First growth Grand Cru wines from Bordeaux Chateaux like Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Haut Brion, Château Margaux and others are among the finest in the world with consistent 95- to 100-point ratings. I follow the accolades with interest, but am resolved to the fact that the releases are beyond my reach in both accessibility and price.
Many of Bordeaux’s second label wines are produced with the same care given to the Grand Cru, but generally originate from younger vines and are made to drink sooner. With easier access and at reasonable prices, many second label releases provide an opportunity for consumers to experience extraordinary Bordeaux appellations like Haut-Medoc, Pomerol and Sauternes.
I recently sat down, via Zoom, with Olivier Trégoat, technical director of Château L’Evangile in the Pomerol appellation to explore many second label wines from recent good vintages. Trégoat has spent several years as technical director for Domaine Barons de Rothschild’s estates outside of Bordeaux. In addition to his return to Château L’Evangile, he also provides technical management for other Bordeaux Chateaux.
At our virtual tasting, Trégoat shared new releases from various Bordeaux appellations including a dry white from a region most comfortable with sweeter dessert wines.
From Sauternes, a region known for producing lush, sweet 1st Cru wines, the dry Rieussec Bordeaux Blanc Sec 2018 ($44), a blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc, originates from vines on the bottom plots with gravelly soils rather than typical limestone. Very light in color with green tint, the nose is fruity and the melon, citrus and tropical fruit flavors were balanced with a fresh acidity.
In addition to barrel-ageing on lees, Olivier credits the sauvignon blanc for added elegance and tropical flavors. He recommends pairing with oysters or any fresh fish.
Wilfred Wong (Wine.com) referenced the distinct Chateau Odilon Haut Médoc 2016 ($35) as “an excellent example of a well-made Haut-Médoc” when describing “flavors of red currants, earth and leather.” Grown in terroir unique to the region, it is a merlot-dominant blend from the Left Bank where cabernet sauvignon is king.
Acquired by Domaines Barons De Rothschild (Lafite) in 1979, the Chateau was named in honor of French painter Odilon Redon who grew up on the property.
Château Duhart-Milon’s second wine, the aromatic Moulin de DuHart ($60) undergoes much of the same viticulture as the “Grand Vin” and shares some of its cooperage. The difference is fruit from younger vines that is less apt to age well. This wine is young, but dark fruit aromas, rich mouthfeel and lingering flavors were all present.
The most impressive second wine of the tasting follows production methods similar to the L’Evangile “Grand Vin” releases from Pomerol in the merlot-dominant Right Bank region. The highly reviewed Blason de L’Evangile Pomerol 2014 ($75), a blend of merlot and cabernet blanc, was fresh and earthy; chewy and elegant. The dark fruit-driven bouquet of black cherry and blueberry extended through the palate and a long finish with hints of cocoa.
From the Entre-deux-Mers appellation, southwest of Bordeaux, the Château Paradis Casseuil ($28) originates from a 120-acre, low-yield vineyard on limestone slopes above the Gironde River. The name translates to “paradise of the oak forest,” giving homage to the surrounding natural environment.
It is another merlot-dominant blend, 50 percent barrel-aged, with intense aromas and nice spice notes through the palate. The price makes it an exceptional value and it is drinkable now.
Sauternes, south of Bordeaux, is known for the production of the most expressive and expensive sweet dessert wines on the planet. Botrytis cinerea, commonly known as “noble rot,” is a fungus that can invade grapes after periods of wet weather. It is used as an effective tool in Sauternes to produce very distinctive sweet wines such as Château d’Yquem that can command prices near $1,000.
Described as a good vintage, the Chateau de Cosse Sauternes 2017 ($35) is a blend of semillon (95 percent) sauvignon blanc and muscadelle that is aged 24 months before release. New oak is used for the semillon and older barrels for the sauvignon blanc to create a lush mouthfeel that combines fruit, honey and butterscotch flavors. It can be paired with fresh fruit or enjoyed alone as an aperitif.
These and other second label Bordeaux wines are readily available online and will continue to grace the shelves of wine outlets after we return to normalcy.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.