Second label wines are typically made in a drink now style and are not age-worthy. Even in the old world, Village wines will age much less gracelessly than a Premier cru and the same is true for a Grand Cru verse a Premier Cru although the distinction is less clear. The same is true in new world wines. But why is this the case? Well firstly, the grapes from which the wines are made are generally lower quality, probably higher yielding vines and do not have the acid, tannins and balance suitable for making an age-worthy wine. Secondly, the winemaking itself may drive a softer drinking style. More techniques to extract fruit flavours may be used to ensure the wines are fruity. Less oak maturation also helps with this but finally the winemaker intervenes and ‘fines’ the wine so that it is ready to drink as soon as possible. These techniques reduce the capacity of the wine to improve with bottle age. Finally, I should mention that second label wines are sometime the result of barrel selection and culling. This involves barrel tasting and de-selecting barrels which do not meet certain quality criteria. The de-selected barrels are then blended and made into a second label which will not have the same ageing characteristics when compared with the first cru or first label wine even though it may have come from the same vineyard.
A good example is a bottle of 2008 Julicher Estate Te Muna Road 99 Rows that I opened last night. This was a ripper of a wine when first released. So good, in fact, it won gold in the prestigious Air NZ wine awards. Now as a 4 year old wine, it lacked impact and is looking a little clumsy and tired compared to the wine I tasted a couple of years ago. Te Muna Road 99 Rows is made by Julicher Estate vineyard is in the Wairarapa region in the North Island, situated in the Te Muna valley, five kilometres from Martinborough. This is their second label and is definitely made as a drink now style. I don’t know how or even if it was fined but it was soft and fruit driven in youth, quite balanced but without the structure to age. This Pinot Noir is a blend of different clones (5, 6, 114 and 667) sourced from different blocks in the vineyard, however, now it lacks the complexity, which can sometime be achieved by using diverse source materials. I have several bottles of the ‘first label’ 2008 Julicher Estate pinot in my cellar. I think it must be about time to open one and will report back in a post soon on how their flagship has aged. I have high expectations!
PS I should note that second label wines are usually great value being priced a discount to the producer’s first label.