Classification: Bordeaux

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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bordeaux, with its plethora of fine, long-lasting wine from well-established estates and its well-organized market, is the wine region which has been most subject to classification of individual châteaux. The most famous wine classification in the world is that drawn up in 1855 of what became known as the classed growths of the médoc, and one graves (see following pages). In response to a request from Napoleon III’s 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris (possibly so that dignitaries there should effectively know what to be impressed by), the Bordeaux brokers formalized their own and the market’s ranking with a five-class classification of 60 of the leading Médoc châteaux plus the particularly famous and historic Graves, haut-brion; and a two-class classification of sauternes and barsac. This classification merely codified the market’s view of relative quality as expressed by the prices fetched by individual estates’ wines. (It also formalized previous informal lists of those wines widely regarded as the best by the likes of Thomas jefferson, Wilhelm Franck, Alexander henderson, and Cyrus redding.) The brokers issued the 1855 classification through the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, and were careful to explain that it was based on a century’s experience. Within each of their classes, from first growths, or premiers crus, down to fifth growths, or cinquièmes crus, the brokers listed châteaux in descending order of average price fetched. Thus, it is widely believed, lafite, the ‘premier des premiers’, headed the list because it commanded prices in excess even of latour, margaux, and Haut-Brion (although others have argued that the first growths were simply listed in alphabetical order). In the original classification, the term château was rarely used.