Bordeaux’ 1855 Classification of Médoc Wines – Top 5 Facts & Complete list of Chateaux
Top 5 Interesting and important Facts to Know about the 1855 Classification Bordeaux wine History.
The Classification of the Top wine estates Bordeaux’ Left Bank is a major event in the History of French Wine, and it marks a founding event for the modern wine trade that would only be (harshly) contested some 121 years later by the Judgement of Paris
To dig a little deeper, yet look at it through simple terms, I have gathered what I found were the 5 most important and interesting facts to understand the context of this historic 1855 classification of some of the finest wines in France.
Watch the Top Facts The 1855 Classification in Video
#1- The 1855 classification wasn’t the first one to classify or rank the wines of Bordeaux.
Thomas Jefferson (third president of the USA, 1801–1809) during a visit to the Bordeaux region in 1787 before he was elected, came up with his own list of the best claret wines at the time. He had already structured his ranking using 3 levels of classification.
Interestingly, his top 4 wines of Médoc were the same as the 1855 classification even though Jefferson’s was made some 68 years earlier. Here were the Top 4 Best Bordeaux Wines according to T. Jefferson:
1- Château Margaux
2- La Tour Segur, (Chateau Latour
4- Château de la Fite, (Chateau Lafite Rothschild)
Related Video: Touring Chateau Margaux
#2- The creation of the 1855 Classification – Why and how?
Essentially, Napoleon III, emperor and ruler of France at the time, wanted to showcase the best wines from Bordeaux at the Exposition Universelle de Paris of 1855, or Universal Exhibition, the event we now know as the World’s Fair visited by many important citizens from all around the world.
Note that it is also for a Universal Exposition, but 34 years later, that another monument of French History was erected: the Eiffel Tower!
So, he asked the Chamber of Commerce of the Bordeaux region, who in turn asked the négociants (la place de Bordeaux, a circle of brokers trading the wines from top Bordeaux wineries), or the Bordeaux wine trade to come up with and finalize the classification.
Which leads us to how the classification and ranking was ruled.
3- The levels: by price
The price of the wines at the time, as recorded by the wine brokers, where the main factors for the classification, as well as the fame of the estates, and perhaps their ‘quality’. Although, it is impossible to know exactly these different criteria were weighted or considered relative to each other.
The final rankings for the 1855 Bordeaux Classification are organized as follows:
First Growth Bordeaux – Prices over 3,000 French Francs per barrel.
Second Growth Bordeaux – Prices between 2,500 and 2700 French Francs per barrel.
Third Growth Bordeaux – Prices between 2,100 and 2,400 French Francs per barrel.
Fourth Growth Bordeaux – Prices between 1,800 and 2,100 French Francs per barrel.
Fifth Growth Bordeaux – Prices between 1,400 and 1,600 French Francs per barrel.
In total, 61 Chateaus were classified:
5 Premiers Crus (First Growth)
14 Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growth)
14 Troisièmes Crus (Third Growth)
10 Quatrièmes Crus (Fourth Growth)
18 Cinquièmes Crus (Fifth Growth)
4- The changes to the Classification since 1855
Surprisingly perhaps, and somewhat like some country’s constitution, the 1855 classification, even though still considered a reference document, has been amended three times in History.
The first time was shortly after it was created, the year after in fact, 1856. Chateau Cantemerle was included as a Fifth Growth simply because somehow the trade had omitted (or forgotten!?) to include it in the original version.
The second change was about a Third Growth estate of Margaux, Chateau Dubignon, which was merged with Chateau Malescot St. Exupery in the 1870’s.
Then of course the most striking change took place in 1973, when Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was elevated to the coveted rank of Premier Grand Cru Classé, the highest-ranking level.
This change was the result of 40+ years of lobbying by the baron of Rosthchild towards the French government. Finally, in 1973, after the election of a new President for France, Georges Pompidou, himself a former manager at the Rothschild bank firm, his minister of Agriculture, Jacques Chirac, agreed to amend the 1855 classification.
Related Video: Visiting Château Mouton-Rothschild in Pauillac
#5 – Why weren’t the Bordeaux right bank wineries classified?
It is important to keep in mind, at the time, wines like Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Ausone and many others we know today from Pomerol and Saint-Emilion were either not yet producing wine or were not traded internationally by the Bordeaux brokers.
They were then considered simpler wines than those of the Left Bank of the Garonne River.
What does the 1855 mean today?
There has also been changes in the vineyards, as you would expect, over time. For example, at the time the wines were first classified, the total amount of cultivated land owned by the 61 chateaux was 2,650 hectares. Today, they cumulatively own almost 3,500 hectares of vines.
Most vineyards of the Chateaus have changed since, with blocks being sold, and other acquired. But this has generally been a change for the better, classified Chateaus selling less qualitative vineyards, and buying lands on the best terroirs.
The 1855 classification, however, has led to the classified Chateaus getting bigger and wealthier, often asphyxiating smaller producers who struggled to survived and acquiring their land.
The First Growths of Bordeaux still are lying in terms of pricing and reputation way higher than all the other Chateaus on the Left bank.
But lower in the classification, lesser growths that make better wine than those classified higher in 1855 do sell their wine for at a higher price tag.
Chateau Palmer is a 3rd Growth but a more expensive one than most Second Growth.
The best Second Growths such as Chateau Cos d’Estournel or Chateau Montrose in Saint-Estèphe often make wine at the same level of quality as the more expensive First Growths. Those have been nicknamed the ‘Super Seconds’.
As another example, the 5th Growth Château Pontet Canet has now been charging as much or more money than many Second Growths.
The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 – Complete list of Chateaus:
First Growths (Premiers Crus)
Second Growths (Deuxièmes Crus)
Ch Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux
Château Rauzan-Gassies, Margaux
Château Léoville-Las Cases, St.-Julien
Ch Léoville-Poyferré, St.-Julien
Ch Durfort-Vivens, Margaux
Château Gruaud-Larose, St.-Julien
Brane, now Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Cantenac-Margaux
Pichon Longueville, now Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron
Ch Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
Château Cos d’Estournel
Montrose, now Château Montrose, St.-Estèphe
Third Growths (Troisièmes Crus)
Château Kirwan, Margaux
Château d’Issan, Cantenac-Margaux
Lagrange, Château Lagrange, St.-Julien
Langoa, now Château Langoa-Barton, St.-Julien
Chateau Giscours, Labarde-Margaux
St.-Exupéry, now Château Malescot St. Exupéry, Margaux
Boyd, now Château Cantenac-Brown, Margaux
Château Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux
Château Palmer, Cantenac-Margaux
Lalagune, now Château La Lagune, Ludon
Château Desmirail, Margaux
Château Dubignon, Margaux
Calon, now Château Calon-Ségur, St.-Estèphe
Ferrière, now Château Ferrière, Margaux
Becker, now Château Marquis d’Alesme Becker, Margaux
Related Video: Flying Over & Entering Chateau d’Issan:
Fourth Growths (Quatrièmes Crus)
St.-Pierre, now Château Saint-Pierre, St.-Julien
Château Talbot, St.-Julien
Du-Luc, now Château Branaire-Ducru, St.-Julien
Duhart, now Château Duhart-Milon, Pauillac
Pouget-Lassale and Pouget, both now Château Pouget, Margaux
Carnet, now Château La Tour Carnet, Haut-Médoc
Rochet, now Château Lafon-Rochet, St.-Estèphe
Ch de Beychevele, now Château Beychevelle, St.-Julien
Ch Prieuré-Lichine, Margaux
Ch Marquis de Terme, Margaux
5th Growths (Cinquièmes Crus)
Canet, now Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac
Château Batailley, Pauillac
Château Haut-Batailley, Pauillac
Grand Puy, now Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac
Artigues Arnaud, now Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Pauillac
Lynch, now Château Lynch-Bages, Pauillac
Lynch Moussas, now Château Lynch-Moussas, Pauillac
Dauzac, now Château Dauzac, Labarde (Margaux)
Darmailhac, now Château d’Armailhac, Pauillac
Le Tertre, now Château du Tertre, Arsac (Margaux)
Ch Haut-Bages-Libéral, Pauillac
Chateau Pédesclaux, Pauillac
Coutenceau, now Château Belgrave
Camensac, now Château de Camensac
Ch Cos Labory, St.-Estèphe
Ch Clerc-Milon, Pauillac
Ch Croizet Bages, Pauillac
Ch Cantemerle, Macau (Haut-Médoc)
Related Video: How is Bordeaux Wine Made?