What does "Grand Vin" mean on a wine label?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I am confused over the term “Grand Vin.” I read that it denotes the premier wine produced by a château to differentiate it from second-growths. In Bordeaux, would one therefore expect it be rated as a top wine? If I saw Grand Vin on a label, would it indicate the top quality and style of that area? Could it be a white wine, or only red?

—Jane H., St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

Dear Jane,

“Grand Vin,” or “great wine,” is an impressive-sounding but unregulated term. I’ve most often seen it used with red Bordeaux as a way for a château to indicate its best wine, a step up from the second bottling. Since it denotes what they believe is their best showing, it’ll typically carry a higher price tag. It may be a terrific wine, or not. You might prefer the second bottling more. All you know with the term “Grand Vin” is that they’re marketing it as their best.

One more point—you mention a “second-growth” where I think you meant to say “second bottling,” and I don’t want you to confuse those terms! The term “second-growth” refers to the Bordeaux Classification of 1855, when wine brokers ranked châteaus based on reputation and price, from first-growth down to fifth. So, a second-growth is one of those specific 14 châteaus that were awarded a second-growth classification. A second bottling, however, has nothing to do with the Bordeaux Classification; the term simply refers to a bottling that the winery feels is a step behind its best, or Grand Vin, bottling. There are first-growth second bottlings, second-growth second bottlings, third-growth second bottlings and so on. That’s not confusing at all ... is it? OK, maybe it is.

—Dr. Vinny

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