Second Label Standouts

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goldeneye.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Just because your inner shopper is insisting upon a "save" rather than "splurge" strategy these days doesn't mean you can't still score a little of the good life in your glass.  Thanks to the "waste not, want not" mentality of many a high-end vintner, wine that doesn't make the cut for some of wine country's most sought-after labels is finding a home in cheaper bottlings from the same wineries - often at deep discounts from what you'd pay for the vintners' first-label offerings. 
Jayson by Pahlmeyer
Pahlmeyer - known for its top-scoring Bordeaux-style reds that retail for $100 and up - now offers a new label, Jayson, named for its founder, trial attorney Jayson Pahlmeyer. With a Napa Valley Proprietary Red that retails for just $50 (compare to $150 for the Pahlmeyer version), the Jayson label offers a surefire way to enjoy a top shelf Napa Valley blend for a lot less.

cypress_cabernet.jpgCypress Vineyards by J. Lohr
Made with fruit grown in the cool coastal vineyards of Central California - a region known for producing some of the state's most refreshing whites - J. Lohr's Cypress Vineyards wines count among their numbers a crisp Sauvignon Blanc ($9) that offers plenty of grapefruit, lime and herbaceous zip for the price.

Migration by Goldeneye

Ever since Obama served Mendocino's Goldeneye Pinot Noir ($50) at his inauguration lunch, enthusiasm for the polished red has skyrocketed. Fortunately for those of us who'd like to try Goldeneye without irking our newly frugal inner shopper, the winery also offers Migration Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($32) - a stellar stand-in for the first wine - at a far nicer price.

Coudoulet de Beaucastel by Château de Beaucastel
A review of second label wines wouldn't be complete without a mention of the French, since les français - the Bordelais, specifically - invented the concept. To wit, this blockbuster red blend hails from France's famed Châteauneuf du Pape, where winemakers at renowned Château de Beaucastel craft the deliciously affordable Coudoulet de Beaucastel ($29) for a fraction of the price of the winery's signature cuvée ($70).

KaliHart-700749.jpgKali Hart from Talbott
The second label from respected Carmel, California-based Talbott Vineyards , Kali Hart delivers a youthful, vibrant Chardonnay teeming with rich melon, honeysuckle and apricot flavors alongside zesty acidity typical of whites from the Santa Lucia Highlands. And at a reasonable $14 a bottle, this is a classy Chardonnay you can't afford to miss.

Caravan by Darioush
Just half the price of the Napa vintner's Signature wine, Caravan Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) from Darioush - home of the valley's very own Persian palace - is another example of a stellar deal from one of the world's most pricey winemaking regions. Blended with a touch of Malbec, the full-bodied red marries flavors of violets, coffee and chocolate with a beguiling hint of blueberry.

Pavillon Rouge de Château Margaux
As mentioned before, Bordeaux is ground zero for second labels, a phenomenon that grew out of the strict rules regulating just what could go and could not go into the signature blends of classed growth chateaux. And so it's fitting that we're featuring "Pavillion Rouge" ($65) from one of the foremost properties in Bordeaux - the great Château Margaux - whose first label clocks in at an eyebrow-raising $440 for the 2007 vintage (pre-arrival).

Liberty School by Caymus
Napa's cult-popular Caymus Vineyards has long produced a second Cabernet Sauvignon called Liberty School from Paso Robles fruit that sells for a steal compared with its first label. Though majority ownership of the label is now in the hands of its Central Cal growers, quality remains high - and bottles can be snapped up for an astounding $10 apiece.

HawkCrestLogo.jpgHawk Crest by Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
One of Napa's original second labels, Hawk Crest from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars has been pleasing palates for more than 30 years with its approachable, fruit-forward flavors and bargain basement price. Sourced from vineyards in Paso Robles and the Red Hills region of Lake County, Hawk Crest Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $10 and offers enough red currants, cocoa and vanilla bean to please even the most particular Cabernet fans.

The Maiden by Harlan Estate
Few names in wine conjure the same amount of awe as Harlan Estate , and for good reason:  the astronomical price of the winery's signature cuvée ($385 for a recent vintage) places it squarely in the stratosphere (as does its extremely limited production levels). And even though the winery's second label - The Maiden - still costs a pretty penny (about $130), it's at least an amount far more attainable to mere mortals.

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4 Comments

please send any more recommedndations of wine and food at a discount, we are flying there this Sat.3-14 for a couple of days and would appreciate any ideas in these tough times- great article

Hi Bill,
You can find a list of events for the Napa Valley on the event calendar - click here:
http://www.napavalley.winecountry.com/special_interest/current_events/mar.html
and enjoy your time in Wine Country!

I learned this weekend that Napa Valley Cellars label is produced by Rombauer Vinyards!

The Wagner family of Caymus vineyards has not made Liberty School for years. They sold off this lesser brand to focus on their core wines. The Liberty School brand belongs to Austin Hop Winery in Paso.

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