Over the last couple of months, I have had many readers wanting another column deciphering the confusing wine classifications in the world. The 1855 Classification of red wines of the Gironde (Bordeaux) was not the first — as far back as the 14th century a list was made of Jurancon’s finest vineyards and in 1644 the best wines of Franken in Germany were officially identified — but it is definitely the most famous.
The famed Bordeaux classification had its beginning on the request of Napoleon III for the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris being organized to showcase the best of France. The Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce was asked to come up with an official list or ranking of Bordeaux’s wines. The job was passed on to Bordeaux’s brokers, who created the list based on the quality and price of wines being sold on the market at that time. They picked four, which were considered the best known and fetched the highest prices, and they were called First Growths or Premiers Crus. In addition, there were 14 Second Growths, 14 Third Growths, 10 Fourth Growths and finally 18 Fifth Growths.
During the century and a half that followed, there has only been one significant change, and that occurred in 1973 when Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was promoted from Second Growth to First Growth, increasing the number of First Growths wines to five. This achievement is often cited as the only change ever to the classification, but the real story is slightly more complicated. Since 1855 the actual list has changed. Three estates, Leoville, Pichon and Batailley have split into two or more chateaux, while two separate names, Pouget and Pouget-Lassale have since combined into one known as Chateau Pouget. And third growth, Dubignon, has disappeared entirely with its vineyards as part of other Margaux properties.
Confusing as it may seem, Bordeaux’s classification continues to promote the region’s finest wines. With 10,000 chateaux and domains there are numerous exceptional producers in the region.
Local retail inventory changes too quickly to suggest Values and Splurges. Check with your local fine wine retailer for current Bordeaux classified wines available.