut-Brion), to name just a handful.
The concept of a second wine has been around for a long time, but it is really in the past few decades that these second wines have been used to elevate the quality of the grand vin . In order to maintain very strict high quality standards in the grand vin, wine that may have gone into Palmer for example may be down-graded to Alter Ego (their second wine). In a great year like 2009, the second wines often offer great value.
Bernard de Laage, Export Manager of Chateau Palmer says 2009 had a lot of everything: Freshness, balance, wonderful flavours and richness of aromas. Palmer only started the second wine with the 1998 vintage and kept a policy of keeping the second wine prices stable. It will be a steal at approximately 30 to 35 Euros a bottle (retail) when the 2009 becomes available.
Many chateaux have specific vineyard sites that are allocated to the second wines – usually the sites with younger vines or those that historically produced lesser quality grapes. Sometimes top vineyard sites can also be downgraded depending on the producer’s goals for quality. For example, Paul Pontallier at Chateau Margaux said they could have made much more of Margaux’s second wine Pavillon Rouge but decided not to, “precisely because we had the option of making an amazing Pavillon Rouge”.
I have to admit, the quality of Pavillon Rouge is outstanding in concentration and complexity, just a few notches below its grand vin in terms of intensity; Another one for my cellar. The only second wine I will be avoiding is the Carruades de Lafite – it is undoubtedly fantastic this year, but prices will be equally spectacular.
With so many great wines to choose from in 2009, there is no need to buy only the best (and most expensive) to obtain a lot of pleasure from what 2009 vintage has to offer.