Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc Acte II 2020
The introduction of second labels to Bordeaux during the 20th century was an innovation which revolutionised the quality of this region’s grands vins. Of course it was just one of many new practices introduced during this time; there was also the introduction of hygienic stainless steel cuves, efficient control of fermentation temperatures, a new understanding and manipulation of the malolactic fermentation and château-bottling, to name but a few, but the impact made by a second wine was tangible and indeed it still is today. Visit any of the region’s top châteaux, and taste the grand vin alongside the second label, and you will immediately understand how the former has been ameliorated by the exclusion of the latter. You don’t need a degree in oenology to taste the difference between the two.
Indeed, the benefit that comes from a second wine is so widely accepted I struggle to think of a noteworthy château that does not have a second label, and in many cases a third, even if one or two are somewhat coy about the label and its distribution.
In this context, you would be forgiven for thinking that the introduction of Acte II from Château Couhins-Lurton is merely the latest in a long line of second labels to be added to Bordeaux’s broad pantheon of wines. Although in truth this assumption would be incorrect; Acte II is something quite different, a new ‘alternative’ cuvée from proprietors Vignobles André Lurton, currently headed up by Jacques Lurton.
Second wines tend to take wines rejected from the grand vin, and although in many cases the same parcels feed into the second and third labels each year, the origins of the fruit and the resulting blend will differ each year, and the quality of the resulting wine will inevitably be lower than the grand vin. The drive to develop Acte II, however, was not to create a second tier of quality, but to provide a different interpretation of the vineyard. In the words of Jacques Lurton, “it is like we are in a theatre, and we have a play in two acts. The grand vin is act one, and this new cuvée is the second act, a different rather than a lesser interpretation”. The fruit is selected from the same specific plots each year, and the winemaking is distinct from that of the grand vin. In particular the fermentation and élevage make use of amphoras rather than just barrels.
The concept behind Acte II reminds me of one or two other similarly misunderstood Bordeaux second labels. The first is Pensées de Lafleur, from Château Lafleur, often regarded as a second wine but the impetus to create this cuvée comes from the vineyard, rather than in the cellar. Yes, there are a few vines on the peripheries of the grand vin’s terroir which may be downgraded, but that is as far its function as a ‘second wine’ goes. It also calls to mind Clos du Marquis, which was for many years mistakenly identified as the second wine of Château Léoville-Las-Cases, even though this ceased to be the case during the late 1980s. From this point onwards it was always sourced from the same parcels, and vinified separately. It was the introduction of new second labels for both Château Léoville-Las-Cases (in 2007) and Clos du Marquis (in 2015) that finally put this misunderstanding to bed.
The new cuvée comes in red and white, and this latest release (after the inaugural 2019 vintage) is the white. The 2020 Château Couhins-Lurton Blanc Acte II is presented in a traditional 75 cl format and comes sealed with a DIAM 10 closure, so the risk of cork taint is zero, and the 10-rating should give those wishing to see how this develops in the cellar some confidence. In the glass this has a pale straw hue, and it feels aromatically confident with a beautifully expressive nose. I get scents of mirabelle here, alongside elderflower, orange zest and vanilla, with a bright and lightly herby edge, and touches of sandy minerals. The wine’s presence on the palate is supple and textured, with a delicious phenolic grip, showing a rather tense and pithy midpalate, and with soft acidity which is a feature of the whites in this vintage (and quite a few other recent vintages as well, it has to be said). It finishes with a little flourish of passion fruit, with more of that herby freshness, and a little length. A good wine which will probably develop quite well, despite that modest acidity. The declared alcohol is 13.5%. 92/100 (11/4/22)
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