Discovering Bordeaux: The 1855 Bordeaux Classification

Bordeaux is typically defined by its complex appellation system, where wines are characterized by their specific districts of origin. But every wine connoisseur knows that the key to understanding Bordeaux is to focus on the best producers. The first and most famous classification of Bordeaux producers was the 1855 Classification of the Médoc and Graves, which ranked some five dozen estates. It was originally based on Chateau reputation and the prices paid by wine merchants at the time, and is still a surprisingly accurate measure of quality, however, it should be emphasized that a wine or appellation can still be outstanding even if it is not a part of these classifications!

In 1855, Napoleon III, emperor of France, decided to throw a Universal Exposition in Paris, a kind of world’s fair, and wanted all the country’s wines represented. He invited Bordeaux’s Chamber of Commerce to arrange an exhibit. The members of the chamber knew a hornet’s nest when they saw one, so they passed the buck. They agreed, according to their records, to present “all our crus classés, up to the fifth-growths,” but asked the Syndicat of Courtiers, an organization of wine merchants, to draw up “an exact and complete list of all the red wines of the Gironde that specifies in which class they belong.”

The courtiers hardly even paused to think; two weeks later, they turned in the famous list. It included 58 châteaus: four firsts, 12 seconds, 14 thirds, 11 fourths and 17 fifths. They expected controversy. “You know as well as we do, Sirs, that this classification is a delicate task and bound to raise questions; remember that we have not tried to create an official ranking, but only to offer you a sketch drawn from the very best sources.”

Curiously, all of the courtiers’ selections came from the Médoc, with the single exception of Haut-Brion (they also ranked the sweet white wines of Sauternes and Barsac). It’s not that other wine regions weren’t active; the Graves boasted a much longer history, and Cheval-Blanc in St.-Emilion and Canon in Fronsac were highly regarded by the early 19th century. But the 18th century revolution in wine quality took hold first and most firmly in the Médoc.

Since 1855, many changes have occurred in the châteaus’ names, owners, vineyards and wine quality, and because of divisions in the original estates, there are now 61 châteaus on the list. But if an estate can trace its lineage to the classification, it retains its claim to cru classé status. The only formal revision came in 1973, when after half a century of unceasing effort Baron Philippe de Rothschild succeeded in having Mouton elevated to first-growth.

— Excerpted from an article by Thomas Matthews

THE OFFICIAL 1855 CLASSIFICATION

(Modern names are in parentheses)

First-Growths

Premiers Crus

Château Lafite Rothschild Pauillac
Château Latour Pauillac
Château Margaux Margaux
Château Haut-Brion Pessac, Graves (since 1986, Pessac-Leognan)

Second-Growths

Deuxiemes Crus

Château Mouton-Rothschild (became a first-growth in 1973) Pauillac
Château Rausan-Segla (Rauzan-Segla) Margaux
Château Rauzan-Gassies Margaux
Château Léoville Las Cases St.-Julien
Château Léoville Poyferré St.-Julien
Château Léoville Barton St.-Julien
Château Durfort-Vivens Margaux
Château Gruaud-Larose St.-Julien
Château Lascombes Margaux
Château Brane-Cantenac Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron Pauillac
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pichon-Longueville-Lalande) Pauillac
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou St.-Julien
Château Cos-d’Estournel St.-Estèphe
Château Montrose St.-Estèphe

Third-Growths

Troisiemes Crus

Château Kirwan Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château d’Issan Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Lagrange St.-Julien
Château Langoa Barton St.-Julien
Château Giscours Labarde-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Malescot-St.-Exupéry Margaux
Château Cantenac-Brown Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Boyd-Cantenac Margaux
Château Palmer Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château La Lagune Ludon (Haut-Médoc)
Château Desmirail Margaux
Château Calon-Ségur St.-Estephe
Château Ferrière Margaux
Château Marquis-d’Alesme-Becker Margaux

Fourth-Growths

Quatriemes Crus

Château St.-Pierre St.-Julien
Château Talbot St.-Julien
Château Branaire-Ducru St.-Julien
Château Duhart-Milon Rothschild Pauillac
Château Pouget Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château La Tour Carnet St.-Laurent (Haut-Médoc)
Château Lafon-Rochet St.-Estèphe
Château Beychevelle St.-Julien
Château Prieuré-Lichine Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
Château Marquis de Terme Margaux

Fifth-Growths

Cinquiemes Crus

Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac
Château Batailley Pauillac
Château Haut-Batailley Pauillac
Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac
Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse Pauillac
Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac
Château Lynch-Moussas Pauillac
Château Dauzac Labarde (Margaux)
Château Mouton-Baronne-Philippe (Château d’Armailhac after 1989)Pauillac
Château du Tertre Arsac (Margaux)
Château Haut-Bages-Libéral Pauillac
Château Pédesclaux Pauillac
Château Belgrave St.-Laurent (Haut-Médoc)
Château Camensac (Château de Camensac) St.-Laurent (Haut-Médoc)
Château Cos-Labory St.-Estèphe
Château Clerc-Milon Pauillac
Château Croizet-Bages Pauillac
Château Cantemerle Macau (Haut-Médoc)

SAUTERNES AND BARSAC: THE CLASSIFICATION OF 1855

(Modern names are in parentheses)

Great First-Growth

Grand Premier Cru

Château d’Yquem Sauternes

First-Growths

Premiers Crus

Château La Tour Blanche Bommes (Sauternes)
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey Bommes (Sauternes)
Clos Haut-Peyraguey (Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey) Bommes (Sauternes)
Château de Rayne-Vigneau Bommes (Sauternes)
Château Suduiraut Preignac (Sauternes)
Château Coutet Barsac
Château Climens Barsac
Château Guiraud Sauternes
Château Rieussec Fargues (Sauternes)
Château Rabaud-Promis Bommes (Sauternes)
Château Sigalas-Rabaud Bommes (Sauternes)

Second-Growths

Deuxiemes Crus

Château Myrat (Château de Myrat) Barsac
Château Doisy-Daëne Barsac
Château Doisy-Dubroca Barsac
Château Doisy-Védrines Barsac
Château d’Arche Sauternes
Château Filhot Sauternes
Château Broustet Barsac
Château Nairac Barsac
Château Caillou Barsac
Château Suau Barsac
Château de Malle Preignac (Sauternes)
Château Romer (Château Romer du Hayot) Fargues (Sauternes)
Château Lamothe Sauternes

Source

1. Wine Spectator, Modern ABCs of Bordeaux, Website
2. Wine Spectator, The 1855 Bordeaux Classification, Website

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