The recent surge in the prices of the First Growths’ second wines begs a number of questions, most notably, what next? Will fervid demand for second labels extend beyond top-tier Bordeaux to the rest of the Cru Classe?
As we explained in the October Market Report, the main driver behind the exponential price increases that the second wines are experiencing at the moment is brand-driven Asian buying. Chinese buyers see “Little Lafite” and its peers as extensions of the Premier Crus – the next best thing as it were. Of course, in order to strengthen associations with the core brand, the second wines bear very similar labels to their respective grand vins. Logically then, the second wines of Classed Growths that fulfil this visual criterion will be first in line to benefit, should the current trend spill over to include the lower levels of the Cru Classe. This potentially powerful marketing tool has certainly not escaped the notice of the chateaux.
In order to take full advantage of the Asian market’s thirst for top brands, a number of chateaux have reinvented and relabelled their second wines in recent years, not least Clarence Haut Brion (formerly Bahans Haut Brion). In a similar move, Leoville Las Cases announced the launch of a second wine earlier this year. (The estate claims that Clos du Marquis is not the estate's second wine as it is produced from different vineyards.) Importantly, Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases looks almost identical to Leoville Las Cases.
Other second wines that resemble their betters include Alter Ego Palmer (of Chateau Palmer), Pagodes de Cos (of Cos d’Estournel), Sirene de Giscours (of Giscours), Baron de Brane (of Brane Cantenac), Chapelle Mission (of Mission Haut Brion), Pelerins de Lafon Rochet (of Lafon Rochet) and Moulin Duhart (of Duhart Milon). Interestingly, the second wine of Beychevelle (an Asian favourite) does not yet form part of this group.
As the market becomes increasingly brand-focused, heightened demand for the second wines of the Cru Classe (particularly those that have a strong following in Asia) is certainly well within the realm of possibility. For the moment, however, the second wines are not seeing any remarkable price movement and are, on average, trading at a fifth of the price of their parent wines, as opposed to an average of one to four for the First Growths (and one to three for Carruades).
Below are a selection of wines that have similar labels for both levels of production and a few of those that don't. With the majority of these second wines trading at less than £200 per case, they arguably have little interest as investments. But with prices for the Cru Classe rising ever higher – and the wines beneath having little recognition from the consumer – don't count out some sharp rises in pricing (and more than a few rebranding exercises ahead of the 2010 vintage).