Possibly the most famous classification in the whole world or fine, maybe just in the wine world, the Bordeaux wines classification of 1855 was etched into history and is here to stay. The classification that started the fine wine movement in Bordeaux, in France, and in the whole world was merely written on a piece of paper!
So how did the 1855 classification come about?
A world fair. An exhibition. A stage to present the excellent wines from France. Napoleon III wanted the best wines of Bordeaux to be featured to the rest of the world, but the problem was there were thousands of Chateaux in Bordeaux that wanted to showcase their wines. IMPOSSIBLE!
He proceeded to tell the Chateaux to arrange themselves from best to worst. At the time, this was an improbable concept and no Chateau will say their wine is not as good as the other. In comes the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce to the rescue!
With the wine brokers of Bordeaux, they came out with a list of 61 chateaux ranked from first growth to fifth growth. And what were the mechanics, requirements, or characteristics needed by the Chateaux to be deemed worthy enough to be part of the 1855 classification?
As long as you were able to sell your wine in the market for at least 1,400 French Francs, YOU’RE IN!
We’re not kidding.
Just to take note, they only took into account wines coming from the Medoc, left bank Bordeaux, as it was difficult at the time to ship wines from the right bank, thus causing these wines to be mostly unknown to Bordeaux merchants. The only other wine included that does not come from the Medoc is Haut Brion (Pessac Leognan).
First growth: 5 Chateaux (3,000 French Francs and above)
Second growth: 14 Chateaux (2,500 – 2,700 French Francs)
Third growth: 14 Chateaux (2,100 – 2,400 French Francs)
Fourth growth: 10 Chateaux (1,800 – 2,100 French Francs)
Fifth growth: 18 Chateaux (1,400 – 1,600 French Francs)
Since the birth of the 1855 classification, they have not thought of changing or upgrading the system, which seems quite unfair with regards to technological advancements today. But, there were 2 times where amendments were made to the classification.
In 1856, they added Chateau Cantemerle into the fifth growth because they FORGOT to put it in the original ranking. Clearly a grievous mistake, and too bad for Chateau Cantemerle.
The last change was made in 1973 when they upgraded Mouton Rothschild from a second growth to a first growth. Mouton Rothschild firmly believed that it deserved to be a first growth, and lobbied for years and years, until finally they were given the recognition of being on top.
Like I mentioned above, the classification has never been amended (other than those 2) or changed since 1855. Despite a lot of Chateaux upgrading and making better wines than they did back then, and other Chateaux not doing as great as they were, it seems a little unfair. Wines from the second to fifth growth such as Pichon Lalande, Cos d’Estournel, Palmer, Lynch Bages, Pontet Canet are all making fabulous wines that can be deemed as first growth. But since that is not possible, these Chateaux have been known as Super Seconds to wine connoisseurs.
First growth wines, on the other hand, have remained consistent with their superb quality and amazing wines. And these wines still remain as the kings and queens of Bordeaux wines.