Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 4: Chateau Leoville Barton La Reserve de Leoville Barton, St Julien 2012…

On a cold winter’s night, what could be better than a lovely steak frites dinner and a bottle of Bordeaux! But on a Monday night I hardly feel like pushing the boat out. Well, that sounds like the perfect moment to crack a Bordeaux second wine.

More accessible, less structured and often more elegant, these are delicious wines that match food beautifully but don’t necessarily require a decade or more of ageing before opening. The full Bordeaux hit for a fraction of the price! 

Chateau Leoville Barton La Reserve de Leoville Barton St Julien 2012, Bordeaux, 13 Abv.

An attractive Saint Julien Bordeaux made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, from the moment you pull the cork, the aromatics seduce you with their intensity, perfume and power. Wonderful liquorice edged cassis black berry fruit, sweet cedar, tobacco leaf, vanilla bean spice, coffee bean and creamy mocha richness abound. On the palate, the texture is superbly light and fresh, finely tuned, very precise and super elegant. Tannins are fluffy and light, and the palate packed with all the complex flavours of the Chateau’s first wine, but without any chewy tension, tannic elasticity and chunky fruit density. It’s just a wonderful, lithe, sleek, athletic version with silky soft black cassis fruit, blueberry, mocha spice, and a peppery, vanilla powder dusted finish. So succulent and drinkable, this wine really strikes all the right notes. Drink now to 2026+.

Verdict: One of the most enjoyable second wines I’ve drunk recently. Buying 12 bottles won’t be enough, try 24 instead! 

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 3: Chateau Duhart Milon Moulin de Duhart 2012, Pauillac, 12.5 Abv.

Chateau Duhart Milon has long been overshadowed by its bigger Pauillac brothers Carruades de Lafite and Lafite Rothschild. But circa 2005, the tide began to turn and Duhart Milon started to command the prices of a proper top quality Pauillac Cru Classe. Much of this was certainly thanks to China’s love affair with the Rothschild brand Portfolio, but quality advancements at the estate were also clearly evident.

Château Duhart Milon’s second wine is selected on the same basis as the “Grand Vin”. In general, the grapes are from the younger plots in the vineyards and Moulin de Duhart has therefore several characteristics similar to the grand vin, but with less potential for ageing due to its shorter barrel ageing period, and as such, should be consumed younger than its more robust big brother. The origin of the name comes from the former presence of a windmill on the Carruades plateau, next to the Duhart-Milon vineyard.

The cepage in 2012 consists of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47%Merlot, which is aged in 2 year old French oak barrels for 10 months, producing 7,000 to 12,000 cases per annum. 

The 2012 vintage was characterized by difficult weather conditions in the Bordeaux region. After a relatively mild winter, the spring was mostly wet and rainy, especially April, which brought a violent hail storm on the 24th. Such conditions hampered fertilization, leading to fears of reduced yields. Work in the vineyard was as vital as ever. June and July alternated heat and humidity. The weather became more stable from the beginning of August, enabling the grapes to finish ripening in good conditions. 
Nevertheless, there was considerable variation in their degrees of ripeness and a great deal of sorting work was carried out by the Chateau’s teams from the end September.

Tasting Note: Lovely, classical expressive Pauillac nose that’s superbly fresh and vibrant, bristling with notes of black currant, black cherry, baked black plums, roasted caramelised almonds, blue berry crumble and buttered white toast. The oak is seamless and beautifully integrated, just melting into the dark fruit nuances. The palate entry is light and effortless, with the fruit rolling around on the palate like a wine tasting in zero gravity. There is seamless cherry and black berry complexity, a pithy spicy vanilla pod lick and a very elegant, fine, focused finish. This is the consummate second wine… earlier drinking, fresh, vibrant, lighter textured and a positively quaffable vin de soif with bells and whistles. Drink now to 2020.

Second Wine Rating: Beautifully expressive wine with a light touch. Buy!

(Wine Safari Score: 88+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 2: Pastourelle de Clerc Milon 2009, Pauillac, 13.5 Abv.

As the Burgundy En-primeur campaign starts to fizzle out after a fantastically successful vintage for merchants and retailers, attention starts once more to turn to the grand region of Bordeaux.

Continuing my new series of tastings reviewing a selection of Bordeaux second wines, today I’m looking at a relatively unknown entity… the second wine of Chateau Clerc Milon, which forms part of the Domaines Baron Rothschild portfolio.

Nature was particularly kind in 2009, providing conditions that favoured an optimal growing cycle which helped the grapes of Bordeaux to reach full maturity. The very fine weather and high level of hydric stress, alleviated by a few well timed showers, enabled the grapes to ripen slowly to full maturity.

Temperatures in August 2009 were 1.4 °C higher than the average. This ideal weather continued into September as cool nights alternated with hot days, encouraging the concentration of aromas and flavours and the accumulation of anthocyanins in a perfectly ripe crop. 2009 will undoubtedly go down as a vintage to match the finest in history.

Tasting Note: 2009 is the first vintage of Pastourelle de Clerc Milon, whose label shows the classic dancers of Château Clerc Milon. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon: 50%, Merlot: 36%, Cabernet Franc: 11%, Petit Verdot: 2% and Carmenère: 1%, the wine has a dense, deep colour with a crimson hue. The aromatics are refined, perfumed, and expressive with black fruits, cassis, kirsch cherry and dusty graphite nuances. There’s an attractive bruleed note showing espresso and mocha coffee bean complexity. The palate is sleek, medium to light weight and overtly polished. There’s an attractive sweet spot on the front of the palate and a pronounced red liquorice, black current and milk chocolate opulence underpinned by soft silky tannins and supple, soft toned acids. There is balance and a real feel of harmony, but the overall package does lack the overt fleshy depth so many other 2009 second wines possess. Eminently drinkable, this attractive Pauillac finishes with lovely bitter chocolate and vanilla wood spice length. Start drinking now and over the next 3 to 6 years.

Second Wine Rating: Attractive, light weight, mid-week Claret with polish. Buy if priced modestly.

(Wine Safari Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 1: Les Clos des Carmes Haut Brion 2012, Pessac Leognan, Bordeaux, 13.5 Abv.

In the first part of a new series of posts evaluating Bordeaux second wines, I kick off with a little Graves red from Chateau Haut Brion’s near neighbour, Chateau Carmes Haut Brion. Due to recent changes in appellation laws, regarding the use of protected terms, in this case “Clos”, newer vintages of this wine will be known as Les C des Carmes Haut Brion. 

Tasting Note: The 2012 Le Clos des Carmes Haut Brion is beautifully rich, fragrant and expressive with plenty of potpourri, violets, coffee, mocha and buttered brown toast notes, integrating with lush, rich, creme de cassis, sweet black plum and tart red cherry. 

The palate is fleshy, open knit and very approachable, largely because of a 81% dollop of Merlot, with powerful backing vocals from 19% Cabernet Sauvignon. Such a wonderful complexity of black cherry, mocha, vanilla pod spice and new tannery leather. There are fresh acids but they are finely rounded and well woven into the harmonious texture of this wine. While a real joy to drink even in its youth, there would be no harm cellaring this gem for 8 to 12+ years. 

Second Wine Rating: Buy with confidence. 

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

2017 and the Onward Rise of Bordeaux Second Wines… An Introduction

We all like premium wines. But occasionally, we all have to trade down to more affordable, drinkable options, like perhaps a second wine? The rise in popularity of premium Bordeaux second wines in the international fine wine marketplace is not necessarily a trend that began in 2016 but it is certainly one which solidified further and gained a massive amount of extra momentum.

This trend was confirmed by year end trading figures on the Liv-ex Fine Wine Exchange, with a massive increase in purchasing of a wide spectrum of second labels, primarily from premium or super premium Chateaux names.

The fine wine crash of 2011 not only brought a stark dose of reality back to an over heated, over priced, over ambitious Bordeaux market, but also massive, sustained loses for buyers of En-primeur from 2010, 11, 12, 13, and 14… with only a glimmer of respite emerging with the 2015 releases and the post-Brexit, post-pound depreciation fine wine gold rush that commenced in Mid-2016. 

So this second wine popularity trend perhaps has its true origins in the price rises of 2009-10… two exceptional, though expensive, vintages where the quality of many top Chateaux second wines were as good if not better than the first wines from previous lesser vintages like 2006, 07, or even 08. 

Producing and selling through €150-300 Euro per bottle first wines with potential production volumes of 5,000 to 10,000 cases (not bottles), was never going to be easy in a world approaching its 9th year of austerity economics. Cleverly, Chateaux realised if they reduced production of the first wines down to 2,000 or 3,000 cases, and upped the production and quality of second wines at lower, more accessible prices, they could successfully maintain the super premium prices and perceived scarcity value of their first wines.

So which Chateaux second wines offer the consumer good value for money? Over the coming weeks and months in the lead up to En-primeur 2016 in April, I’ll be tasting an ongoing series of second wines to see if I can strike vinous gold. I hope you will join me on this fine wine safari!