Second label Cabernet Sauvignon

Blind tasting of second label Cabernet Sauvignon

second label wine

Second label wines or negotiate wines

For our bimonthly blind wine tasting, the Vintage Wine Tasters’ theme was second label Cabernet Sauvignon wines.  What exactly is a second label wine? In the photo on the left we see an example of two Costco wines under the Costco Kirkland Signature label. Costco has commissioned a winery, negotiant, or wine distributor to select and bottle the wine. Trader Joe’s does the same with their T.J. labeled wines. Just look at the back of the wine bottle and read the label to see who made or bottled the wine. Second label wines are more readily available in favorable harvest years. In California the 2012 and 2013 harvests were abundant, especially in Cabernet Sauvignon.  A winery’s winemaking facility can only accommodate so much grape juice for fermenting and aging. Extra grape juice is sold off to a second market. There is actually a large bulk juice market in the world of wine. For us, the consumer, we can purchase excellent wines with a second label for much less than the real deal. But it’s hard to know when a second label wine may be average, good, or extraordinary. Vintage Wine Taster Bruce set out to find out the quality of second label Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Bruce purchased many second label wines and tasted them over several weeks. He narrowed down the wines to these six wines in the photo below. The list below shows the ranking, price, and where purchased.

Second label wines

Blind tasting of six second label or négociant wines.

Second label Cabernet Sauvignon blind wine tasting – Results

  • Cameron Hughes Lot 433 Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara 2012 – $19 Cameron Hughes online wine shop
  • Kirkland Signature Series, 2013 Stags Leap District, Napa Valley – $19.99 Costco
  • Cameron Hughes Lot 436 North Coast 2011 – $15  Cameron Hughes online wine shop
  • Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Yountville 2013 – $12.99 Trader Joe’s
  • Kirkland Signature Series, 2012 Napa Valley – $19.99 Costco
  • Kirkland Signature Series, 2012 Napa County – $12.99 Costco

The top two wines were judged far above the other wines. I rated both at 90 Points but later gave the nod to the Cameron Hughes Happy Canyon when we tasted the wine with a delicious brisket that Bruce and his wife Joanne had prepared for our luncheon. Both are fantastic value Cabernet wines for under $20. The 2012 and 2013 vintages were outstanding in both quality and quantity. Buy up California Cabs now and age for several years.

second label wines

Monte Rosso – so excellent!

Bruce also had a very pleasant surprise for us.  He had three extra Cabs for us to blind taste. Two of the wines were from the famed Monte Rosso Vineyard in Sonoma County. The Louis Martini Monte Rosso was an outstanding wine and the best of all the Cabs we tasted. However, the price for this amazing wine is $65. In comparison, we tasted a Monte Rosso for $35 from négociant Cameron Hughes . It too was outstanding and just a shade less in excellence than the Louis Martini, but for $30 less. The third wine was an old value standby the Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. It sells widely for about $11 to $13. I liked the wine but judged it the same as the last place wine in the main tasting. It’s good, but a notch below the other second label wines we tried.

There are many second label or négociant wines on the market. If you check the back label these are usually marked by the terms “Vinted and Bottled” or “Cellared and Bottled.” In the case of the Costco Kirkland Signature, most of their wines are commissioned by D.C. Flynt. However, several other Signature wines, are wines negotiated with a particular winery. An example is the Kirkland Signature Champagne.  Trader Joe’s seems to have many different wineries produce their TJ labeled wines. Cameron Hughes, in every sense of the word, is a négociant. He finds various ways to produce wine for his Cameron Hughes label. I interviewed Cameron Hughes a few years back. My article details his wine dealings.

cabernet with brisket

Smoked brisket was a perfect wine match with the Cabernet Sauvignon – Delicious!


  1. The Monte Rosso wines were a true highlight. The Brisket lunch was such a treat and a perfect match with the wines. The second label Cabernets as a rule are very good wines and offer consumers a high quality option for top level Cabs. Happy Canyon from Cameron Hughes was exceptional in flavors and finish.

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