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.
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
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”.