Understanding the 1855 Bordeaux Classification of the Medoc

The 1855 Bordeaux Classification of the Medoc stands as an unparalleled historical document, transcending time and geography to assert itself as the definitive reference for wine classification across the globe. It remains largely unaltered throughout its existence, with debates surrounding the elevation of specific Chateaux. Yet, the 1855 classification maintains its accuracy, serving as the primary reference for distinguishing Chateaux quality on Bordeaux's left bank. Though not devoid of flaws, it retains its precision amidst technological advancements and shifts in winemaking practices over time.

Origins & Authority

In 1855, the classification was commissioned by Napoleon III, the French emperor, coinciding with a grand international exposition. The task of classifying Bordeaux's Chateaux was entrusted to the negociants, who were intimately familiar with the estates. This ranking was confined to producers solely on Bordeaux's left bank, within Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac, Saint Estephe, and Haut Medoc, with a lone exception: Chateau Haut-Brion in Graves, already globally renowned and among Bordeaux's most prized wines. The original 1855 classification also encompassed the delectable sweet white wines of Sauternes and Barsac.

Criteria for Ranking

To anchor its validity, the classification introduced specific criteria. Estates were categorized into five distinctive classes based on their average selling prices from 1815 to 1855:

First Growth – Prices exceeding 3,000 French Francs per barrel
Second Growth – Prices between 2,500 and 2,700 French Francs per barrel
Third Growth – Prices between 2,100 to 2,400 French Francs per barrel
Fourth Growth – Prices between 1,800 to 2,100 French Francs per barrel
Fifth Growth – Prices between 1,400 to 1,600 French Francs per barrel

Completion & Controversy

Less than two weeks after its issuance, on April 18, 1855, the official 1855 Bordeaux classification of the Medoc materialized. This debut, however, encountered immediate controversy, as the negociants emphasize, “You know as well as we do, Sirs, that this classification is a delicate task and bound to raise questions; remember that we have not tried to create an official ranking, but only to offer you a sketch drawn from the very best sources.”

A significant point of contention arose from the original classification's ranking sequence as the Chateaux were listed in the order of their official ranking, with Chateau Mouton-Rothschild topping the Second Growth list, triggering subsequent criticism. Responding to the ensuing uproar, the classification was reconfigured, listing Chateaux alphabetically within their respective class.

Omissions & Ensuing Amendments

One prevailing flaw in the 1855 classification today is its omission of wines from the right bank. This gap can be attributed to the quality gap between the left and right bank wines during the 18th century. St-Emilion's absence also results from shipping challenges arising from its geographical location.

Over the decades, the classification has largely retained its form. The most prominent alteration occurred in 1973 when, after almost fifty years of advocacy by Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Chateau Mouton achieved First Growth status. The first modification transpired in 1856, with Chateau Cantemerle's belated inclusion as a Fifth Growth, initially intended but inadvertently omitted. A second amendment emerged in 1870 when Third Growth Chateau Dubignon merged with another Third Growth, Chateau Malescot St. Exupery.

Expanding Territory

Initially encompassing 58 Chateaux and 25 sweet wine producers, the 1855 Bordeaux classification transformed over 168 years, now encompassing 61 Chateaux and 27 sweet wine producers due to estate divisions. Expanding from approximately 6,550 to nearly 8,650 acres, the classification's domain increased due to vineyard changes and parcel acquisitions. Yet, this growth doesn't necessarily correlate with production. In contrast to its inception, where the majority of the harvest was reserved for the grand vin, contemporary practices withhold roughly 30% to 50% of each crop due to stringent quality standards.

Enduring Through Time

Despite its imperfections, the 1855 classification remains an impressive and relatively accurate standard. Technological advances and evolving winemaking practices have propelled some Chateaux to elevate their wine quality, while others couldn't maintain the original benchmark. While the First Growths persist as Bordeaux's pinnacle, several estates have remarkably elevated their wine quality. Collectors, connoisseurs, and industry experts have christened a number of these Chateaux as "super seconds."

While the question of whether the original 1855 Bordeaux classification of the Medoc has become out-of-date naturally emerges, its accuracy remains noteworthy. The classification bears flaws, juxtaposed to the St-Emilion classification which is amended every decade. Yet, a resounding constant is its remarkable legacy. Serving as an unparalleled classification, it steers consumers toward identifying quality Bordeaux producers. Those seeking value in Bordeaux wines should consider the "super seconds," capable of matching or occasionally surpassing the renowned First Growths' quality, yet at a fraction of the cost.



Ranking the Medoc


Château Haut-Brion, Pessac Château Margaux, Margaux
Château Lafite-Rothschild, Pauillac Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac
Château Latour, Pauillac



Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux Château Léoville-Las-Cases, Saint-Julien
Château Cos-d’Estournel, Saint-Estèphe Château Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien
Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien Château Montrose, Saint-Estèphe
Château Durfort-Vivens, Margaux Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron-de-Pichon, Pauillac
Château Gruaud-Larose, Saint-Julien Château Pichon-Longueville-Comtesse-de-Lalande, Pauillac
Château Lascombes, Margaux Château Rauzan-Ségla, Margaux
Château Léoville-Barton, Saint-Julien Château Rauzan-Gassies, Margaux



Château Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux Château Kirwan, Margaux
Château Calon-Ségur, Saint-Estèphe Château Lagrange, Saint-Julien
Château Cantenac-Brown, Margaux Château La Lagune, Haut-Médoc
Château Desmirail, Margaux Château Langoa-Barton, Saint-Julien
Château Ferrière, Margaux Château Malescot-Saint-Exupéry, Margaux
Château Giscours, Margaux Château Marquis-d’Alesme, Margaux
Château d’Issan, Margaux

Château Palmer, Margaux


Château Beychevelle, Saint-Julien Château Pouget, Margaux
Château Branaire-Ducru, Saint-Julien Château Prieuré-Lichine, Margaux
Château Duhart-Milon, Pauillac Château Saint-Pierre, Saint-Julien
Château Lafon-Rochet, Saint-Estèphe Château Talbot, Saint-Julien
Château Marquis-de-Terme, Margaux Château La Tour-Carnet, Haut-Médoc


Château d’Armailhac, Pauillac Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse, Pauillac
Château Batailley, Pauillac Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac
Château Belgrave, Haut-Médoc Château Haut-Bages-Libéral, Pauillac
Château Camensac, Haut-Médoc Château Haut-Batailley, Pauillac
 Château Cantemerle, Haut-Médoc Château Lynch-Bages, Pauillac
Château Clerc-Milon, Pauillac Château Lynch-Moussas, Pauillac
Château Cos-Labory, Saint-Estèphe Château Pédesclaux, Pauillac
Château Croizet-Bages, Pauillac Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac
Château Dauzac, Margaux
Château du Tertre, Margaux


Ranking Sauternes & Barsac


Château d’Yquem, Sauternes


Château Climens, Barsac Château Rayne-Vigneau, Sauternes
Clos Haut-Peyraguey, Sauternes Château Rieussec, Sauternes
 Château Coutet, Barsac Château Sigalas-Rabaud, Sauternes
Château Guiraud, Sauternes Château Suduiraut, Sauternes
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Sauternes Château La Tour-Blanche, Sauternes
Château Rabaud-Promis, Sauternes



Château d’Arche, Sauternes Château Lamothe-Guignard, Sauternes
Château Broustet, Barsac Château de Malle, Sauternes
Château Caillou, Barsac Château de Myrat, Barsac
Château Doisy-Daëne, Barsac Château Nairac, Barsac
Château Doisy-Dubroca, Barsac Château Romer-du-Hayot, Sauternes
Château Doisy-Védrines, Barsac Château Romer, Sauternes
Château Filhot, Sauternes Château Suau, Barsac
Château Lamothe (Despujols), Sauternes  


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