Wine Words: 1855 Classification

published Jan 13, 2014
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Do you know what the 1855 Classification is? Many of you may already be familiar with the concept, and many of you may not. Often called the 1855 Classification of the Médoc, it is a special Bordeaux wine classification, but do you know what it means, exactly?

The 1855 Classification is a Bordeaux wine classification. It refers back to the classification of the red wines of the Médoc and the sweet wines of Sauternes in 1855.

The Story of the 1855 Classification

In 1855 for the Exposition Universelle de Paris, Emperor Napoleon III requested that the Bordeaux wine brokers draw up a list of Bordeaux’s best wines to put on display. The brokers ranked the wines according to reputation, demand and trading price at the time, which supposedly equated to quality. They came up with a five-tier list of 61 red wines. Interestingly, all but one wine (Château Haut Brion, from the Graves area) came from the Médoc area.

The wines, all rated as Cru Classé (Classed Growth) were ranked from first to fifth growth in order of quality – the first growths being the best.

Amazingly, this list and classification has endured through time. The only change in the ranking occurred in 1973, when by French presidential decree, Château Mouton Rothschild was elevated from a second growth to a first growth, bringing the number of first growths to five.

The Five First Growths (and Beyond)

The five first growth wines are among the most famous and prized wines in the world. They fetch amazingly high prices, especially from top vintages and as aged wines through the auction market.

They five first growths are Château Lafite (now known as Lafite Rothschild), Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut Brion and Château Mouton Rothschild.

Second to Fifth Growths: There are 14 Chateaux ranked as Second Growths. Among the most well known are Château Cos ‘d’Estournel and Château Montrose. There are also 14 Third Growths. These include Château Palmer and Château Lagrange.

Next up are the fourth growth, of which there are 10 including Château Talbot and Château Beychevelle. Finally, there are 18 Fifth Growth. Two of the most well known as Château Lynch-Bages and Château Pontet Canet.

The 1855 Classification also included the classification of Bordeaux’s sweet wines, notably Sauternes and Barsac. But that is for another wine word post.