Bordeaux Wine Classifications

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007 at 12:00 am

The Bordeaux region in France is only the second largest wine-growing area in the world but the wine it produces is known as the best in the world. With 284,320 acres of wine producing lands, more than 700 million bottles of Bordeaux wine are being produced annually. With the sheer volume of production, it is only natural that more than 50 appellations of Bordeaux wine came to be born.

However, classifying Bordeaux wines began only in 1855. It was Emperor Napoleon III who requested a classification during the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris. The intention was to create a classification system where ordinary folks can discern the different kinds of Bordeaux wine beyond looking at labels and comparing prices. This request from Napoleon III resulted to the release of the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

Although, not all Bordeaux wines were classified. They only included in the classification the 61 of the leading Medoc châteaux, the most known fo the Graves châteaux Haut-Brion, and the Sauternes and Barsac wines. It was the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce whop issued the order.

The 1855 Bordeaux Wine Classification differentiated the wines according to their importance from first to fifth growths also known as Crus. The ranking is based on the wine’s quality, historical achievement, and market value.

The First Growths or the Premiers Crus are: Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (Pauillac), Château Margaux (Margaux), Château Latour (Pauillac), Château Haut-Brion (Pessac-Leognan), and Château Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac).

The classification has been amended thrice. First was in 1856 when Château Cantemerle was added as a fifth growth. The other was in 1973, when Château Mouton Rothschild was elevated from a second growth to a first growth vineyard. It was also during this time that they decided to list the first growth or Premeir Crus in alphabetical order. The third amendment included the classification of St-Émilion which was formally established in 1955.

Some experts argue that the Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855 is too outdated and needs to be re-organized or even abandoned. Since that time, there have been several instances where wineries have expanded and shrunk, where wines’ quality have degraded, their selling price and overall reputation have gone bad, and yet no reclassification was done.

Nevertheless, despite its criticisms the 1855 Classification system is still in place. The other good wines from Bordeaux that were never part of the 1855 classification were given the rank of Cru Bourgeois. This classification system is different from the Bordeaux system in such that it is updated regularly.