Some wine enthusiasts desire fancy labels, others relish what is inside the bottle. If you are in the second group, you will find a lot to like about Bordeaux 'second-label' wines. Made primarily from younger vines and extra-production, second wines may cost a third the price of the same estate's primary wine, but they deliver good value and quality in their own right.
They come from the same vineyards, made by the same winemaker as the estate's first wine, second-label wines often capture the distinctive 'terroir' of the Château. The chief difference is that they are made to drink without the need for cellaring. Within the boundaries of a Château, there are differences in terroir: some areas have better soils, better exposure; some are planted with younger vines that yield lighter wines.
Many grow up to four red grape varieties; some do well in one year and some in another. Each variety is harvested and vinified separately, once aged, the winemaker tastes each parcel to select the blending components and proportions, and it is during this process that 'second wines' emerge.
Second wines in Bordeaux can be traced back to the 8th century, but became commercially important in the 1980's when competition forced Châteaux to select their grapes more rigorously. This can mean up to 50% of the grapes are discarded (green harvest) before they ripen so the vines concentrate their flavours and improve quality. By harvest time, up to 25% of the crop may further be removed. Undergoing such a selective process, it can be expected that even second wines will be very good in quality.
In order to offer drinkable Bordeaux wines, establishments (i.e. restaurants) spend a small fortune buying mature wine at auction, and then pass the cost on to their customers. Others sell what are currently available and on the market, even if the wines are still in need of aging. Result; customers drink unready Bordeaux red wines or, customers choose a wine from elsewhere that ages, becomes approachable faster.
If you don't want to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars at auction - the alternative is investing in current vintages and ageing them yourself for 10 - 15+ years. Or you can purchase and enjoy a 'second label' wine.