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Second Label – Second to None!

Two great second label cavas, Comte de Subirats(Vilarnau) and JM(Covides)

We all love wine! We really do!!

But are we snobs who can only appreciate the expensive and cult-y wines that will eat (drink!) a hole in our wallets?  Do we automatically wrinkle our collective nose at bottles that doesn’t cost at least 10 bucks even for everyday wine?

Having only very sporadically been a woman of means, I have always looked for a bargain, but not at the cost of quality. It also helps that I know what I like when I like it, no matter the producer or the price of the wine.  The seed for this was planted when I went to university in Sweden and happened to live in the city center, very convenient for my friends who always ended up at my place before or after whatever plans we had on the weekends. My flat was tiny but always full of people who I ended up feeding – the two small pots were constantly in service on the stove with something simmering away – and my homemade garlic cheese was ‘world famous’ and required eating for all in attendance, or the non-eater would regret it later.

We didn’t know anything about wine then, more than that we liked to drink it, and we always bought the cheapest stuff  (sometimes I think Blue Nun and Matheus was invented for poor students) but at some point my palate wanted for something better. I started getting inexpensive but ‘better’ wines from emerging wine regions like Chile and Australia, who were then considered the stepsisters of France and Italy. (One of the cheapest and worst wines of that time was a Spanish white called Vilafranca, and it’s an interesting irony that the first place I came to when I moved to Spain from California 16 months ago was Vilafranca del Penedès!)

The quest for finding good wine for a good value never left and when I moved to California I was in heaven when I discovered ‘the second label’. One of my favorite stores in CA was Trader Joe’s which had a great food and wine philosophy; by skipping the middle man and buying in big quantities they could offer great quality and super value, whether they used their own Trader Joe’s label, like with the Chilean series of wine (the SavBlanc for $2.99 was an outstanding value) or a famous winery’s second label. The ‘Emergence’ Rhone varietal Red blend comes to mind, and at $5.99 one of the best California reds I’ve tasted.The only way TJ’s could sell second label wines from prominent wineries was if they did not reveal the producer but I have a feeling that ‘Emergence’ was from one of the best Rhone producers in Paso Robles, Tablas Creek, whose wines could easily cost $30-40 or more .

The reason the producer doesn’t want the public to know is easy enough to understand: the pricing adds to the  ‘prestige factor’ of your product and how can you justify selling the same or almost the same quality wine for a fraction of the cost? For a winery, a second label is a great way of ‘moving’ overproduction without infringing on its prestige.

(Speaking of prestige; A recent cover of Wine Spectator magazine had what some might consider the second labels of all time when it featured the Grand Cru labels of Bordeaux side by side with their seconds, using a version of their famous original names such as Chateau Latour  –  Les Forts de Latour. As far as pricing goes, $400 for a bottle of  second label Carruade de Lafite can seem a bit steep, but compared to the Chauteau Lafite Rothshild at $1800 a bottle, it’s a downright bargain!)

Moving to Spain was like being let loose in a new candy store (although I don’t have a sweet tooth!). Wine, wine everywhere wine, most of which I had never seen, or tasted, before. And after awhile I realized the same thing is going on here!  One of my new favorite Penedès  whites is the Blanc de Blanc from the Sumarocca winery, just down the road from me.  I happily discovered – after reading the tiny print on the back label  – that one of the big super market chain’s own label, Riubal, is produced by Sumarocca and I’m pretty sure the white it is their Blanc de Blanc. At 2.65€ it’s a steal! (And it is, as it happens, the wine being sipped as I write this)

Another absolute favorite is the Comte de Subirats Cava Brut Rose’ , which is actually the second label of one of the better wineries in  Penedès – Vilarnau. And at 3.70€ it’s an incredible deal. Dry and fresh, without being surupy, with a good somewhat peppery finish, it’s the perfect party cava!

I only wish it had been available in my college days!!









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