Everything You Wanted to Know About Bordeaux Wine Classifications But Were Afraid to Ask
The best Bordeaux wines have a complexity to them, they’re multi-layered, influenced by the “terroir”, weather, time of harvesting, carefully blended grape varietals, vats and barrels used, the fermentation and maturation processes, and so on. Bordeaux’s wine classification systems are similarly complex, at first glance, not least because there isn’t one simple overriding system, there are several. So, to help you understand what they all mean, we’ve written an introduction for you.
Bordeaux wine classifications 101
The most well-known classification systems are the 1855 Classification and the classifications of: Saint-Émilion; Sauternes and Barsac; and Pessac-Léognan. Some classifications are revised relatively regularly, some rarely, so they’re more of a snapshot in time. Consider them a general indicator of quality, although wines can still vary from vintage to vintage, and some can improve due to investment in production facilities, hiring of excellent winemakers or the involvement of consultant enologists.
Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855
Devised for the Universal Exhibition of Paris in 1855, this classification system ranked wines into five categories; from Premier Cru Grand Classé through to Cinquième Cru Grand Classé – from First Growth to Fifth Growth. The 57 red wines are mostly from the Médoc region, and the Premier Grand Cru Classé includes some of Bordeaux’s most prestigious wine producers: Chateaux Lafite, Margaux and Latour, plus Château Haut-Brion, from the Pessac appellation in Graves region.
Classification of Saint-Émilion wines
First established in 1955, the classification of Saint-Émilion wines ranks them into three categories: Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’, Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘B’ and Grand Cru Classé. The classification has been revised several times, most notably and controversially in 2006, (when legal action by some wine producers resulted in the revision being declared invalid and 1996 classifications reinstated), and most recently in 2022, when Château Figeac was elevated to Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ alongside existing status holder Château Pavie.
Rankings are based on blind-tastings and quality criteria, and there are currently two holders of ‘A’ rank, 12 ‘B’, and 71 Grand Cru Classé. Around 200 other Saint-Émilion wines are described as “Grand Cru” but this designation falls under the rules of the wider appellation AOC and doesn’t refer to the official classification.
Classification of Sauternes and Barsac wines
This classification also dates back to 1855, because it was also created for the Universal Exhibition of Paris. These 26 sweet wines were originally intended to be divided into two categories, Premier Cru and and Deuxième Cru (First Growth and Second Growth), after rating them according to quality and selling price. The quality of what’s now known as Château d’Yquem was considered to be in a league of its own and so it was given a special rank, Premier Cru Supérieur.
Classification of Pessac-Léognan wines
Although wine had been produced in the area for a very long time, the Pessac-Léognan appellation was only created in 1987. As such, the classification of Pessac-Léognan wines relates to earlier classifications, such as the wines of the 1959 classification of Graves wines, plus Château Haut-Brion, the Graves wine included in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.
Now that you know a little bit more about the classification of wines in one of the world’s most famous wine regions, why not visit Bordeaux to check some of them out yourself? Bordeaux’s chateaux and vineyards are a must-see for wine lovers. Bordeaux With Elodie organises unique, customizable, private wine tours and wine-tastings – there are plenty to choose from here!