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Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/2/2014 9:43:50 PM   
Hollowine

 

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Many wineries make a 2nd label that is wine that didn't make the cut for the Premium label. Whether calling it a "2nd wine" like some in Bordeaux, or calling it "Declassified Fruit" as I've seen many times, where do you stand on purchasing these wines?

I'll admit I bought these on more than one occasion in the past, often hoping to own a bottle with the "prestige" of the house, without the price of the Premier Cru. But I'm pretty much over it...far too often I've been underwhelmed by these wines, and I rarely buy them anymore. If price is the issue I'd rather spend my money with another good producer putting their heart and soul into the best wine they can make for the same money. Or, more often than not due to cellar size, I'd rather buy less wine and save up for a bottle or two of the Premier Cru of the winery I wanted in the first place.

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/2/2014 10:15:03 PM   
champagneinhand

 

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No if your cellar is full. Yes if you need defenders and are building up a palate.


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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/2/2014 10:58:02 PM   
peeks13

 

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That's a great question and one I ask to almost every distributor at every tasting I attend and I get answers all over the spectrum because their interests may not align with mine. I just want the knowledge but they want to protect their portfolio and make sales or not let me in on the dirty little secrets of the trade.

Our discussions revolve around why the fruit was declassified in the first place (or not worthy of making the top bottling) or why a second wine was made:

1) Vines are too young. "We had to replant the cab 5 years ago so it's not worthy of going into the estate reserve bottling until the vines are 12 years old". I get it...maintain the brand reputation and high quality of standard. But we are in it for a profit.

2) Vines are not in the best location. Maybe they face the wrong way or are on the valley floor or we just bought out a neighboring plot in Margaux and now realize it's not as good as we hoped but we use the same vinification techniques so it's still better than most but not top notch.

3) Not a great vintage. We won't issue our top bottling because it's not up to our standard. This gets dicey because the top producers should be able to adjust given the seasonal challenges but if the fruit isn't there what can you do. Where does that fruit go? In these cases maybe the second wine gets the fruit and becomes an outstanding value or maybe they sell it all off. Who knows? Barolos were widely panned in 2002 and I bought some declassed Sandrone nebbiolo on clearance for $10 and it was fantastic. Who knows what went into it.

4) A second wine is always made...it just is. But does the fruit come from young vines, lesser vines, or purchased fruit to round it out? Left banks make a 2nd and maybe a 3rd wine. Houses that make Brunellos and Vino Nobiles always make a rosso. How does Shafer draw the line between what goes in the Hillside Select and the 1.5? To read Kermit Lynch's "Adventures on the Wine Route" even the neighbors wonder why all that sugar is being delivered in September.

I can accept all these reasons as valid.

But when I ask all types of wine people would they rather drink (not buy) the 2nd wine from a great producer or the top wine from a lesser producer I get no clear cut answer. Personally, I'll take the top wine from a lesser producer.

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 12:57:12 AM   
Yossarian

 

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I'd rather spend my money on someone's best efforts.
I purchased a lot of second wines from Bdx and almost without fail they have been poor value for money.

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 2:09:07 AM   
shawnh

 

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I think there is a difference between a declassified wine and a Second.

A declassified wine is when a winemaker decides that, for whatever reason, the fruit is not good enough to maintain their standard. For example, Meerlust in SA decided that in 2012 the fruit was not good enough to make their Rubicon blend, and so declassified the wine as "Meerlust Estate Red". The grapes were vinified to be drunk young. I am on my second case: it is remarkably good value, in my opinion.

A Second wine is intentionally made every year, usually from younger wines, or less favourable terroir.

Personally I think that Second wines are often over-valued, but declassified wines can be real bargains, as long as you try one before buying in bulk. I like to think that declassifying a wine is an expression of honesty and high standards by the winemaker. Second wines, however, may be just pale reflections of their famous siblings.


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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 5:22:06 AM   
cigar52

 

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In my experience unless it is a highly rated year you are getting inferior product. On banner years though I have had some great luck with dPavillon Rouge de Chateau Margaux and Alter Ego de Palmer.

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 7:14:12 AM   
Hollowine

 

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All good points and what I've heard as well.

At the end of the day I believe the winery must look at a) financials and b) branding/marketing in making the decision. If they can make profit from the effort and still protect the brand, they will likely do it. If they can bulk sell off the juice at close to break-even rather than make a declassified/second wine, because it isn't in the interest of their brand, they will probably do this.

I just don't subscribe to them being cellar defenders, because I've been disappointed more than I've been impressed as Yossarian says. (FWIW, I agree with Cigar52..1995 Pavillion Rouge de Ch. Margeaux was a great buy...got lucky on that one).

If all things were relatively equal (financially) between selling off bulk juice or producing a second wine, I'd personally rather see the winemaker sell it off and maintain the strength of their Brand. Second option would be start a second label, as I've seen a few WA wineries do, but I still don't know that I'd be a buyer of that second label knowing it is juice that didn't make the cut.

I guess the only safe advice is taste before you buy...


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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 7:22:38 AM   
Stirling

 

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Carrudes de Lafite has fetched astronomical prices for a second wine, and I cannot possibly imagine it is worth it.

I have had a couple of vintages of Dominus' second wine, "Napanook" and it is quite good. Quilceda Creek Red Wine is also very good, and a much better value.

With second wines of top labels you are getting top winemaking, usually new French barrels but not the best grapes in their vineyard. It is a toss-up as to whether they are worth it.

Sometimes you can get lucky when a producer does not make a tete cuvee in a particular vintage and declassifies all of that fruit into the regular bottling. I got lucky with a vintage of CdP a number of years ago (I think it might have been Vielle Julien). I bought a bunch of 2010 Woodward Canyon Artist Series as they decided not to make an Old Vines that year. Have not opened one yet so cannot comment.

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 8:55:10 AM   
hankj

 

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Is there a difference between declassified and second label?

Many flagship labels try to be special by doing more - more extract, more skin time, more new oak, more oxygen from more time in barrel. Particularly with Cabs all that "more" overwhelms my palate and I tend to taste a massive wall of structure, and then if old enough a badly faded wall of structure. I've found in the past few years of a lot of blind tasting that very often I prefer 2nd level wines. Recently for instance I clearly liked Cayuse En Cerise over Bionic Frog. I like regular Leonetti better than the reserve, QC Red over the $200 bottle, some blended Brunelli and Baroli (are those the correct plurals?) over the higher end single vinyards. Heck, I even like most Chianti Classicos over the same labels' Classico Reservas.

If declassified wine means wines like the Paring or Waterstone -- where an elite maker can't use all of their fancy fruit without undercutting their bottle price (the closeout bin/email can kill public perception of a wine being elite) and so makes a simpler wine with that good fruit and sells it under a different label to the $20-30 per bottle market -- I really like that too.

2nd label BDX though not so much - quality drops off too much for how much the brand name props up prices. Maybe if they cost 1/2 of what they typically do ...

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 9:43:26 AM   
GalvezGuy

 

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I am with you hankj. Waterstone is one of my go to wines. Never going to be amazing, but consistently good and extremely affordable. I will pick up some Les Sinards from Beaucastel when they have a poor vintage and make less or none of the flagship (02 is a great example, all of the Beaucastel grapes went into Les Sinards)

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 9:55:13 AM   
petitblanc

 

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I don't usually venture into second wines, 1990 Forts de Latour was probably my most memorable.

With no Yquem produced in 2012, I did pick up a few "Y" d'Yquem on pre-arrival, since that dry wine got all of the estate grapes in 2012. Maybe not the greatest value proposition, but it should be a very interesting wine.


< Message edited by petitblanc -- 11/3/2014 4:07:53 PM >


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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 10:01:59 AM   
mtpisgah

 

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It all depends on the wine quality and price. Am I still going to pay for their name with a second label or declassified? If yes, then no I do not want it. I am going to pay for the less priced wine but know it was still made with the same care and dedication that they make all their wine with and I will have a good bottle for less money. If yes, then yes I will buy.

Now I do not usually buy a wineries "reserve" wine because the ones I have tasted have not been worth the extra cost. I have bought a few, but not many.

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 5:30:58 PM   
Slye

 

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I usually think that declassified wines can be good values -- though one relies on people in the industry indicating this has happened.

My experience with second Bordeaux labels in the 80s is that they were usually pretty good and good values. Sadly that is no longer the case as some have already indicated. (Frankly I find most current vintage Bordeaux to be way overpriced -- though perhaps that is also my age -0 I would prefer to use the same money to buy an older vintage of the same wine, and often times it is far cheaper).

Second wines in the US vary I find. I used to love the regular Caymus, when it was one third the price of the Reserve. That changed about 15 years ago (the winemaker told me they were finally convinced to raise the price because people would only treat the wine seriously if it cost more). I find that Cayuse, to pick up on Hank, is a good example. I find the Armada to be as good if not better than Bionic Frog many times, and sometimes some of the less expensive single vineyards. There are exceptions of course.

For value I tend to lean towards more obscure producers/winemakers -- sometimes new ones -- who are doing something really great but have not yet been recognized as such. But that also, of course, is hit and miss.


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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 6:49:29 PM   
Hollowine

 

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I'm not sure Cayuse Bionic Frog compared to the single vineyards (En Chamberlain/En Cerise/Armada) meets my intent of the original post since release price of these wines isn't that different (BF-$95, Arm-$80, EC-$70) and I don't really think of them as declassified or Second Wines. FWIW, I love Armada and En Chamberlain...but I also love me a Frog (esp the 2005!)

Others have called out some relevant examples and I'm not disagreeing with the fact that gems are there to be found. But like the Garagiste Mystery wines, I think I've been burned more times than won on second/declassified wines that are from notable producers that just don't meet the expectations I have for what I'm spending my money on...

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 7:39:42 PM   
Slye

 

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Oh yes apologies, we were drifting. Though I am glad we did, as I have not tried my 05 BF yet~!

But I generally agree with you on the second labels -- declassified I think can be good, but difficult to find.


quote:

ORIGINAL: Hollowine

I'm not sure Cayuse Bionic Frog compared to the single vineyards (En Chamberlain/En Cerise/Armada) meets my intent of the original post since release price of these wines isn't that different (BF-$95, Arm-$80, EC-$70) and I don't really think of them as declassified or Second Wines. FWIW, I love Armada and En Chamberlain...but I also love me a Frog (esp the 2005!)

Others have called out some relevant examples and I'm not disagreeing with the fact that gems are there to be found. But like the Garagiste Mystery wines, I think I've been burned more times than won on second/declassified wines that are from notable producers that just don't meet the expectations I have for what I'm spending my money on...


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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 7:57:12 PM   
Old Doug

 

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Stirling

Carrudes de Lafite has fetched astronomical prices for a second wine, and I cannot possibly imagine it is worth it.


Indeed, Stirling. "Worth it"? No, no, Lord no....

My wife and I did really like the 2003 Carruades, but we are still talking about what was a $30 wine that started going up in price. Early on, I thought it was a really decent deal, and we ended up with cases of it. After 2009 and 2010, it was only a sell.





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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 8:23:41 PM   
wadcorp

 

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The CIA makes wines? Declassified?

.

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/3/2014 8:31:35 PM   
Hollowine

 

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Slye

Oh yes apologies, we were drifting. Though I am glad we did, as I have not tried my 05 BF yet~!

But I generally agree with you on the second labels -- declassified I think can be good, but difficult to find.


quote:

ORIGINAL: Hollowine

I'm not sure Cayuse Bionic Frog compared to the single vineyards (En Chamberlain/En Cerise/Armada) meets my intent of the original post since release price of these wines isn't that different (BF-$95, Arm-$80, EC-$70) and I don't really think of them as declassified or Second Wines. FWIW, I love Armada and En Chamberlain...but I also love me a Frog (esp the 2005!)

Others have called out some relevant examples and I'm not disagreeing with the fact that gems are there to be found. But like the Garagiste Mystery wines, I think I've been burned more times than won on second/declassified wines that are from notable producers that just don't meet the expectations I have for what I'm spending my money on...




Well now, you may need a seasoned professional to help open that bottle...if you are in the PNW let me know and we can arrange a consult...

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/4/2014 5:53:08 AM   
fasteddie35

 

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I am with petitblanc and Slye on the second wines of the 1980's. I was lucky enough to get a case of the 1982 Les Forts de Latour among others. Awesome wine. I think I have one left. Will try to find that and report back. Cheers, Ed

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/4/2014 6:20:29 AM   
hankj

 

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Cayuse was a bad example. My general point remains though that first wines built with more of everything often aren't better than the next level down and, to me anyway, often worse. This blind "more" way of making flagship wines seems like a phase one its way out now hopefully.

Garagiste clearly exploited the idea of declassified wines, for a little better and a lot of worse. Dude's a marketing genius in his way. I see Rimmerman around all the time in Seattle, always want to say hi but know the chat might get awkward so end up just stealing glances in something like mildly annoyed admiration. He does certainly seems be one a lot.of wine makers' radar when they need to clear out a lot of excess product w/o eroding their brand!




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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/4/2014 7:56:19 AM   
Hollowine

 

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quote:

ORIGINAL: hankj

Cayuse was a bad example. My general point remains though that first wines built with more of everything often aren't better than the next level down and, to me anyway, often worse. This blind "more" way of making flagship wines seems like a phase one its way out now hopefully.

Garagiste clearly exploited the idea of declassified wines, for a little better and a lot of worse. Dude's a marketing genius in his way. I see Rimmerman around all the time in Seattle, always want to say hi but know the chat might get awkward so end up just stealing glances in something like mildly annoyed admiration. He does certainly seems be one a lot.of wine makers' radar when they need to clear out a lot of excess product w/o eroding their brand!



Agree with all points. I've cursed Rimmerman more in my life than any other merchant...for the plonk and shenanigans he's peddled as well as for the amazing gems that I've gotten lucky to get that have made me think maybe he can be good. I'm sure there is a clinical name for it...Battered Wine Syndrome?

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/4/2014 8:37:52 AM   
lockestep

 

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To me it all boils down to the winemaker. If you are doing an assemblage like Monte Bello there are a lot of excellent barrels that do not make the blend. Not because of quality, but because they did not fit the flavor profile that year. I'd take those types of seconds in a heartbeat.

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/4/2014 10:16:49 AM   
SteveG

 

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I am two perspectives on this topic.

Considering just Bordeaux (and perhaps some California - I don't have this experience), there seems to be specific promotion from the estates that there is of course the flagship "Chateau" wine, and then there are seconds (or even thirds) which are supposed to reflect the house style and terroir, but which may be "less superior" but also cost less. I think this strategy reflects Brodeaux's peculiar history of blending grapes of different variety and geography into singular estate wines, unlike most every other region (excepting perhaps Chateauneuf du Pape, like Rayas/Pignan). In this situation, I am not surprised to hear that many folks don't think the seconds represent good value, rather I gather that they command a premium which is commensurate with the stature of their brand. Good as they may be, unless one really thinks that Lafite/Latour/Margaux regularly represent 'good value', why would one expect that of Carruades/Forts/Pavillon?

More commonly, though, even the best producers offer more than one cuvee, and I at least expect the better ones to protect their brand by sorting and selecting, so for example in Barolo, Mascarello may have a hierarchy of wines which depending upon the vintage may share grapes from identical parcels/plants: Riserva Monprivato, Monprivato, Barolo riserva, Barolo, Langhe Nebbiolo. Certainly one expects quality differences, but these wines also serve different drinking situations, from everyday, large parties, and casual gatherings, to focused tastings, special celebrations, and indulgent dinners. I don't really think of these as good/better/best, I consider each to be a distinct product; if I am having spaghetti and meatballs, I would probably prefer the Langhe or regular Barolo, whereas if I really want to appreciate a great Piedmont wine I would probably pair it with a simple meat or risotto dish.

Then there is the traditional German system where often several passes are made through the vineyard to harvest grapes as they ripen, then sorting them by quality and apparent sugar content for separate vinification. Sure, the "best" grapes might be said to go into the trockenbeerenauslese (and they charge for it too!), but pretty much all the producers make a spectrum of wines af varying ripeness, all the way down to an entry-level, non-vineyard-specific QbA (which makes a great wine to accompany sushi, for example). The German producers also really do declassify wines if they feel the harvest is just too rich to otherwise allow a normal selection of products, so in some years the auslese will be super-sweet, the kabinett will taste like spaetlese, and the basic bottling will be richer and sweeter.

Anyhow, I think one might approach the question wine-by-wine and producer-by-producer, and recognize that sometimes the intent is to enhance the price of rather ordinary wines with a brand halo, while many other times the producer genuinely desires to market wines with differing profiles and price points.

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/5/2014 6:29:17 AM   
KPB

 

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Usually I don't, but there are exceptions. For example, Flor de Pingus is fantastic, and considering the price of Pingus, an incredible bargain. Chateau des Tours in Vacqueryas can be a clone of Rayas in some vintages, like 2001. And then there are wineries like Pegau, where (realistically) it would be hard to tell Pegau from Pegau da Capo in some of the best vintages. Or more accurately: you would definitely agree that they are different wines, but you might not be sure which was the better wine. Or consider Bond versus Harlan. Same team, but the Bond wines are 1/3 the price of Harlan. Hard to call them a second wine (I think they consider "The Maiden" to be their second wine) but you get comparable quality for a lower price.

On this whole list Flor de Pingus is the only one that is officially a second wine. But I think that gets at a second point: what you call a wine is really a marketing choice. Most wineries produce multiple bottlings at various quality levels... buying the so-called officially best wine isn't always the smart strategy if you care more about quality of wine and less about status symbols....

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RE: Declassified Wines...Do or Don't? - 11/5/2014 9:17:33 AM   
jeff leve

 

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There are a few Bordeaux wines that most people think of as Second wines, but that is not the case. These wines are produced from a different, specific terroir and blend than you find in the Grand Vin. For example, Palmer, Alter Ego, Ducru Beaucaillou, Croix de Beaucaillou and Leoville Las Cases, Clos du Marquis. There are others. Those wines are quite nice and offer good value, style and character.

That being said, most second wines today, especially those that are attached to First Growths are far too expensive for what you find in the bottle.

< Message edited by jeff leve -- 11/5/2014 9:18:20 AM >


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