No one in their right mind would see good fortune in 20 months of a global pandemic. Yet for those of us—to be perfectly honest—for whom relief comes in the form of a glass of wine at the end of the day, there’s been a silver lining. As dinner shifted from restaurant dining rooms to takeout and delivery, and winery shopping went online, patterns emerged that made it a little easier to ride out the pain. Bottles from restaurant wine lists became available with that takeout, and the wine options delivery companies offered became almost endless. Savvy vintners started beaming their rich tasting experiences right into our living rooms via Zoom.
Now, as restaurant dining is an option once again, and wine country is fully open to visitors (albeit mostly by appointment—another pandemic adjustment that only enhances the experience), some of those accommodations seem likely to stay in place. But one consumer-friendly trend that has emerged from the era has the potential to improve our wine consumption at home for the foreseeable future: a small flurry of “little sister” wines—new labels created by exclusive (and elusive) brands at wallet-friendly prices that over-deliver with good fruit and great winemaking. In broad strokes, many of these so-called “second” wines are products of pedigreed estate vineyards, made from fruit that didn’t quite make the cut for the winery’s flagship bottling—a perfect win-win use of grapes that have enjoyed leaf-by-leaf farming alongside the barrels that did make the cut. Others are blended from great vineyards across the region, the fruit acquired through the vintner’s or acclaimed winemaker’s grower connections. (Who you know matters in Napa Valley.) In all cases, though, the “decommissioned” wine benefits from the skill of star winemakers.
Of course, second wines aren’t a new invention. Pahlmeyer has had its Jayson, and Opus One its Overture. As Beth Novak Milliken, president and CEO of Spottswoode, quipped to me once, “Our members have to have something to drink while our Spottswoode Estate [a coveted acquisition] is coming around in their cellars.” Her solution: Lyndenhurst, a terrific Cabernet made from both the Spottswoode Estate Vineyard as well as acclaimed family-owned vineyards from other parts of Napa Valley. Which brings me to one more advantage of “little sister” wines—many are crafted to be enjoyable at an earlier age than their older sibs. What better excuse (along with the lower price tags, of course) to grab a bottle on a whim to punch up taco Tuesday!
These 11 “seconds,” old-timers and new, do their older siblings proud. We’ve listed the price of the flagships’ current releases, to let you know just how much you’ll save.
Accendo Cellars 2018 Laurea Napa Valley
Flagship Wine: Accendo Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, $365, 100 points for the 2018 from Antonio Galloni at Vinous.
When the Araujo family sold their legendary Eisele Vineyard, they very deliberately shifted from the single-vineyard model to multi-vineyard blending for their new brand, Accendo Cellars. The 2018 Laurea is the first vintage of the “second” wine they created, to benefit from the great fruit from their great vineyard sources that didn’t make the cut in their rigorous blending sessions for Accendo. But, says winemaker Françoise Peschon (who collaborates with winemaker Nigel Kinsman), Laurea is not a repository for everything left on the cutting room floor. They start over, with new blending sessions, to create another blend that’s the best of the next level. The 2018, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, opens with cocoa, minerals, graphite and tobacco under red fruit, followed by more ripe red fruit and fine-grained tannins, with a juicy mid-palate that yields a big yum factor.
Adaptation 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Flagship wines: PlumpJack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $160; Odette Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $160; and CADE Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $120.
New from The PlumpJack Collection of Wineries (which includes, besides PlumpJack, CADE and Odette Estates and whose owners include billionaire Gordon Getty and California Governor Gavin Newsom), Adaptation comes from winemaker Jeff Owens, whose very first release of Odette garnered 100 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. And all of the above connections yield fruit from vineyards around the valley that rarely makes its way into wines at this price. The inviting nose is balanced between earth and fruit, spice and flowers, with hints of mocha, cedar, vanilla and savory herbs. Velvety tannins carry concentrated blackberry liqueur and juicy plum and cassis, with a kick of orange peel. This one’s punching beyond its weight.
Beaulieu Vineyard 2018 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Flagship wine: Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour, $145.
Historic BV—known for its iconic Georges de Latour and legendary enologist André Tchelistcheff, widely considered the father of modern California winemaking—hadn’t released a new wine since 1990, until now. This inaugural vintage of Rutherford Reserve opens exactly as it should, with telltale notes of that powdery loam that Tchelistcheff dubbed “Rutherford dust.” Violets, blackberry and cocoa are faintly spiced with anise and cloves, leading into appealing cassis and black raspberry flavors on a smooth, generous palate balanced by a savory mineral character and pleasantly grippy tannins.
Blueprint 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, from Lail Vineyards
Flagship wine: J. Daniel Cuvée, $275, 100 points for the 2018 from Jeb Dunnuck and 99 from the Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown.
The 2019 Blueprint from Lail Vineyards, in the hands of winemakers Philippe Melka and Maayan Koschitzky, is a rich, inky, generous beauty, ready to sip (or maybe gulp) right now. Fresh-turned loam opens, delicately layered with rose petal, cedar, graphite, espresso, blackberry and cardamom aromas. The palate is all about plush fruit—mulberry liqueur—tempered by savory crushed herbs and dark chocolate. Ripe tannins carry into a lingering finish.
Double Diamond 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, Napa Valley
Flagship wine: Schrader Cellars CCS Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard, $445, 99 points for the 2018 from The Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown.
This terrific-value, mouth-filling Cab comes courtesy of winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, who in 19 years of crafting wine for Fred Schrader, has earned the brand 27 perfect 100-point scores. The 2018 Double Diamond opens with a little leather and graphite under lovely violet scents, mingling with dark chocolate, warm spice and underlying minerality. Appealingly dense and concentrated boysenberry liqueur flows across the palate, with chalky tannins that build into a finish that goes out with a tiny kick of orange.
Immortal Estate 2016 Slope Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County
Flagship wine: Impassable Mountain Reserve, $303, 100 points for the 2016 from Jeb Dunnuck.
Little sister to Immortal’s Impassable Mountain, Slope is 100 percent from the Immortal Estate Vineyard, high on the Mayacamas Range just west of the Napa border in Sonoma. The source has its privileges, like the seven different (hand) picks over the course of two weeks that the signature wine received. The 2016 Slope opens with classic cassis notes joined by graphite, savory herbs and spices, and hints of sage and forest. There’s an awful lot to love on the palate, with juicy, briary berry fruit—red, blue and black—layered over toasted spice and mocha, with impressive length.
Jayson 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Flagship wine: Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red, $225.
This little sister to Jayson Pahlmeyer’s proprietary Bordeaux blend—made of 91 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 percent Cabernet Franc and 3 percent Merlot—delivers power and pleasure together, from super-saturated color to generous, juicy fruit. Dark fruit and crushed rock open on the nose, layered with pencil shavings, pine notes and a little licorice. Plush and vibrant black raspberry flavors are backed by plenty of structure,and extended through a long, pretty finish.
Lyndenhurst 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Flagship wine: Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $235, 100 points for the 2018 from The Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown and Jeb Dunnuck and 99 points from Antonio Galloni at Vinous.
With fruit sourced both from Spottswoode Estate Vineyard as well as through grower relationships throughout the valley, Lyndenhurst shares Spottswoode quality and takes a broader, regional view at the same time. The 2018 opens with compelling, earthy aromas under cassis, blackberry, North African spices and hints of rose petal and cedar. The palate manages to be bright and concentrated at the same time, adding raspberry into the mix, with a firm but elegant tannin structure.
Overture Napa Valley
Flagship wine: Opus One, $365
Created all the way back in 1993, this “second” to Opus One is unique in that it’s a multi-vintage blend from the estate vineyard. Including all five Bordeaux varieties, its mix evolves based on lots selected for Opus One itself. The current Overture is a bright-fruited sip, fragrant and approachable. Red berry and cherry aromas lead, with mineral underpinnings and layers of mint, cedar and forest. A burst of red fruit on the palate is delivered with an elegant, silky texture that makes the wine immediately approachable.
Post & Beam 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Flagship wine: Far Niente Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon, $250.
This entry-level Cabernet from Far Niente is an elegant sipper for the price. A fragrant layering of raspberry, mocha and gravelly minerality opens, with haunting herbs and spices. Incredibly juicy black raspberry, black cherry and cassis flavors pop on the palate, with crushed herbs and floral notes adding complexity.
S by Ray Signorello 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Flagship wine: Signorello Vineyards Padrone, $175.
This first vintage of S comes from Ray Signorello and winemaker Priyanka French, under a portfolio Ray has launched apart from Signorello Estate, which he and his father founded together. Beautiful floral notes open over crushed rock, blackberry, graphite, resiny herbs and forest, including fresh cedar and mint. Vibrant berry and cherry fruit pops on a palate that’s not afraid to show a savory side. This crowd-pleaser balances great acidity with generosity.