What is a Grand Cru Classé?

May 2nd, 2023 | Wines

Who hasn't heard of a Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé? When we think of great wine, the first appellation that springs to mind is Bordeaux or Bordeaux wines. In fact, Bordeaux is home to a number of prestigious châteaux, each more enchanting than the last. These châteaux, known and recognized in the world of wine, are called Grand Cru Classé. They belong to a specific classification. In Bordeaux, however, each sub-region has its own classification. For example, there is a classification for Médoc wines, Saint-Émilion wines and Graves wines.
Focus on the main Bordeaux wine classifications.


The 1855 classification

This is certainly the best-known classification of all, but it's also by far the oldest. It appeared at the 3rd Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1855, in response to Napoleon's request for a list of the best Bordeaux wines. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry initiated the project, calling on wine brokers. The brokers divided the top 5 châteaux into categories, from the 1st to the 5th Grand Cru Classé.This classification reflects the quality of the wines produced by each of these estates. A number of factors were taken into account in this classification:

• Vine root depth and the age of the vines defined the length of aromas and the body of the wine.
• The vineyard elevation and the degree of natural light to which the grapes were exposed, which of course varied from year to year.
• The most decisive factor was terroir: a Grand Cru is the expression of a terroir.
• The quoted value of the wines.

There are two classifications: red wines and white wines.

The Grands Crus Classés of the Médoc in 1855: the red wines

For the reds, 61 châteaux were chosen, solely from the Médoc with the exception of one: Pessac-Léognan (Château Haut-Brion). These were divided into five categories:

• 5 First Growths
• 14 Second Growths
• 14 Third Growths
• 10 Fourth Growths (one of which was our Château La Tour Carnet, Haut Médoc)
• 18 Fifth Growths

This classification has never been revised except in 1973, when Château Mouton Rothschild was promoted from Second Grand Cru to Premier Grand Cru.

Grand Cru Classé of the Médoc in 1855


Sauternes and Barsac grands crus classés: white wines

For the whites, 27 sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac were chosen and ranked into 3 categories:

• Premier Cru Supérieur, with only Château d’Yquem – Sauternes
• Premiers Crus (11 châteaux), one of which was our Clos Haut Peyraguey - Sauternes
• Seconds Crus (15 châteaux)

Grand Cru Classé of Sauternes


The Saint-Émilion classification

Although this is another highly-reputed classification, it is much more recent than that of 1855. This classification was established in 1955 by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) on the initiative of the Saint-Émilion appellation defence union.
Distinct from the other classifications, it is revised around every ten years. Since its creation, 6 classifications have been made: in 1955, 1969, 1986, 1996, 2006 and 2012.
This unique system allows wines to be assessed on the basis of their recent quality and encourages the pursuit of excellence for candidate châteaux.

The organisation of the latest classification in 2012 was revised and placed under the complete control of the INAO, with the participation of the ministries of Agriculture and Consumer and Commercial Relations. Several elements were taken into account: primarily a tasting of the wine, the estate’s terroir and the renown of the château.

Today, there are 82 estates figuring in the classification, ranked into 3 categories:

• Premiers Grands Crus Classés A
• Premiers Grands Crus Classés
• Grands Crus Classés including our famous Château Fombrauge

Be careful not to confuse these categories with the Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, which groups together producers from a well-defined appellation zone and meets specific specifications. It is not included in the Saint-Emilion wine classification.

Grand Cru Classé of Saint-Émilion


The Graves classification

Like the Saint-Émilion classification, the Graves classification was set up by the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine at the request of the Syndicat de défense de l'appellation des Graves, just two years earlier, in 1953.

With the exception of 1959, this classification has never been modified, and distinguishes both red and white wines. It comprises a total of 16 châteaux, all classified at the same level: Grand Cru Classé de Graves. In fact, unlike the 1855 classification or the Saint-Emilion classification, there is no differentiating category for this classification. Our Château Pape Clément is of course included.
Some châteaux are classified for both red and white wines.

All the châteaux are found in the same appellation zone (AOP), i.e. . Pessac-Léognan.

Cru Classé of Graves

Discover the Bernard Magrez wine collection