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THE SPIRIT OF LEGENDARY CHATEAUX

Needless to introduce the region, Bordeaux is world known for its illustrious châteaux and the high quality wines their names evoke. Nearly all Bordeaux wines are blended using two or more grape varieties. It’s this “art of blending” that gives Bordeaux wines their distinctive style – from elegant and restrained to complex and full-bodied.

Bordeaux and the notion of Chateau


If quality in Burgundy is attached to the concept of “terroir” and the singularity of each plot of land, in Bordeaux, quality depends more on the reputation, and the signature of a château. Châteaux can vary in size over the years, thus the name refers more to a label and reference of quality rather than a designation of a specific vineyard.


This configuration is a vestige of Bordeaux’s long history as a wine trade hub, and Bordeaux’s historical connections with the UK and the Netherlands.


The legend of Bordeaux wines was consolidated in 1855 with the classification of the crus Bordelais ordered by Napoleon III for the universal exhibition of Paris taking place at that time. The 1855 classification aimed to rank top wines from the Médoc as a reference for consumers and to establish a price hierarchy.


Today Bordeaux’s classification is still prominently respected, although under the influence of famous critics such as Robert Parker, some changes have emerged noticeably with the advent of Pomerol estates (Le Pin and Pétrus being two) which are challenging the long established reputation of the First Growths from the other side of the Gironde estuary.


The Hierarchy of Bordeaux’s Appellations


The ranking of quality in Bordeaux is mainly determined by the 1855 classification, which only applies to Médoc and Sauternes wines on the Left Bank. St Emilion on the Right Bank has its own system of classification and there is no official classification for Pomerol wines. 

1855 classification


The classification applies to only 60 châteaux in the Médoc and one château in Pessac-Léognan (Haut-Brion). The wines are ranked from First to Fifth Growth (crus). Few changes have occurred since the original ranking, although the most significant one happened in 1973 when Château Mouton-Rothschild was elevated from Second to a First Growth after years of campaigning by Baron Philippe de Rothschild. 


·       Five Premiers Crus (First Growth) (Lafite, Latour and Mouton Rothschild in Pauillac, Margaux in Margaux and Haut-Brion in Pessac-Léognan)


·       15 Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growth)


·       14 Troisièmes Crus (Third Growth)


·       10 Quatrièmes Crus (Fourth Growth)


·       18 Cinquièmes Crus (Fifth Growth)


This classification also ranks sweet white wines from 27 châteaux in the Sauternes and Barsac appellations, in three categories:


·       1 Premier Cru Supérieur (Château d’Yquem)


·       11 Premiers Crus


·       15 Deuxièmes Crus

Crus Bourgeois


At the base of the hierarchy you will find the “Crus Bourgeois” appellation. Established in 1932, it ranks the red wines produced in the Médoc and represents over 40% of its total production.


Crus Classes De Graves


Established in 1953 (and slightly revised in 1959), this classification represents 16 châteaux from the Pessac Léognan appellation (with the exception of Haut-Brion) renowned for their red or white wines. Châteaux belonging to this classification are not ranked; all are therefore eligible to the name “cru classé”.

BORDEAUX'S CRUS & TERROIRS

MARGAUX, MEDOC

Margaux is renowned for the prestigious and eponymous Château Margaux, from which the appellation takes its name. Wines from Margaux are considered as the most seductive wines of the Médoc, deep ruby in colour with structure and concentration, they are more aromatic and perfumed than many other Cabernet Sauvignons from the Médoc. Margaux is the warmest microclimate in the area and its terroir, the most diverse. The best châteaux have holdings on the hillsides with gravels and pebble-filled soils.

ST ESTèPHE, MEDOC

At the northern edge of the Médoc, St Esthèphe has more crus bourgeois estates than 1855 classified growths, the reason being that St Esthèphe’s terroir can be lighter with more sand and clay than gravel. St Esthèphe has always been considered as the most rustic and firmest example of Bordeaux, grapes are indeed higher in acidity since the climate there is slightly cooler and it experiences late ripening giving way to deep coloured very extracted Cabernet Sauvignons with long ageing potential, but very austere in their youth.

ST JULIEN, MEDOC

St Julien probably produces the most consistent wines in Bordeaux. The appellation is a reference for top Bordeaux, there are no First Growths in this area but a substantial concentration of Second Growths. The soil is similar to the other Médoc appellations with the common mixture of gravel, sand and clay – gravel being a very important factor in the ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon as they store the heat, reflect the sunlight and while providing good draining conditions. The wines are subtle and balanced, they don’t have the concentration of Pauillac but nor do they have the austerity of young St Esthèphe. These are classic Bordeaux wines.

PAUILLAC, MEDOC

Pauillac is considered the homeland of Cabernet Sauvignon and the heart of the Médoc. Three out of the five first growths are found here – Lafite, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild. The soil is particularly well-drained thanks to a high concentration of gravel and sand, while the rocks make the vines struggle to find nutrients deeper in the subsoil which adds purity and complexity in the final wines. The best châteaux are found on the higher slopes close to the Gironde River as it provides warmer conditions, therfore helping the perfect ripening of the grapes. The wines have distinctive aromas of black currant, cedar and spices and are renowned for their incredible ageing potential.

PESSAC-LéOGNAN, GRAVES

Pessac-Léognan in the Graves appellation is located south of the city of Bordeaux and is known for its one First Growth, Château Haut-Brion. Like the rest of the Left Bank, it is mostly planted with Cabernet Sauvignon although a significant amount of Merlot is added compared to most Médoc wines. Soils in Pessac have a particularly good draining system, with the distinctive gravel and sand mix lying on a limestone and clay subsoil. The wines are very different from those of the Médoc with distinctive aromas of minerals and smoke and a hint of earthiness.

ST EMILION, LIBOURNAIS

Wines on the Right Bank are dominated by Merlot and Cabernet Franc rather than Cabernet Sauvignon, largely because the climate in the Libournais is slightly cooler and the clay-rich soil doesn’t allow Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen well. The soils of St Emilion are quite complex, with a range of materials compared to its neighbour appellation, Pomerol. St Emilion’s soil has a particularly high chalk content, while closer to Pomerol the soil changes and gets higher proportions of gravel, clay and sand which accounts for Cheval Blanc’s Cabernet Franc dominated blend.
Given the prevalence of Merlot in the blend, St Emilion’s wines are more approachable in their youth than the wines from the Médoc, however the chalkiness of the soil gives a more mineral expression of Merlot than in the clay-dominant terroir of Pomerol.

POMEROL, LIBOURNAIS

Pomerol is the new super star terroir on the Right Bank, rediscovered and sacralised by the critic Robert Parker in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Its wines have become highly sought after worldwide. Two châteaux in particular stand out: Château Pétrus and Le Pin, which rival the First Growths from the Left Bank for quality while attaining unbelievable prices given the extremely limited quantity produced (only 600 to 700 cases a year for Le Pin). The terroir of Pomerol is unique, with a soil composition dominated by a “blue clay” that can’t be found anywhere else. This clay’s particularity is its density and organic components which suits Merlot perfectly. Pomerol is therefore a Merlot dominant area giving opulent, extracted wines with a very rich, creamy body and lots of plummy aromas.

SAUTERNES, GRAVES

Sauternes in the southern-east Graves region is famous for being the home of some of the best sweet wines in the world, the most iconic one being Château d’Yquem. Sauternes is located near the rivers Garonne and Ciron and therefore gets the best conditions for the development of botrytis, the noble rot responsible for the concentration of sugar in the grapes making the wine sweeter. The area is mostly planted with Semillon. The soil is composed of different layers of gravels, chalk and sand. Sauternes are intensely rich wines, displaying a large array of aromas from exotic and dried fruits to sweet spices and candied peel.

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