1855 Classification Bordeaux Wine ? How, Why, What Now?

By Brian Lemay 10 comments

What is up guys? Julien Miquel here of Social Vignerons. Welcome back to another wine video. This is episode #14 of the
Talking Wine with Julien series. This series where we, together, learn several times a week, about a particular wine-related topic. I share the knowledge that I have
as a winemaker and I research a topic and I share what I’ve learned doing the
research, so you can just sit at home and enjoy learning about wine every day or
several times a week with me. And we learn together. So today, we are going to
be looking at the 1855 classification of the wines of Bordeaux, of the wines of
Médoc. So that’s on the left bank. I am going to give you my 5 Top
interesting facts about the 1855 classification so we understand a bit
more where it comes from, what it is all about, and at the end of the video, after my top 5 facts,
I will consider… what it means for the wines of Bordeaux of
today. Let’s go! So, top interesting fact #1
the 1855 classification wasn’t the first classification of the wines of Bordeaux.
In fact, there was a very significant interesting classification done in 1787
by Thomas Jefferson. Yes, the third President of the United States. That’s
before he became president. He was president between 1801 in 1809 but
before that he already loved France and French wine so he visited in 1787 and he
already had classified and he wrote down all the best wineries, classifying them
in three levels already. What’s interesting though, is that the top 4 wineries
that he listed were… Chateau Margaux, Chateau de La Fitte which is
known today as Lafitte Rothschild, Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau Latour Ségur which is now known as Chateau Latour up in Pauillac. So interestingly, all the top
estates, except for Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and we’ll get back to this in
a moment, all the top estates were already
identified, 70 years or so before the 1855 classification, as some of the
top estates, and that says something… about how long the Bordeaux wines have
been good and recognized… for their excellence in the world. Interesting fact #2. How did the
1855 classification come about at that time? Essentially, Emperor Napoleon the Third
was hosting in Paris the Exposition Universelle, so the Universal
Exposition, or also known as the World’s Fair in Paris in 1855 and he wanted to
showcase the best wines from France to all the people that would come from all
around the world and from all around Europe. He wanted to showcase the best wines, so he asked the chamber of commerce of Bordeaux… to find and list all the best estates,
so he could present the best wines from Bordeaux. For those who aren’t very familiar with the Exposition Universelle, know that there was another very famous
Exposition Universelle hosted in Paris in 1889 and that’s
exactly when the Eiffel Tower was erected… for the Exposition Universelle.
So a very very significant event at the time! Getting back to our subject the
chamber of commerce then asked the négoce, the negociants, the trade of Bordeaux,
to come up with the list and that leads us to the third interesting fact: how was the list made and
how were the chateaus ranked? So, fact #3 you should know about
the 1855 classification… How were the Bordeaux wines and the Chateaus
classified in it? Well the trade, now that the trade did the classification,
well, they essentially took what they had on hand and essentially they took the
market price of the different estates and of the different wineries at the time.
I’m gonna have to read this to you, but… the first growths were essentially wines
priced over 3000 French Francs. The Second Growths were between 2500 and 3000 Francs. The third growths were between twenty
one hundreds and twenty five hundreds, etc…. So just going down prices.
They also they also said that they included elements of the reputation
and the quality of the wine but this wasn’t really disclosed or there
wasn’t like a sophisticated algorithm to do that. Essentially they took the prices. So in the end… they classified 61 different chateaus in the
Médoc. 5 Premiers Crus. 14 Deuxieme Crus. 14th Troisième Crus (third growths).
10 fourth growths (Quatrième Crus) and 18 Cinquième Crus. Interestingly, and that’s our point #4:
there has only been 3 changes made to the classification since it was
first made in 1855. The first one was the year just after, in 1856 when they realized that they had omitted one important Chateau, Chateau Cantemerle, so they just
added it in the year after, in 1856. The second change happened about 15-20 years later
when the Chateau Dubignon, in Margaux, that’s in the 1870s, became the
Chateau Malescot Saint Exupery… that we know today. So they just amended a little bit the classification around this at that time. And then we had to
wait for about 100 years before any other change was done. This takes us to
1973 when obviously as we know… Chateau Mouton Rothschild was added to the classification and that’s after a lot of lobbying from the Rothschild family. I
think that’s what I understood from the history. After a lot of lobbying and a change of presidency in France. President George Pompidou said: okay well let’s add Mouton Rothschild to please my friend into the top chateaus and they came right
up as a first growth together with Lafitte, Margaux, Latour and haut Brion.
Right at the top! And then you may be wondering: but why
didn’t the wines from the right bank, the great wines that we know today from
Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, Fronsac, the Libournais area in general, the great
Merlot-based wines we know today, Why weren’t they classified and included in the 1855 classification? Well, simply, rather simply: at the time, those wines weren’t traded
by the négoce of Bordeaux. So when they listed the wines they didn’t
include them. They weren’t that expensive, they weren’t that famous, they weren’t
that exported, they weren’t that renowned. They just simply didn’t consider them at
the time for inclusion and presentation at the Exposition Universell. It has to
be noted as well, that the 1855 classification ranked some of the wines of the Graves area, so that’s more… the Southern part of the left bank of
Bordeaux, South of Médoc. Those were listed, the wines of Sauternes and Barsac,
but I will make separate videos… about the classification of Saint-Emilion in particular,
the last one was updated in 2012 so Saint-Emilion has updated over time
its classifications. So Ill run a separate video on that and I will also run a separate video on the wines of Sauternes and Barsac, the Botrytis sweet wines from the south of Bordeaux… and the classification of the Graves,
the white and the red wines of the Graves. Make sure to stay tuned for this on the channel. That was my point #5. But now that we know a little bit more about the classification itself, the context of the time and
what the classification contained, now, it’s time to discuss what it actually means
for the wines of today… Essentially there are quite a few things
to note about what the 1855 classification means for today.
If those wines were classified, they were already excellent at the time in the
middle of the 19th century. All those chateaus, even though they had really no idea, compared to what we know today, about what they were doing with wines, there was no wine science at the time. They didn’t control the making barrels, the infusion of oak, I think… they used to mix and blend the red
grapes with the white grapes. The Phylloxera kicked at the time, or a
little bit later… They really had not much of a clue
exactly what they were doing. But at the time, still they were making fantastic wines
that they were able to ship to England, to the United States, all across
Europe and those wines were already considered some of the finest wines. Meaning that all those chateaus are on a spectacular terroir
because the grapes were just coming out of the ground making fantastic wines without any knowledge of winemaking or any control over exactly
how to produce great wine. Now, everyone… controls how we can produce fantastic
wines. The difference now, what we’re looking for… are those great terroirs. But at the time,
those chateaus… were exactly on the right spot, the right
sub-soil to produce, virtually by themselves, fantastic wines. Those terroirs where these chateaus are, still… are some of the best wines in Bordeaux
and it’s almost impossible to beat the best terroir, even with the best winemaking. So,
those Chateaus listed in 1855 are still some of the best. On top of that: because they were
classified in 1855 they’ve had a 170 years of cashing in, if I may say!
Selling their wine at a higher price… than anyone else. So they’ve been
able to invest into the vineyards… into the winemaking facilities, into
knowledgeable people, into gathering more and more information about their terroir
and so they’ve had… 150-year lead on everyone else!
So those wines, those Chateaus, are still fantastic today because they’ve
had means to develop better wine and make even better and better wine…
Which leads us to the differentiation, and that’s very important, that’s happened
especially in the Médoc, between the small producers that were not classified
in 1855, and all the other ones. The big big ones have had so much money
selling their wine to the trade, and all around the world extremely well,
with large margins and selling En Primeur, which means that they sell the wine 2 years before they actually release the bottles. So, cash machine and cash machine.
They have been able to purchase other vineyards in great location
in Médoc from smaller vignerons, smaller producers that died out.With just the generations going one after the other, the old men passing away, and having to give away his vineyards. So they’ve been
able to purchase some vineyards. What happens in the 1855 classification is
that not the terroirs are classified, but just the brands, the Chateau name.
So if they buy different vineyards, they can include them into the wine and they can still call it a Grand Cru Classé… and being classified for those wines. So that’s made a big difference locally. Some small vignerons getting poorer and struggling to sell their wines…. while the bigger, the biggests
are getting bigger and bigger, and getting more and more money. Overall I think the classified vineyards or the vineyards of the classified growth have
expanded quite a bit my research shown that they went from to
that 2600 hundred hectares to 3,500 hectares. So they have expanded
but not massively but they have expanded. So the vineyard
changed since the 1855 classification for most most Chateau one notable
exception and I work for them, was Chateau du Tertre in Margaux which is
virtually one single block and I’ve got a video about this. I’ll link around here.
One single block that hasn’t really changed all that much. But all the others
have changed a little bi their vineyards. One notable thing as well is that at the time, they were only making pretty much one Grand Vin in 1855, one first wine.
All these chateaus now separate their wines with a first wine and a second label
where they put a bit of the younger vines and the lower
quality terroirs. So at the time, they were a bit smaller estates
but they would put everything into the same wine. While now they’re
bigger vineyards but they have different labels that allows them to separate and
bring the quality higher and higher year-on-year. That said, the ranking
between the first twelve second growth, third growth, fourth growth and fifth growths,
the ranking is not completely still valid. There are examples of for example
Pontet Canet which is a fifth growth that sells at much higher price than some
second Growth. Chateau Palmer is the second growth reaching levels
getting towards the first growth, at least towards the second growths. You’ve got some Montrose and Cos d’Estournel in Saint-Estephe that are super seconds,
some of the seconds are so so good, they are one step above all the others 2d
they are called the super seconds. So the lines have moved a little bit between the
categories between those that have been investing and learning their terroir
really well for years and years and decades and decades and those that have
fallen a little bit behind for one reason… or another. So the ranking itself
doesn’t exactly represent the absolute quality of the classification. Now it’s time to ask you to get a
little bit involved and give me your information. I’ve just given what I had
to say about this. Give me your information. What do you think of the 1855 classification?
Do you think it’s good? Do you think it’s rubbish? Do you
think it should be updated? Do you think it should be redone like they did in
Saint-Emilion? and should they upgrade some chateaus? Which ones?
What are your favourite 1855 chateaus? Mine is always going to be Chateau Margaux,
I worked at Chateau Margaux as you can probably tell I worked at Chateau Margaux
back in 2003 but I’ve also worked at Chateau Giscours at some point so I’ve
got a few favorites here and there but I’d love to hear which ones are yours,
and which ones I should really try. I am going to be reviewing more and more
Grand Cru Classés of Bordeaux, so make sure to subscribe to the channel and
check out my tasting with Julien series. I think that was me for today.
I hope you enjoyed the video, I hope you’ve learned something. I will continue
researching wine and sharing my knowledge So come along with the journey,
subscribe to the channel. Give me some love. Like this video, here or here,
it only takes one second but it helps me… quite a lot. I will see you soon, we’ll continue learning together about wine… I will see you soon in the world of wine… Cheers!


IAB 2014

Feb 2, 2019, 2:32 pm Reply

I went to Bordeaux in 2017…it was a once in a lifetime trip. I spent all my time in the left back. I truly appreciated that you answered my question in Twitter for recommendation of best vineyards to visit. I learned a lot…you recommend a visit to Mouton Rothschild and they do a fantastic tour. My favorite experience was Chateau Beychevelle. I went for my birthday (14 July) and did a private tour and tasting. They were so gracious! And we did a blind tasting. It was super fun and informative. They also added one special wine because it was my birthday! I was happy they were open because it was a national holiday.
Some other favorites: Lagrange, Gruaud Larose, Pontet Canet, Giscours.
I would like to do a similar trip and focus on the right bank.
I learned a lot…and I love this series.
Thank you again for taking the time to respond to my question. Your advice was fantastic!

Brandon M

Feb 2, 2019, 9:57 pm Reply

I learned a thing!

Andalusio Petruvius

Feb 2, 2019, 11:31 pm Reply

Hey! It would be nice if you included sources for your research, there's a lot of free material on BNF.fr, Jstor + sci-hub will take you a long way too ;). This topic prompted me to write my thesis about wine, but I didn't know about Jefferson. Good job!

What We Do

Feb 2, 2019, 3:31 am Reply

I guess I’m a bit of a wine geek, I love reading about wine, tasting wine, making wine! If I had to choose one particular area to drink wine from for the rest of my life it would be left bank Bordeaux. I have never tasted a first growth but have enjoyed some really nice second growths. This is the first video of yours I have watched other than your intro, I think this channel is going to be fantastic! So much of the info out there is aimed at the American wine novice, it’s really nice to have something to tickle the brains of us wine geeks for a change!


Bill Bryant

Feb 2, 2019, 8:17 pm Reply

Chocked full of great information! I love how you tied all the information together with our president, Worlds Fair etc. good stuff, thank you. ?

Bill Bryant

Feb 2, 2019, 8:25 pm Reply

Bordeaux were my introduction of wine. I started at a. French restaurant in Chicago. Always have fond memories of French food and wine. Love Maxim’s in Paris!

Bill Bryant

Feb 2, 2019, 8:42 pm Reply

Love your videos, they are getting me excited about wines again! Not to many people around here I can compare wine note with. I love Château Haut-Brion is one of my favorite when someone else is buying


Feb 2, 2019, 9:17 pm Reply

Honestly although I'm sure that all or most of the 1855 classification Château are indeed still producing the top quality wines of today it is almost certainly in part an unfair legacy advantage which will lead to stagnation in the market. Although marketing and money will always find a way to create these unfair advantages for established brands a more informed consumer base would help ensure that brands get the attention that they deserve, not the attention that they have purchased and perpetuated.

Erik Stronghold

Jun 6, 2019, 4:14 am Reply

What would happened if pompadour refused to put mouton Rothschild over the first growth? Miss Philippine probably would cry! ?

Daniel Martinez

Jun 6, 2019, 5:26 am Reply

Outstanding video Julian, Very insightful input on your take of the 1973 addition of Mouton Rothschild. I agree. I think the best of your videos I've seen yet. As for your requested feedback, I think they may need to revisit them anew. At the very least a hard look at a few of the "super seconds" . A bit of a "delicate question" for you Julien have you done a video regarding the Robber Barons era of the 1990's in Burgundy?

Leave a Reply