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The five First Growths, all but the Château Haut-Brion in a Bordeaux style bottle.

For the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris, Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system for France's best Bordeaux wines which were to be on display for visitors from around the world. Brokers from the wine industry ranked the wines according to a château's reputation and trading price, which at that time was directly related to quality. The result was the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

The wines were ranked in importance from first to fifth growths (crus). All of the red wines that made it on the list came from the Médoc region except for one: Château Haut-Brion from Graves. The white wines, then of much less importance than red wine, were limited to the sweet varieties of Sauternes and Barsac and were ranked only from first great growth to second growth.

Contents

Changes to the classification

Within each category, the various châteaux are ranked in order of quality and only twice since the 1855 classification has there been a change, first when in 1856 Château Cantemerle was added as a fifth growth and, more significantly, in 1973, when Château Mouton Rothschild was elevated from a second growth to a first growth vineyard after decades of intense lobbying by the powerful Philippe de Rothschild. A third, but less known "change", is the removal of Château Dubignon, a third growth from St.-Julien that was absorbed into the estate Château Malescot St. Exupéry.[1]

Critique

As a classification of châteaux, the actual vineyards owned by some wineries have expanded, shrunk and been divided without any reclassification, and considerable plots of valued terroir have changed ownership.[2]

Many wine critics have argued that the 1855 Classification became outdated and does not provide an accurate guide to the quality of the wines being made on each estate. Several proposals have been made for changes to the classification, and a bid for a revision was unsuccessfully attempted in 1960.[3] Alexis Lichine, a member of the 1960 revision panel, launched a campaign to implement changes that lasted over thirty years, in the process publishing several editions of his own unofficial classification. Other critics have followed a similar suit, including Robert Parker who published a top 100 Bordeaux estates in 1985 and L'histoire de la vigne & du vin (English: The History of Wine and the Vine) by Bernard and Henri Enjalbert in 1989, as well as efforts made by Clive Coates (MW) and David Peppercorn (MW).[1][4][5] Ultimately nothing has come of them, the likely negative impact on prices for any downgraded châteaux and the 1855 establishment's political muscle are considered among the reasons.[6]

In March 2009, the British wine exchange Liv-ex released a modern re-calculation of the 1855 classification, with an aim to apply the original method to the contemporary economical context.[7][8]

Many of the better wines from the Médoc appellation that were not included in the 1855 classification are classified as Cru Bourgeois, a classification system that has been updated on a regular basis since 1932, banned in 2007[9] but set to be reintroduced in 2009.[10]

The 1855 List

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The Médoc Classification of 1855

In French Les Grands Crus classés en 1855. Châteaux are listed with their commune (village), and their AOC in parenthesis, if different from the commune.

First Growths (Premiers or 1er Crus)

  • Château Lafite Rothschild, Commune de Pauillac, Haut-Médoc (archaically Château de la Fite, Laffite, Lafitte)
  • Château Latour, Commune de Pauillac, Haut-Médoc (archaically La Tour de Segur)
  • Château Margaux, Commune de Margaux (archaically Château Margau)
  • Château Haut-Brion, Commune de Pessac, Graves (archaically Château Hautbrion, Houtbrion, Ho-Bryan, Obryan, Ho Bryen)
    The only Château situated in Graves rather than Médoc, and therefore the only Château on the list that is allowed to sell a dry white wine under the same name and appellation as the red wine.
  • Château Mouton Rothschild, Commune de Pauillac, Haut-Médoc
    (reclassified from Second Growth status in 1973) (archaically Château Branne-Mouton)

Second Growths (officially Seconds Crus, sometimes written as Deuxièmes Crus)

Third Growths (Troisièmes Crus)

Fourth Growths (Quatrièmes Crus)

Fifth Growths (Cinquièmes Crus)

Sauternes and Barsac

Barsac Châteaux may call themselves Barsac or Sauternes.

Superior First Growth (Premier Cru Supérieur)

First Growths (Premiers Crus)

Second Growths (Deuxièmes Crus)

See also

Sources

  • Echikson, Tom. Noble rot. NY: Norton, 2004.
  • Taber, George M. Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the historic 1976 Tasting that Revolutionized Wine. NY: Scribner, 2005.
Footnotes
  1. ^ a b Peppercorn, David (2003). Bordeaux. London: Mitchell Beazley. pp. 83. ISBN 1-84000-927-6.  
  2. ^ Lichine, Alexis (1967). Alexis Lichine's Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits. London: Cassell & Company Ltd.. pp. 144–148.  
  3. ^ Prial, Frank J. The New York Times (1989-08-20). "The Battle of 1855". http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE7D8133AF933A1575BC0A96F948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all.  
  4. ^ Prial, Frank J. The New York Times (1988-02-17). "Wine Talk". http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE1DB103FF934A25751C0A96E948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all.  
  5. ^ Prial, Frank J. The New York Times (1991-09-25). "Wine Talk". http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0CEFD71138F936A1575AC0A967958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all.  
  6. ^ Goldberg, Howard G., Wine News. "Dusting off the 1855 debate". http://www.thewinenews.com/aprmay05/comment.asp.  
  7. ^ Liv-ex Fine Wine Market blog (March 10, 2009). The Liv-ex Bordeaux Classification
  8. ^ Lechmere, Adam, Decanter.com (March 6, 2009). "Liv-ex creates new 1855 Classification". http://www.decanter.com/news/278251.html.  
  9. ^ Anson, Jane, Decanter (2007-07-10). "Cru Bourgeois classification officially over". http://www.decanter.com/news/128635.html.  
  10. ^ Anson, Jane, Decanter (2008-02-26). "Cru Bourgeois revived". http://www.decanter.com/news/184450.html.  

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