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You don’t always have to splash out on high-end bottles when winemakers are producing such great-value ‘ready-to-wear’ wines under their second labels.

IN FASHION CIRCLES THEY’RE called

‘diffusion labels’, in wine they’re known as ‘second labels’, the range somewhere-close-but-not-quite-at-the-top-of-the-line, offering wines of a great pedigree but not always for the same high price. Different tiers originally reflected natural differences in quality. These days, they also depict varying prices, styles and drinking occasions. Second labels are those made by a particular winemaker which, for various and usually honest reasons, aren’t as expensive as their top-tier counterpart. Due to the trickle-down effect, second labels are made in the same house and often share similar values and philosophies, with the same regional knowledge, care and attention as those that sit at the apex of the range of wines. They are typically made by, or under the watchful eye of, the same winemaking team as the top range. A brand is, after all, a reputation of sorts and the aim of a good one is to keep it. At smaller labels, second wines can be made with grapes from the same region or property, but with fruit that doesn’t make the top tier. Second labels also offer more flexibility in winemaking, fruit sourcing and available varieties. Perhaps because there’s less pressure on the second label there is more room for experimentation.

Another reason to welcome second-tier wines is that they can be more suited to casual or immediate drinking opportunities. I mean, you wouldn’t wear black tie to a barbecue and you don’t always need the most expensive wine for one either. Here are some second labels that are far from second best.

The Windy Peak range, from the De Bortoli family in the Yarra Valley, has a huge offering, from super premium to everyday drinking wines at $14 each. The portfolio is not always hierarchical, often reflecting experimentation with styles or various regional expressions. For consistency and value, the Windy Peak range, especially the Pinot Noir, is hard to beat.

Yalumba Y Series are drink-now wines made by the Hill Smith family, offering consistency and excellent value from South Australia’s famous wine regions. Choose from 11 wines at a great-value $14-95 each.

Western Australian Howard Park’s second label, MadFish Wines, boasts a large, quality range, including Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc Semillon and the infamous Premium Red and Premium White. They’re great value at $18 each.

Petaluma, one of South Australia’s most recognised wineries, recently added the new White Label. The Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay ($23), plus a Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon ($26), are excellent regional examples.

The most affordable tier from one of the Mornington Peninsula’s best winegrowing stables, Kooyong, offers Clonale Chardonnay, Massale Pinot Noir and the Beurott Pinot Gris, representing one of the best examples of a next-tier wine. They’re immediately drinkable but still capture the quality and complexity that befits the parent wine label for around $30.

Red Claw is the second label to the Mornington Peninsula’s Yabby Lake, one of Australia’s best chardonnay producers. With six wines in the line, ranging from $22 to $25, they offer quality and value — especially the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

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