Cult Insider

EDITION 006 | APRIL 2023


Demystifying ‘second’ wines

Written by - Patrick Thornton-Smith, Chief Customer Experience Officer & CSR Lead - Cult Wines

Several surveys of Olympic medallists have shown that those who win silver go on to suffer more mental distress and anguish than any other medallist. The ‘so near, yet so far’ and ‘what could have been’ lingers and can cause a lifetime of regret.

But in the world of wine, what does the ‘second’ tag really mean? Most readers will have heard the terms: ‘Second Wines’, ‘Second Label’ and ‘Super Seconds.’ Do these terms also signify something that is ‘so near, yet so far’ from a producer’s Grand Vin? To start with, not all Seconds are the same and shouldn’t necessarily be considered as a second-place wine. Here, I will explain what they are and how they all fit into the pantheon of wine terminology.

Second Wines are grown on the same terroir as the Grand Vin (a producer’s top wine) and share the same vinification process and technical team. However, Second Wines are made from fruit deemed not suitable for the Grand Vin. But most Second Wines are no bin end products. Pickers and sorting selectors will still carefully select quality grapes that are usually just a whisker below the precision needed for the first label. Indeed, many exceed the quality of the Grand Vins from lesser neighbouring producers.

Second Wines also typically involve a different blending and elevage maturation (barrel ageing and proportion of new oak) than the Grand Vin. The usual aim is to create an earlier-drinking expression of the property with a more accessible cost. The grape variety composition may also vary as I will mention later.

Second Wines have a long history in Bordeaux with records showing that Chateau Haut-Brion, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Latour produced them as far back as the 17th century. Le Petit Mouton, Carruades de Lafite and Echo de Lynch-Bages are among the most recognisable Second Wines today. The success now extends to many other countries and regions including Massetino (Masseto) in Italy and Overture (Opus One) from Napa.

Second Label wines are slightly different in that they are grown either on dedicated parcels of the Grand Vin terroir or separate vineyards. As such, they stand alone as distinct wines to an estate’s Grand Vin and will sometimes have their own winemaking team and/or facility. Forts de Latour, Croix de Beaucaillou, Alter Ego de Palmer are some top Bordeaux Second Labels, while Guidalberto (Sassicaia), Le Serre Nuovo (Ornellaia) and Decoy (Duckhorn) rank among notables elsewhere.

Super Seconds are much easier to explain as they primarily relate to Bordeaux’s Left Bank. The famed 1855 Classification gave First Growth status to four top producers largely based on which were the most expensive. Although Chateau Mouton Rothschild joined in 1973, the top tier is essentially fixed. But as time passed, Bordeaux lovers started to make noises that some of the Second Growths were on par, if not better, than their First Growth neighbours, giving rise to the term Super Seconds. Some have suggested that the term may have emanated from the owners of the Second Growths, but this is unsubstantiated. Whatever the source, critic scores, pricing and consumer appetite collectively made this a recognised term in the wine trade.

Of the 14 Second Growth classified estates the most typically spoken of as ‘super’ are Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Chateau Ducru Beaucalliou and Chateau Lascombes. However, even some 3rd, 4th and 5th Growth estates (such as Chateaux Palmer, Talbot and Lynch Bages, respectively) sometimes get a Super Second label; such are the vagaries of Bordeaux!

Verdict: Like an Olympic silver medallist, the various ‘seconds’ of the wine world can deliver outstanding results. I’m a huge fan of many Second Wines due to more affordable price points and their earlier drinking windows (often 5-15 years), which can also provide an intriguing sign of the Grand Vin’s future success. Second Labels, meanwhile, offer unique alternative expressions of a producer’s skill. And Super Seconds are now widely regarded as among the best wines in Bordeaux with some fully deserving to stand side-by-side on the podium with First Growths.


News in brief

News 1


Ornellaia winemarker departs for Bordeaux’s Lascombes

Axel Heinz, the esteemed winemaker of Super Tuscans Ornellaia and Masseto, is leaving the Tuscan estate in favour of Chateau Lascombes in Margaux. Heinz will take the reigns as CEO of the Bordeaux Second Growth this summer, leaving behind nearly two decades at the Fresobaldi-owned winery in Bolgheri DOC. This move is part of a significant shake-up at Lascombes which was acquired by US company Lawrence Wine Estates late last year in a reportedly recording-setting transaction amount. The new owners quickly signalled their intention to invest heavily in the Bordeaux estate and bringing on Heinz as CEO makes a notable first step.

News 1


Sparkling producers prep Coronation special editions

Moët & Chandon has announced a special Moët Impérial Coronation Cuvée 2023 magnum bottling to mark the upcoming coronation of King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla. The wine will be available May 1st for a retail price of £96/bottle. The historic Champagne house has a long association with the British royal family, including a Royal Warrant granted by Queen Victoria and special bottlings for the 20th Century Coronations. English sparkling wine producers Nyetimber and Chapel Down have also announced special editions of their own. Chapel Down’s Coronation bottling will feature the 2016 vintage and retails for £65.

News 1


Ancient Roman winery discovered

An extensive winery facility has been uncovered within the ruins of the ‘Villa of the Quintilii’ on the outskirts of Rome. The villa was built in the second century AD and the newly discovered winery appears to have been one of the most lavish in all of ancient Rome, including dining rooms, likely frequented by emperors, overlooking fountains of wine. The complex also featured a rectangular marble-floored area where slaves would have tread the grapes underfoot before taking them to two mechanical presses. The grape juice would then flow into the fountains, through open channels and into storage vessels built into the ground, where fermentation would occur. The villa was originally built by a wealthy local family but was then taken over and renovated by the Roman emperors directly.


Taryn De Luca, Global Head of Customer Experience - Cult Wines - Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino 2008

What we’re drinking

Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino 2008

Taryn De Luca, Global Head of Customer Experience - Cult Wines

  • • This Easter I enjoyed one of Italy’s greatest wines, Brunello di Montalcino. This chocolate coloured gem went splendidly with a hearty lamb ragu.

  • • Founded in 1971 by Giovanni Neri, Casanova di Neri is a wine producer located in Montalcino, Tuscany. Wine Spectator describes this family-owned producer as “one of the best examples of the recent winemaking renaissance in Tuscany.”

  • • Tenuta Nuova is a single vineyard wine selected from one very special part of their seven vineyards. The family’s intention was to capture the unique terroir and microclimate that this special vineyard enjoys.

  • • This wine is made from the Brunello grape – a local strain of Sangiovese. It’s garnet in colour with aromas of red and black fruit with underlying vanilla and spice, and a hint of earthiness. It’s full bodied with good tannic structure and bright acidity that provides balance.


Our fine wine feature

Etna – expressing geology through wine

Written by - Aaron Rowlands, Research Editor - Cult Wines

Any explanation of what makes the wine from Sicily’s Etna DOC special must start with the surreal nature of the location. The small, terraced vineyards with gnarled old vines are nestled below Etna’s 3300m snow-capped high peak, which seems out of place in the hot southern Mediterranean.

I’m between the small towns of Castiglione di Sicilia and Randazzo on the north slope of Etna, which seems million miles from the coast and the tourist hotspot of Taormina (even though the drive is less than an hour) with noticeably cooler temperatures.

A gentle trail of steam tumbling down Etna’s snow-capped face toward the sea reminds me that this has been one of the world’s most active volcanoes for thousands of years, creating created the unique microclimate and the specific characteristics that makes these wines some of finest and most distinct in the world.

Diverse terroir and old vines

Etna’s best wines are an expression of the mountain’s long and ongoing geological history. On a short drive from Castiglione, I can see the mounds of dried lava left over from numerous eruptions over the centuries amongst the vineyards around the village of Passopisciaro.

Etna – expressing geology through wine

Volcanic terroir has become a hot commodity as wine lovers increasingly seek out high quality wines from regions such as the Canary Islands, Santorini, and the US west coast. But Etna’s terroir is unique even among volcanic wine regions because it’s been active for millennia and remains so today. Frequent eruptions over time have created individual vineyards layered with compositions of iron, copper, magnesium with a wide range of ages and altitudes.

Etna’s main grape varieties are excellent at magnifying terroir nuances. Nerello Mascalese is the predominate grape for Etna reds. The best examples explode with lively acidity bringing red fruit and dried herbs flavours together with fine tannic backbones. The volcanic elements come to life in flinty, sometimes coffee-like aromas. Another indigenous grape, Nerello Cappuccio, is the typical blending partner and adds body and round fruit flavours. Carricante is the star of Etna whites, again mixing vibrant acidity and a powerful sense of minerality that tie all Etna wines to their location.

Etna also boasts some incredibly old vines that pre-date the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century. Sandy volcanic soils are poor habitats for the phylloxera pest (a small aphid), so some vines retain their original rootstock and continue to produce small quantities of incredibly concentrated wine well over a century later.

Classifying with Contrada

Etna’s exceptional vineyards haven’t always received the nurture they deserve. Just decades ago, the region primarily churned out bulk wine destined for blending with wines made in northern Italy or France. But local producers and some new faces from further afield have revived the region’s potential to make worldclass fine wine over the past three or four decades.

For a region so centred on terroir, a huge boost came in 2011 when the Etna DOC undertook extensive work to map out and officially recognise the individual vineyard areas, called Contrada. With the nine additional Contradas added in late 2022, there are now a total of 142 in a horseshoe shape stretching from the town of Randazzo in the north, around the eastern slope to the area around the town of Biancavilla in the south.

Some say the best whites often come from the southern and eastern slopes while Etna’s north slope hosts many of the best reds. I’ve spent most of my time here in the north and have outlined a few north slope producers making some of the best individual Contrada wines.

Franchetti has been a leader in terms of showcasing Etna’s best terroirs since the early 2000s. The eponymous named wine Franchetti is actually based on Petit Verdot, but the producer also makes five different Contrada wines named Passopisciaro Contrade C, P, G, S, R (the first letter of the respective Contrada). Contrada S (Sciaranuova) delivers Etna’s signature dried herbal notes along with hints of orange zest and smoked chocolate and comes a vineyard 850m above sea level on soil from an eruption in the 1600s. Contrada R (Rampante) is one of the highest sites at over 1000m, resulting in an elegant, highly aromatic expression. Contrada P (Porcaria) comes from a frail sheet of lava that splinters underfoot and is a much richer, rounder wine from a lower location at 650m.

Tenuta Terre Nere’s range of Contrada wines deliver exceptional purity. Each wine I tried was distinctly ‘Etna’ in character; the mineral and crushed rock flavours stood out unadulterated and the nuance across each wine was impressive. The winery’s top wine Prephylloxera 'La Vigna di Don Peppino' Calderara Sottana is made from pre-phylloxera vines over 140 years old and its complex flavours seem to last forever. The Calderara Sottana Contrada rests on soils from an ancient, powerful eruption thousands of years ago that created a unique top layer of large black pumice and basalt stones that retain heat extremely well. Therefore, the wines exhibit power and concentration at 600-700m altitudes. Terre Nere also produces a standout, powerful white wine from Calderara Sottana.

Pietradolce wines are often a bit more tannic with noticeable oak treatment. The top wine is the Vigna Barbagalli from an individual vineyard within the Rampante Contrada. The ungrafted 80-100 year-old wines create an complex wine with rich blood orange, wild berry and dried herb flavours. The smooth gravelly tannins make this one of the best Etna Rossos for long ageing.


Explore & travel

Napa’s taco trucks and burgers – the perfect pairing

Written by - Sian Parry, Global Head of PR and Social Media - Cult Wines

Nestled among the rolling hills and vineyards of Northern California's wine country, Napa Valley is renowned for its breathtaking vineyards, world-class wines and vibrant culinary landscape. While it's true that Napa boasts an impressive line-up of Michelin-starred restaurants and extravagant tasting menus – take French Laundry, Press, or Kenzo for starters - the region also caters to those seeking a more relaxed experience. When fine dining fatigue inevitably kicks in and you start to crave something more casual, Napa's got you covered.

Taco Trucks

If you’re touring Napa and you haven't hit up a taco truck, you’re missing out. The region boasts a vibrant taco scene, serving up authentic and delicious Mexican street food to locals and tourists alike. The secret to Napa Valley's taco truck success lies in the region's rich agricultural heritage, which has influenced the area's food culture for generations. Here are three of the best:

Tacos Garcia – You'll find this food truck in the parking lot of Pancha’s, which, coincidentally is a great local spot for a drink. What Tacos Garcia may lack in ambience, it delivers in flavour. You can’t go wrong with anything here, but Fish and El Pastor tacos are the definitive fan favourites.

Napa’s taco trucks and burgers – the perfect pairing

La Gitana – On the north end of the valley in Calistoga, La Gitana is the go-to place for the perfect taco lunch. It may seem like you’re on the road to nowhere but trust the process and it will pay off in spades – or tacos in this case. In a gravel lot, surrounded by a farm’s worth of antique farming equipment, you’ll find the unassuming truck parked under the shade of the trees lining the road. Do yourself a favour and step out of your comfort zone with the Cabeza or Lengua tacos – you won’t regret it.

Michoacán – Roll up here to chow down on some of the Valley’s best tacos alongside locals and winemakers alike. Michoacan does the classics and does them well. Try the Carnitas with a squeeze of lime and don’t skimp on the salsa verde.


Another wine country staple, in my humble opinion, is the cheeseburger. And in Napa, amidst the farm to table ethos, abundance of locally-raised meats and freshly-picked produce, it's not hard to find an exceptional burger. One of my favourite wine pairings is a bold Napa Cab and a juicy cheeseburger, ideally at one of the following spots. Here’s where you need to go:

Gott’s Roadside Burgers – This literal roadside gem is one of my must-visit spots in Napa. The St. Helena outpost on Highway 29 has become a local institution, providing the perfect respite and sustenance during a day of wine tasting. With an abundance of sun-drenched picnic tables, some of the best burgers in the Valley, and a California-centric list of wines and beers hand selected by Joel Gott, it's a truly delightful experience.

The Charter Oak – Located just across Highway 29 from Gott's, The Charter Oak is another St. Helena a staple. Helmed by Michelin-starred chef Christopher Kostow, this restaurant is definitively more low key, as evidenced by the seasonal fare and family style dining vibes. The unpretentiously named "The Cheeseburger" has earned legendary status in its own right. With perfectly grilled smashed patties, an ample serving of gooey melted cheese and a pickled Jalapeno relish, this burger demonstrates that sometimes, simplicity is key – especially when crafted by a Michelin-starred chef.

Where to stay

Indian Springs – Situated at the northern end of Napa Vallery in Calistoga, is a long-time favourite among Bay Area locals. It has a decidedly laid-back vibe and features an Olympic-size geyser-heated pool. The heated mineral pool, at a toasty 33-38 degrees Celsius, makes soaking a year-round activity.

Auberge du Soleil – With jaw dropping vistas of verdant vineyards and the Mayacamas Mountains, Auberge du Soleil is a perennial Napa crowd pleaser. Add in a picture-perfect spa and Michelin starred dining, and you’ll be hard pressed to leave.

The Estate Yountville – Nestled among the vines on 22 lush acres, The Estate Yountville is just a stone’s throw from the heralded restaurants, unforgettable art galleries and exceptional wine tasting of picturesque downtown Yountville. The property comprises two hotels: the bungalow-style Vintage House, and the livelier and more contemporary Hotel Villagio. For the quintessential wine country retreat, reserve the Villa at The Estate, a 5-bedroom residence offering a private sanctuary in the heart of California wine country.


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