If you are keen on Bordeaux wines, chances are you’ve heard about the various classification - for Médoc (1855), Graves, Saint-Emilion, Crus Bourgeois… But chances are your are kind of lost in the middle of them. We’re here today to help you understand what all this is about, giving you a straightforward overview.
Bordeaux Médoc 1855 Classification
It was quite obvious we had to start with the most famous one - the “1855” Classification - which was required by Napoléon III for the Universal Exposition in Paris. He asked for a list of the best Châteaux in the Médoc (left bank) and the Sauternes area, establishing different groups by their quality. Five categories were created:
- Premier Cru Classé (first classified growth): 5 Châteaux
- Deuxième Cru Classé (second classified growth): 14 Châteaux
- Troisième Cru Classé (third classified growth): 14 Châteaux
- QuatrièmeCru Classé (fourth classified growth): 10 Châteaux
- Cinquième Cru Classé (fifth classified growth): 18 Châteaux
Although this classification is still the international reference for Bordeaux wines, it is regularly criticised: some Châteaux now have different owners, their vineyard might have been split / extended or quality might just not be the same as one and a half century ago. However, the basic rule is that the classification cannot be modified. Well it has actually been modified twice, first in 1855 when Château Cantemerle was included as a fifth classified growth and then in 1973 when Château Mouton Rothschild was promoted from second to first classified growth… most certainly as a personal favour! If you want to get more information about the 1855 classification or just find out the complete list please visit the official website.
Bordeaux Sauternes Classification
Also created in 1955, this classification is exclusively for sweet wine appellations Sauternes and Barsac. It includes the following three categories:
- Premier Cru Supérieur: The one & only Château Yquem
- Premier Cru: 11 Châteaux
- Second Cru: 15 Châteaux
Again, this is a fixed classification that cannot be amended. Today, some of these Châteaux would clearly deserve to get out and get replaced by other higher quality estates.
Bordeaux Graves Classification
The 1855 Médoc classification did not include wines from the Graves area - with the exception of Château Haut-Brion, the only one included in both classifications! A separate grouping was made in 1953 (then revised in 1959) for the Graves appellation. Important note - all Châteaux listed now belong to the Pessac-Léognan appellation, which did not exist back then (it was created only in 1989).
This classification does not include any ranking, as it is a simple grouping of the most prestigious red and white wines in the Graves region. Again, this one cannot be modified even if other estates would deserve to be included. 16 Châteaux are on this “Cru Classé de Graves” list - 7 reds, 3 whites and 6 in both reds and whites.
Bordeaux Saint-Emilion Classification
Saint-Emilion classification was originally created in 1955 - exactly one century after the famous 1855 Médoc classification and only applies to the “Saint-Emilion Grand Cru’ appellation. The estates were classified according to their soils, their reputation and - only then - wine quality and ability to age!
They are split up in 3 categories:
- Premier Grand Cru Classé A: 4 Châteaux
- Premier Grand Cru Classé B: 14 Châteaux
- Grand Cru Classé: 64 Châteaux
Unlike the 1855 Médoc classification, this one should in theory be reviewed every 10 years, to encourage investments and maintain quality. This has actually happened only 6 times since its creation: 1959, 1969, 1986, 1996, 2006 and 2012. Even if it is regularly criticised, it remains a fair measure of a wine’s quality.
Bordeaux Crus Bourgeois Classification
The story of this classification is slightly more complicated and originally established in 1932 by 5 wine traders to complete the famous 1855 classification. Wines produced in one of the 8 Médoc appellations (Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac, Moulis, Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien) were tasted and split within 3 categories:
- Cru Bourgeois
- Cru Bourgeois Supérieur
- Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel
This classification is subject to regular updates and problems have appeared. In 2003, a group of Châteaux unhappy with their rankings took the case to court and the update was then canceled in 2007 - but all newcomers were kept and recently excluded Chateaux were re-integrated to keep everyone happy!
As a result, in 2010, an independent organisation (Bureau Veritas) became responsible for this classification, which kept only one group - Cru Bourgeois - in an attempt to make it simpler and clearer for the consumers... But hold on - this is not that simple! The old groups (Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel) should be back in the next revision planned for 2020 and the classification will then be revised every 10 years to ensure a constant quality.
If you wish to learn more about the Bordeaux region or look at the details of these classifications, just have a read of each French region on our wine guide. You can also go to our online shop to fill up your cellar or glasses with the best French wines coming from the best regions - Bordeaux, Rhône Valley, Burgundy…