Weekly wine defined: Second Label

This week we’re looking at the wine term Second Label. Surprise, surprise it has roots in France (there it’s called Second Vin).

The term is linked to France’s Bordeaux region where it was first used to refer to a lesser wine produced by a chateau. In simple terms, it is the wine that’s considered second best to the crème de la crème wines that are good enough to make it into Bordeaux’s “Grand Vin” classification.

But just because wine is shunned from making it to the top of its class and thus labeled as a second label, doesn’t mean it should be ignored. In fact second label wines are often more affordable and just as reputable as their first-class cousins.

In some cases the only reason the wine goes to a chateau’s second label is because the grapes come from vines that are too young and thus not allowed under the strict requirements of reaching Bordeaux’s Grand Vin status.

The younger vines are harvested and fermented separate from the barrels that have been identified for the first label, or Grand Vin, classification. They are then bottled under a separate label — the second label — and sold for a lower price than the grapes designated for the first label brand.

This is great for the consumer, because they get to try wines produced by some of the world’s best winemakers, but at a price that doesn’t come at the expense of an entire year’s savings.

This also allows winemakers to make money while they wait for their Grand Vins to reach perfection.

Sometimes, when nature deals a nasty hand during the growing season (remember our post about terroir?), winemakers won’t produce a first label. Instead they may only choose to release a second label wine because they either couldn’t harvest enough of the best grapes to produce first label quality, or they don’t feel the harvest is good enough to live up to their previous Grand Vin reputation.

While the second label has European connections, it’s a term that carried over to other winemaking regions — including the United States. But, from what we’ve been able to tell, not everyone uses the term in the way it was originally intended.

While some stay true to the definition of using estate grown grapes to produce a first and second label wines, others use the term loosely, instead to describe an actual second brand of wine coming from a winery.

Olympic Cellars Winery has what it calls a second label, but a better way to describe its “Working Girl Wine” is to call it a second brand.

The wine is not a secondary production resulting from grapes that didn’t make the top of its class, like the true definition of the term.

But with catchy names like Rose Riveter and Working Girl White, it’s no surprise the wines have caught on well beyond the boundaries of the Olympic Peninsula winery.

Notable second labels, in the true sense of the definition, include:

Have a second label you can’t get enough of? We’d love to hear your recommendation.


Brynn and Mary

One thought on “Weekly wine defined: Second Label

  1. Hi Brynn and thanks for bringing attention to second labels. I’ve always believed some of the world’s great wine values are in this category. We’ve actually started a website recently dedicated to second labels and are planning to review the Nelms Road Merlot in the coming weeks. I hope you’ll check it out at http://www.secondlabelwine.com. Best, Chad

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