Friarwood's Ultimate Guide to Bordeaux Classifications

Bordeaux Vineyard Landscape Ultimate Guide

Everything you ever needed to know and more - with up to date classifications as of 2024.

The wines of Bordeaux are some of the most famous in the world. But with over 120,000ha of vineyard covering 10,000 Chateau, navigating the region can be extremely challenging. To help make sense of it all, a useful place to start are the 6 different Bordeaux classifications in the region. Skip ahead to each classification, or read on to deep-dive into them all. We'll cover:

The 1855 Classification
The 2022 St Emilion Classification
The 1959 Graves Classification 
The 1932 & 2020 Cru Bourgeois Classification
The 2023 Médoc Crus Artisans Classification
Pomerol: The Enigmatic Appellation

Bordeaux, often hailed as the epitome of fine wine, boasts a rich tapestry of classifications that have shaped its renowned reputation. From the illustrious Grand Cru Classé to the lesser-known Crus Bourgeois, each classification encapsulates centuries of tradition, expertise, and terroir. Let's embark on a journey through time and vineyards to unravel the stories behind Bordeaux's esteemed classifications.

Bordeaux Wine Classifications: A Historical Overview

The concept of wine classifications in Bordeaux traces back to the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris, where Napoleon III requested a classification system for the region's best wines.

The result was the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855, which classified the top Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac Châteaux into five tiers, based on reputation and price.

Over time, additional classifications emerged to recognize other regions within Bordeaux and to adapt to changing market dynamics and quality standards.

1855 Bordeaux Wine Classification: Five Great Classified Growths

Bordeaux First Growth Wine Bottles Premier CruThe 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification was created in response to a request from Emperor Napoleon III for a classification system that would showcase the finest wines of Bordeaux at the Exposition Universelle de Paris, held in 1855. The task of creating this classification fell upon the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, with assistance from brokers and merchants who were well-versed in the region's wines.

The classification was created based on the following criteria:

  • Reputation: The primary criterion for inclusion in the classification was the reputation of the château and its wines. This was largely determined by historical sales prices and market demand, which reflected the esteem in which the wines were held among consumers and collectors.
  • Price: Wines that commanded higher prices in the marketplace were typically considered of higher quality and were more likely to be classified at a higher level.
  • Terroir: While not explicitly stated in the criteria, the terroir of the vineyard and its suitability for producing high-quality grapes likely played a role in the classification process.

The process of creating the 1855 Classification involved extensive consultation among Bordeaux's wine merchants, brokers, and experts. The final decisions were made by a committee appointed by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, with input from prominent figures in the wine trade. It's worth noting that the classification was based on subjective assessments of quality and reputation rather than objective, scientific criteria.

Despite being over 150 years old, the 1855 Classification remains highly relevant in today's wine world. The classification has endured as a symbol of Bordeaux's winemaking heritage and continues to influence consumer perceptions, pricing, and investment decisions.

  • Prestige: Wines from the Premier Cru Classé category, in particular, continue to command some of the highest prices and prestige in the global wine market.
  • Tradition: The 1855 Classification reflects the long-standing traditions and history of Bordeaux winemaking, serving as a benchmark for quality and excellence.
  • Investment: For collectors and investors, wines classified in 1855 are often considered blue-chip investments, with their value appreciating over time.

Despite its enduring relevance, the 1855 Classification has faced criticism for its static nature and lack of updates to reflect changes in quality and winemaking practices over time. This has led to the emergence of alternative classifications and rating systems, such as those for Saint-Émilion and the Crus Bourgeois, which aim to provide more dynamic assessments of Bordeaux wines.

In summary, while the 1855 Classification may have its limitations, it remains a cornerstone of Bordeaux's identity and continues to shape perceptions and markets in the modern wine world.

The Wines within the 1855 Classification

Premier Cru Classé (First Growth):

The Premier Cru Classé category represents the pinnacle of Bordeaux winemaking, comprising the most illustrious châteaux in the region.

Deuxième Cru Classé (Second Growth) to Cinquième Cru Classé (Fifth Growth):

The Deuxième to Cinquième Cru Classé tiers encompass a diverse array of châteaux, each distinguished for their consistent quality and contribution to Bordeaux's winemaking heritage.

Notable châteaux in these tiers include:

Château Ducru-Beaucaillou (Second Growth)
Château Léoville-Las Cases (Second Growth)
Château Cos d'Estournel (Second Growth)
Château Pichon Longueville Baron (Second Growth)
Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Second Growth)
Château Rauzan-Ségla (Second Growth)
Château Rauzan-Gassies (Second Growth)
Château Brane-Cantenac (Second Growth)
Château Gruaud-Larose (Second Growth)
Château Lascombes (Second Growth)
Château Palmer (Third Growth)
Château Calon-Ségur (Third Growth)
Château Kirwan (Third Growth)
Château Lagrange (Third Growth)
Château Duhart-Milon (Fourth Growth)
Château Haut-Bailly (Fourth Growth)
Château Beychevelle (Fourth Growth)
Château Lynch-Bages (Fifth Growth)

    The Sauternes and Barsac Wines include:

    Château d'Yquem, Sauternes (Premier Cru Supérieur)

    Château Coutet, Barsac (Premier Cru)
    Château Climens, Barsac (Premier Cru)
    Château Guiraud, Sauternes (Premier Cru)
    Château Rieussec, Sauternes (Premier Cru)

    These Châteaux consistently produce wines of exceptional quality, reflecting their respective terroirs and winemaking philosophies. While the Premier Cru Classé estates command the highest prices and prestige, the Deuxième to Cinquième Cru Classé châteaux offer exceptional value and diversity, making them sought-after by wine enthusiasts around the globe.

    The 1855 Classification remains a benchmark for Bordeaux's winemaking prowess, showcasing the region's ability to produce wines that transcend time and trends.

    The Saint-Émilion Classification

    Unlike the 1855 Classification, Saint-Émilion's classification is updated periodically through a rigorous assessment of vineyard practices, winemaking techniques, and wine quality.

    The classification includes Premier Grand Cru Classé A, Premier Grand Cru Classé B, and Grand Cru Classé, showcasing the top-tier châteaux producing exceptional Merlot based wines.

    The Saint-Émilion classification, unlike the 1855 Classification, is a dynamic system that is periodically updated to reflect changes in quality, vineyard practices, and winemaking techniques. The most recent update to the Saint-Émilion classification took place in 2022, marking a significant milestone in the region's winemaking history.

    History of the Classification

    The Saint-Émilion classification dates back to 1955 when the appellation was first classified into two tiers: Premier Grand Cru Classé A and Premier Grand Cru Classé B. This initial classification aimed to recognize the top châteaux producing exceptional wines in the region. Over the years, the classification evolved through subsequent updates in 1969, 1986, 1996, 2006, 2012 and most recently in 2022.

    Updating the Classification

    The process of updating the Saint-Émilion classification involves a thorough evaluation of each participating château's vineyard practices, winemaking techniques, and wine quality. An independent panel of experts, including winemakers, critics, and representatives from the Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), assesses the châteaux based on a set of criteria designed to reflect the unique terroir and characteristics of Saint-Émilion wines. These criteria may include vineyard area, grape varieties, yield limits, aging potential, and sensory evaluations.

    Summary of the 2022 Classification

    The 2022 Saint-Émilion classification introduced several changes, including the promotion of new châteaux to Premier Grand Cru Classé status and the demotion of others. Below is the current Premier Grand Cru Classé as of 2022.

    Premier Grand Cru Classé A:

    Château Figeac
    Château Pavie

    Premier Grand Cru Classé B:

    Château Beau-Séjour Bécot
    Château Beauséjour (Héritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse)
    Château Bélair-Monange
    Château Canon
    Château Canon la Gaffelière
    Clos Fourtet
    La Mondotte
    Château Larcis Ducasse
    Château Pavie Macquin
    Château Trolong Mondot
    Château Trottevieille
    Château Valandraud

    These classifications represent the pinnacle of Saint-Émilion winemaking, with each château distinguished for its exceptional quality, terroir expression, and contribution to the region's viticultural heritage.

    There are some exceptional wines in the Grand Cru Classe that should not be forgotten about too, including:

    Château Grand Corbin
    Château Berliquet
    Château Fonplegade

    Overall, the 2022 Saint-Émilion classification reaffirms the region's commitment to excellence and provides consumers with a reliable guide to discovering the finest wines from this esteemed appellation.

    The Graves 1959 Classification

    Graves Wines Vineyard Ultimate Bordeaux Guide

    The 1959 Graves Classification, also known as the Crus de Graves or Grand Crus Classés en 1959, is a classification system that recognizes the top châteaux producing red and white wines in the Graves region of Bordeaux. This classification, established in 1959, aimed to highlight the quality and prestige of wines from Graves, an esteemed wine-producing area located south of the city of Bordeaux.

    It was created for a number of reasons:

    • Recognition of Quality: The Graves region has a long history of winemaking dating back centuries. By the mid-20th century, certain châteaux had gained significant recognition for producing wines of exceptional quality, deserving of distinction and acknowledgment.
    • Marketing and Promotion: Establishing a classification system provided a framework for promoting the wines of Graves both domestically and internationally. It helped consumers identify the top producers and understand the hierarchy of quality within the region.
    • Economic Considerations: The classification aimed to protect the reputation and value of Graves wines by distinguishing between different tiers of quality. This was particularly important in a competitive market where consumers sought assurance of quality and authenticity.

    The process of creating the 1959 Graves Classification involved assessing the reputation, quality, and historical performance of individual châteaux within the Graves region. The Graves classification also encompassed both red and white wines, reflecting the diversity of production in the area.

    The final classification was determined through a combination of historical performance, vineyard practices, winemaking techniques, and subjective evaluations by a committee of experts appointed by the local wine authorities. The criteria for inclusion were similar to those used in other Bordeaux classifications, including reputation, price, and consistency of quality.

    Wines Classified in 1959

    The 1959 Graves Classification recognized a select group of châteaux as Grand Crus Classés, representing the highest tier of quality within the region. While the specific list of classified châteaux may vary over time due to changes in ownership, vineyard management, and winemaking practices, some notable examples of Grand Crus Classés en 1959 include:

    • Château Haut-Brion: One of the most esteemed estates in Bordeaux, Château Haut-Brion produces both red and white wines of exceptional quality. Its history dates back to the 16th century, and its wines are renowned for their elegance, complexity, and aging potential.
    • Château La Mission Haut-Brion: Sister estate to Château Haut-Brion, Château La Mission Haut-Brion produces red wines that rival its sibling in quality and reputation. Known for their power, intensity, and longevity, these wines exemplify the unique terroir of Graves.
    • Château Pape Clément: With a history dating back to the 13th century, Château Pape Clément is one of the oldest wine estates in Bordeaux. Its red and white wines are celebrated for their richness, depth, and ability to age gracefully.
    • Domaine de Chevalier: Known for its commitment to quality and innovation, Domaine de Chevalier produces red and white wines that consistently earn critical acclaim. The estate's wines are prized for their balance, finesse, and expression of terroir.

    The full list of wines in the 1959 classification are:

    Château Bouscaut
    Château Carbonnieux
    Domaine de Chevalier
    Château Couhins
    Château Couhins-Lurton
    Château de Fieuzal
    Château Haut-Bailly
    Château Haut-Brion
    Château Latour-Martillac
    Château Laville Haut-Brion
    Château Malartic-Lagravière
    Château La Mission Haut-Brion
    Château Olivier
    Château Pape Clément
    Château Smith Haut Lafitte
    Château La Tour Haut-Brion

      These Grand Crus Classés châteaux represent the pinnacle of winemaking in Graves and continue to uphold the region's reputation for producing some of Bordeaux's finest wines.

      1932 & 2020 Cru Bourgeois Classification

      Bordeaux Wine Guide Corks

      The 1932 Cru Bourgeois Classification, also known as the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, is a classification system that recognizes the quality and excellence of wines produced by smaller, family-owned châteaux in the Médoc region of Bordeaux. This classification, established in 1932, aimed to distinguish and promote wines from these estates, which may not have the same level of recognition or resources as the prestigious Grand Cru Classé estates.

      The process of creating the 1932 Cru Bourgeois Classification involved assessing the quality, consistency, and reputation of individual châteaux within the Médoc region. Unlike the 1855 Classification, which focused primarily on price and reputation, the Cru Bourgeois classification placed greater emphasis on vineyard practices, winemaking techniques, and overall wine quality.

      The original 444 Chateau classified was reduced to 247 in 2003 through a reclassification process, but in 2007 the new list was annulled by a French Court and all use of the term 'Cru Bourgeois' was banned.

      In 2010, the Cru Bourgeois label was reintroduced, but in a significantly revised form. It consisted of only one level, and was awarded annually, as a mark of quality, to wines rather than to châteaux, on the basis of an assessment of both production methods and the finished product. Any property in the Médoc may apply. The lists are published approximately 2 years after the vintage.

      While the new Cru Bourgeois classification was being prepared, six out of nine of the former Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnels decided to remain outside the new one-tier classification. Instead, they formed a group named Les Exceptionnels, primarily to stage common marketing events. Members of this group are Château Chasse-Spleen, Château Les Ormes-de-Pez, Château de Pez, Château Potensac, Château Poujeaux and Château Siran.

      To add to the confusion, the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc announced a new Crus Bourgeois classification on February 20, 2020, that includes 179 Crus Bourgeois, 56 Crus Bourgeois Supérieurs and 14 Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnels. Estates ranked in the ‘Exceptionnels’ category include châteaux Paveil de Luze and d’Arsac in Margaux; châteaux Le Bosq, Lillian Ladouys and Le Crock in Saint-Estèphe; Château Lestage in Listrac-Médoc and eight properties in Haut-Médoc: châteaux d’Agassac, Arnauld, Belle-Vue, Cambon La Pelouse, Charmail, Malescasse, de Malleret and du Taillan.

      The classification is due to be revised in 2025. You can find the full classification for 2020 at the Cru Bourgeois website as it is too long to include here.

      2006 & 2023 Medoc Crus Artisans Classification

      The 2006 Médoc Crus Artisans Classification, also known as the "Crus Artisans du Médoc," is a classification system that recognizes and promotes the quality and craftsmanship of smaller, family-owned châteaux across the Medoc peninsula in Bordeaux. This classification, established in 2006, aimed to provide visibility and support to these estates, which may not have the same level of recognition or resources as the prestigious Grand Cru Classé and Cru Bourgeois estates.

      The idea of creating a classification specifically for Crus Artisans in the Médoc region emerged as a response to the changing landscape of Bordeaux winemaking. Many smaller châteaux faced challenges in marketing and promoting their wines, despite producing high-quality offerings. Recognizing the importance of these estates in preserving the cultural heritage and diversity of Médoc winemaking, local wine authorities sought to establish a classification system that would provide recognition and support to these châteaux.

      The 2006 Médoc Crus Artisans Classification was the result of collaborative efforts between the Conseil des Vins du Médoc and the Syndicat des Crus Artisans du Médoc. It aimed to showcase the craftsmanship, tradition, and terroir-driven expression of wines from these smaller estates, while also providing consumers with a reliable indicator of quality and authenticity.

      The list was revised in 2018, partly due to the sale of so many estates on the original 2006 list and is now updated regularly, with the latest update in 2023, covering 5 vintages from 2022 - 2026.

      Relevance

      The 2023 Médoc Crus Artisans Classification holds significance for both producers and consumers within the Bordeaux wine industry. For smaller, family-owned châteaux, inclusion in the classification provides validation of their efforts and dedication to producing high-quality wines. It also offers a platform for these estates to showcase their offerings to a broader audience, thereby increasing visibility and market opportunities.

      For consumers, the classification serves as a reliable guide for discovering hidden gems and artisanal wines from the Médoc region. While these châteaux may not carry the same prestige or price tags as their Grand Cru Classé counterparts, their wines often offer excellent value, character, and typicity of the Médoc terroir.

      The current list as of 2023 is:

      MÉDOC

      Château Bejac Romelys
      Château Gadet Terrefort
      Château Garance Haut Grenat
      Château Haut Brisey
      Château Haut Couloumey
      Château Haut Gravat
      Château La baie de Lalo
      Château La Hourcade
      Château La Tessonnière
      Château les Graves de Loirac
      Château l'Evasion
      Château Saint Gregoire
      Château Vieux Gadet

        HAUT MÉDOC

        Château de Coudot
        Domaine de la Garenne
        Château de Lauga
        Château d'Osmond
        Château du Ha
        Château Grand Brun
        Château Micalet
        Château Moutte Blanc
        Château Pey Mallet
        Château Tour du Goua
        Château Vieux Gabarey

        LISTRAC

        Château Dacher de Delmonte

          MARGAUX

          Château des Graviers
          Château les Barraillots
          Château Moutte Blanc
          Clos de Bigos

            SAINT-JULIEN

            Château la Fleur Lauga

              SAINT-ESTEPHE

              Château Graves de Pez
              Château Linot
              Château Marceline

                These examples highlight the diversity and quality of wines produced by Médoc Crus Artisans, showcasing the region's rich winemaking heritage and commitment to excellence.

                Pomerol: The Enigmatic Appellation

                Chateau Palmer Pomerol Fine Wines

                Pomerol, known for its small-scale production and unique terroir, operates without a formal classification system.

                Instead, the appellation relies on reputation and word of mouth to distinguish exceptional wines, with Château Pétrus standing as a symbol of Pomerol's unparalleled quality and prestige.

                Other notable wines from Pomerol include:

                Chateau La Conseillante
                Vieux Chateau Certan
                Château Cheval Blanc
                Château Lafleur
                Château Le Pin
                Château Trotanoy
                Château La fleur Petrus
                Château Clinet

                There are several reasons for the absence of a classification system in Pomerol:

                • Small Scale Production: Pomerol is a relatively small wine-producing area compared to other regions in Bordeaux, such as the Médoc. The size and scale of production in Pomerol are more modest, with many estates being family-owned and operated. This smaller scale makes it less conducive to the development of a formal classification system.
                • Diversity of Terroir: Pomerol is characterized by a diverse range of soil types and microclimates, resulting in a wide variation in wine styles and quality among different vineyards and estates. Unlike regions with more homogeneous terroir, such as the Médoc, Pomerol's diversity makes it challenging to establish a classification system that adequately reflects the nuances of each vineyard.
                • Historical Tradition: Pomerol has a long history of winemaking dating back centuries, rooted in family traditions and individual craftsmanship. Historically, winemakers in Pomerol have focused more on producing wines that express the unique terroir of their vineyards rather than seeking formal classification or recognition.
                • Absence of Official Oversight: Unlike some other Bordeaux appellations, Pomerol does not have a governing body or regulatory authority overseeing the classification of its wines. Without official oversight, there is no centralized mechanism for establishing and enforcing a classification system.
                • Prestige and Reputation: Despite the absence of a formal classification system, Pomerol has earned international acclaim and prestige for its high-quality wines. Iconic estates like Château Pétrus and Château Le Pin have achieved legendary status based on their reputation, consistency, and exceptional terroir, rather than any official classification.

                While Pomerol may lack a formal classification system, its wines continue to command some of the highest prices and prestige in the global wine market. The absence of a classification system allows for greater flexibility and diversity among Pomerol producers, enabling them to focus on producing wines of exceptional quality that showcase the unique terroir of this renowned Bordeaux appellation.

                Conclusion: Embracing Bordeaux's Diversity and Tradition

                Bordeaux's classifications offer a glimpse into the region's rich winemaking heritage, where tradition and innovation intertwine to produce some of the world's most coveted wines.

                Whether exploring the timeless elegance of the 1855 Classification or discovering hidden gems among the Crus Bourgeois, Bordeaux invites wine enthusiasts on a journey of exploration and appreciation.

                By delving into Bordeaux's classifications, one not only uncovers the stories behind each tier but also gains a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry that define this esteemed wine region. So raise a glass to Bordeaux's past, present, and future, and savor the fruits of centuries-old tradition in every sip. Cheers!

                Don't forget to explore our entire range of Bordeaux Fine Wines, other French Wines and wines from the Rest of the World too - and remember, the best way to learn is to continue tasting!