Q: It’s Tuesday night. What should I drink?
Probably this is not the night to raid your cellar for a gem—it’s just not a special occasion. This is the best time to think about a second label wine from a major producer because there are gems to be found that will serve very well.
Second label wines originated in Bordeaux decades ago, when several major chateaux expanded their vineyard land and bottled wine from the young vines under a new and related brand. Now every leading chateau has at least one second label; several even have a third.
They promote these wines as a product of the same system, intended for near-term drinking. However, most Bordeaux second labels do not represent good value.
Carruades de Chateau Lafite, for example, retails for $135 per bottle. The 2014 Pavillon Rouge de Chateau Margaux fetches about $105 at Wally’s. These are not likely Tuesday night prices for most drinkers, although both wines drew praise from critics.
Several high-end Napa Cabernet producers produce more accessible second labels, sometimes under direct French inspiration. For example, the Moueix family owns both Pétrus in Pomerol and Dominus in Napa; the latter brings about $300 per bottle. Their second label, Napanook, comes from a single vineyard and can be had for about $60. That’s getting closer, but for real value, look to its third label, Carpe Diem at $30.
Napa Valley abounds in second labels. Shafer Vineyards wines are sold to members on a mailing list at cult-wine prices. Its second label, Eighty-Four Wines, includes a Malbec for about $40 and a crisp white Albariño for $28; both are absolutely worthy.
Michael Mondavi broke away from his father Robert’s wine empire in 2004 after Robert lost control of the business. That sad saga is well-told from the beginning in Julia Flynn Siler’s book “The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty.”
But Michael has shaken it off and flourished since then. Ten years ago, he launched Michael Mondavi Family Estates, where his son Rob Jr. is lead winemaker. Their Tuesday-night offering is Emblem, a Cabernet blend from family-held vineyards and a good deal at $30.
Tanbark Hill Cabernet comes from younger vines in the care of the legendary Philip Togni, who has been farming on Spring Mountain since 1981. His 2014 offering is reserved and herbal, more thought-provoking than the plush valley-floor vintages, but at $50 it may stretch the upper limits for a Tuesday.
Other second-label wines are equally reliable. Joe Wagner—son of Caymus Vineyards founder Charles—found his first success masterminding the Meiomi brand, but since selling it in 2015 (for $315 million) he has raised his quality game somewhat with Quilt Napa Valley.
Forbes Magazine called Paul Hobbs the Steve Jobs of wine, because he is known as a fanatic for detail. Hobbs’s high-end product goes to a mailing list, but his Crossbarn label is reachable for a midweek feast and rich and lithe on the palate.
In sum, Tuesday night need not be dull drinking.
This Month’s Recommended Wines:
Napa Valley Second Labels
2014 Emblem Napa Valley Cabernet— This Michael Mondavi product shows oak, cassis and dried herbs in a full-bodied texture. Balanced finish with light tannins. $30 at the Wine House
2015 Quilt Napa Valley Cabernet — A blend from a patchwork of Napa vineyards, this is ultra-deep and plush, with coffee and blackberry notes. Full-bodied and dark, with oak notes in the finish. $40 at the Wine House
2013 The Paring Red Blend— From the owners of Screaming Eagle, this
Cabernet-based blend shows blackberries, dried herbs and olives in a zesty texture with crisp balance. Over performs its price. $25 at Wally’s
2014 Carpe Diem Napa Valley Cabernet— The Christian Moueix team brings a classic style with white pepper, black cherry and lettuce leaves in a medium-full body. Light tannins on the finish. $30 at Wally’s
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