Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

château, may be French for ‘castle’ but in wine parlance it usually means a vine-growing, winemaking estate, to include the vineyards, the cellars, often the wine itself, and any building or buildings on the property, which can range from the non-existent (as in the case of Ch Léoville-barton, for example, which is made in the cellars of Ch Langoa-Barton), through the most rudimentary shack, to the sumptuous classical edifice called Ch margaux. The term is most commonly used in bordeaux, where the 18th edition of the féret guide lists more than 14,000 châteaux, although common use of the term developed only in the second half of the 19th century, when the owners of the great estates could afford to build grand lodgings to go with them. Only five of the original 79 properties in the Médoc, Graves, and Sauternes listed in the famous 1855 classification, for example, were described as châteaux then. Bordeaux proprietors soon learnt the value of a Château prefix, and have long adopted the policy of renaming properties almost at will, in particular suffixing their own surname as, for example, Ch Prieuré-lichine and Chx Mouton- and Lafite-rothschild. The word château is by no means uncommon outside Bordeaux, however, mainly within but sometimes outside france (where it tends to lose its circumflex). According to current French law, the word château may be used only of a specified plot, or collection of plots, of land, which means that it is perfectly possible for co-operatives, for example, to produce a wine labelled as Château Quelquechose (see château bottling). Some producers make a range of wines carrying the name of the property, but reserve the word château for their top bottlings.