Second Label Doesn’t Mean Second Rate



A review of Yatir Red Wine 2007 and Tio Pepe Fino Sherry.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  October 3, 2012


Tio Pepe Fino SherryA great many wineries produce what is called a “second wine” or, more commonly these days, a “second label” in order to make use of grapes not selected for blending into their “first label” wine. This practice enables producers to be more selective in creating their “first label” wine without having to sacrifice quality for profit by devaluing their brand just to make use of excess grapes. This practice also allows them to diversify a little across price-points, and generate a second revenue stream – often to support greater investment in their “first label.” Selling wine at $100 a bottle is great, but if you also have quality wine to sale at $25 a bottle, you will likely sell more wine across both price points. This allows producers to harness their brand name and distribution network to make the most of their quality juice.

Unfortunately, all too often, people associate the word “second” as meaning that somehow the “second label” is really second class, or otherwise deficient when compared to the “first” label. Such language associations often borrow unhelpfully from our more generally positive notions of competition; that “second” comes after “first,” because “first” bested “second.” Thus we often attach a certain social stigma to “second” as being lesser than “first,” or, as it were, second class. Somehow, we assume that not being first is an acknowledgement of a failure of some kind, and for those who want only the best, not being first is tantamount to being last. The more affordable price tag often reinforces this prejudice; quality costs more, so expensive means better and cheaper means cheap. In the world of wine, this sort of thinking is just silly.

All that is generally meant by the numbering is that the “second” label was conceived as a product secondly, that is, only after the first wine. If a winery was not proud of the quality of the “second-label” wine as a reflection of their brand name, they would sell it off anonymously for bulk blenders rather than sully their good name. Generally, these second-label wines are made from grapes grown in the same vineyards and, often enough, on the very same vines, as the typically more expensive first label, they just didn’t meet the specifications desired of the winemaker for their first-label wine.

So while the grapes for these wines may not be good enough for a winery’s best known, best regarded, and certainly more expensive, first-label wine, the resulting second-label wine is often very good indeed. Certainly, such a wine from a solid winery with consistent access to superior vineyards, represents a better value, dollar for dollar.

A fine example is the Yatir Winery whose second-label Yatir Red Wine 2007 contains more components and is aged a few months less than their more expensive first-label Yatir Forest 2006. A merlot-based blend also containing shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec, and cabernet franc, the Yatir Red begins with cherry and plum aromas that flow into a medium-bodied delight that has dark fruit, pepper and mocha flavors accented with cedar, vanilla and spice.

The Yatir Winery is owned by the Carmel Winery but functions independently and has consistently produced some of Israel’s best wines. Australian-trained chief winemaker Eran Goldwasser oversees both the wines and the nearby vineyards, along with the rabbis who provide kashrut supervision. Near archeological ruins of ancient winepresses, a testament to the 2,500-year-plus history of winemaking in the area, Yatir cultivates the classic Bordeaux grape varietals of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon along with Malbec, Viognier, Shiraz, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Spirits-wise, one of us recently traveled to Spain and took the opportunity to connect directly with one of the larger sherry wine producers and providers of used sherry casks for the Scotch whisky industry. So even though sherry isn’t really a spirit but a fortified wine, and even though we’ve recommended it before, having just spent some time there, we thought we would once again recommend the kosher certified Tio Pepe Fino Sherry ($24; be certain to check it is the kosher version as the nonkosher version is very widely available and the kosher version is a much more limited, more expensive run).

Sherry is a fortified wine – meaning spirit is added to it to at a certain point in its development. This extra alcohol gives it something of a kick. Between the extra alcohol and the dry yeasty “fino” style, sherry is somewhat of an acquired taste. Fino means fine in Spanish and, accordingly, Tio Pepe is very delicate, light and elegant

Tio Pepe is the world’s best-selling fino style dry sherry, produced by the Gonzalez Byass Sherry House in the Jerez (pronounced Her-eth) region of Andalusia in Spain. Tio Pepe means “Uncle Joe” and was named by Manuel María Gonzalez, founder of the Gonzalez-Byass Sherry House, after his uncle Don Jose Angel who advised Manuel to invest all of his savings in establishing the sherry business in the mid-19th century. Today Gonzales-Byass remains in the hands of the fifth, sixth, and seventh generations of the family.

The production of Fino Sherry is hugely time consuming and labor intensive. First, a dry white wine is made from palomino grapes. The wine is then fortified to around 15 percent alcohol and then put in barrels (nearly to the top), where a layer of oxygen-inhibiting yeast called flor (Spanish for flower) naturally forms on top of the wine.

This flor imparts much of the distinctive flavor of a fino sherry. Then all sherry wines go through a unique fractional-blending aging regimen called the solera system. In this dynamic system, wines from different stages of the aging process (typically over three to five years) are blended together so that the winery can ensure a certain consistency of product over different vintages. It is often said that this puts the young wines in touch with their ancestors. Sherry wine is, thus, always a combination of many vintages and so is never vintage-dated.

Tio Pepe Fino Sherry is a bone-dry fortified wine, offering a pleasing mix of flavors including almonds, walnuts, fruits, fresh olive oil, salty crackers and Granny Smith apples. Tio Pepe has a lovely long and smooth finish that is dry, refreshing, a little tangy, and a tad herbaceous. It is an excellent aperitif and seriously whets the appetite; regionally it is most commonly enjoyed with the meal itself. Not for all tastes, but an excellent and pleasurable wine, it should be drunk young and well chilled – ideally within a few hours of opening – but it’ll keep in the fridge for about a week without too much deterioration.

Around a decade ago, Gonzalez Byass worked out an arrangement, under the supervision of the London Beth Din in the U.K., to produce a kosher version of the Tio Pepe, the flagship product of its portfolio. The nonkosher version is far more widely available, so be sure to look for the kosher certification before buying – it is also kosher for Passover. Available at Potomac Wines & Spirits (Georgetown) and at various online retailers. L’Chaim!

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