The 1855 classification of the Bordeaux Grands Crus Classés

In the world of wine, the 1855 Grands Crus Classés classification is a still living myth. These wines are acclaimed all over the world for the quality of the wines produced, but also recognized by their stories and their prestige. Buying a 1855 Grand Cru Classé is offering the luxury of tasting the history of the great wines of Bordeaux, an history that has greatly contributed to the development of wine in the world. 

This page speaks about the two 1855 classifications: about the reds and about the sweet wines. 

1855 Story

It was during the 1855 universal exposition in Paris that Emperor Napoleon 3 asked the Chamber of Commerce of Bordeaux to establish a classification of the greatest wines of Bordeaux. 

The « Union des Courtiers de la place de Bordeaux » established two lists: one for the great red wines and one for the great white wines (the sweet white wines were the most prized).

To establish this classification, the Courtiers based themselves on the reputation of the Châteaux and on the prices practised, according to their knowledge for many decades. This is particularly important to remember and understand. 

This classification was established on April 18, 1855. Since that date the classification has only known 2 changes:

  • The inclusion of Château Cantemerle in the 5th growth, only a few months after the revelation of the list, on September 16, 1855 (Source: Château Cantemerle’s official website ).
  •  Château Mouton-Rothschild moved from 2th growth to the First growth in 1973, after decades of negotiations. 
    88 properties now make up the Grands Crus Classés 1855: 61 reds and 27 sweet wines. 

The success was so big that today this classification still radiates and remains a globally recognized landmark.

1855 red wines classification

The 5 ranks of the 1855 classification for red wines:

The 1855 classification is divided into 5 ranks starting with the most prestigious, the First Growths which honors 5 of the most famous Châteaux in Bordeaux, if not in the world: Château Lafite Rotshchilld, Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Margaux and Château Haut-Brion.

All the red wines of the 1855 classification are based on the Médoc area in the North West of Bordeaux. One exception exists: Château Haut-Brion which is located on the  Pessac-Léognan appellation (close to Bordeaux).

The 1855 classification now includes 61 Châteaux for red wines. In this page the Châteaux are listed by rank, then by appellations ( from North to South) and finally by alphabetical order (a Cru Classé at the bottom of the list of its rank does not mean that it is lower than those listed above the same rank). 

On some Châteaux’s names you can click on to be redirected to one or more articles that I wrote during a visit or an event (the goal being ultimately to have at least one article for each!).

1855 sweet wines classification

The 1855 classification of the wines of Sauternes is divided into 3 ranks starting with the most prestigious, the « Premier Cru Classé Supérieur » which has the particularity of counting only one Castle: the mythic Château Yquem.Then come the First Growth and the 2th Growth. 

27 domains are now included in this classification. All domains are in the Sauternes appellation area. Some areas located on Barsac may choose « Barsac » or « Sauternes » appellation on their labels, Sauternes appellation encompassing the Barsac communal appellation.

In this page the Châteaux are listed by rank, then alphabetically.

On some Châteaux’s names you can click on the name to be redirected to one or more articles that I may have written on during a visit or an event (the goal being ultimately to have at least one article for each!).

Why no right bank in 1855 ?

This question may legitimately comes, the right bank of Bordeaux also having very high quality wines during this period. They also sold some of their wines for a certain expensive price. The answer is simple: the 1855 classification was made by the « Chambre de Commerce » (trading place) of Bordeaux. However, the wines of the right bank were held at that time by another trading place: the « Chambre de Commerce de Libourne « (Libourne is a city on the right bank, near to Pomerol and Saint-Emilion).

It is interesting to note that during the next edition of the Paris Universal  Exposure the wines of Saint-Emilion were awarded by the gold medal in 1967. Unfortunately no classification was established for the occasion.

If you would like to know more about the Classification of the Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés click here ( under construction)

Is 1855 obsolet ?

Over the decades some voices have risen against this classification, judging it too old or unfashion. It is true that many changements have occurred. However just qualifying this classification as obsolete would be too quick and simplistic.

We can think that even if the 1855 classification  is based on a long history of transactions, some properties were long abandoned, far from their true potential, or with histories of transactions very difficult to trace. We can also think that some properties were not presented, have since disappeared, or have been divided.

It is also true that if a revision of this classification would take place today, some classified Châteaux at the lowest level could claim a higher level. On the other hand, others may see their positions fall. And we do not mention all those who could largely justify entering to the classification of Cru Classé, according to their quality. 

But by entering into this controversy debate we forget the most important thing: 1855 !

Keep in our mind that this was a pricing classification at a given time and it has the merit to have a strong history of transaction base.The 1855 classification does not represent a single year or a tasting event. It is for this reason that nearly 200 years later, this classification still retains some relevance.

We can imagine some changements during historical anniversaries, why not 2055? The idea is pleasant but here again the loss-meaning specter is too high. 1855 would be gradually lost against updated rankings and with the high risk of losing its history and meaning.

The 1855 classification is an heritage where wines of Bordeaux  were considered the quintessence of wines in the world, and jewels of France. Don’t look it as an absolute truth, but enjoy its story. When you get a bottle of a 1855 Grand Cru Classé , come back in time, close your eyes, and travel accross the amazing world of wines !

1855, my opinion

These wines did not become mythical because of  this classification. It is for the wines into it that this classification became mythical ! Almost 200 years later, the majority of these Crus Classés are still at the top of the list of purchases by the most discerning collectors and amateurs. They make people dream, and that is the most important thing. 

This classification is prestigious for the properties that have had the privilege of accessing it. It is also a beautiful recognition for Bordeaux and a world landmark.

This prestige also serves wine world  in a global way because these properties are magical places that every wine lovers want to discover, to taste and to have in his cellar.

It should nevertheless be kept in mind that this classification (and like any classification) do not everything and many unclassified properties also make very great wines. Since 1855 many things have changed, there are exceptional quality wines around the world. And it is a great thing !

I like to think that this classification brings a positive dynamic. The 1855 Crus Classés cannot stay on their laurels, they must stay at the top because they represent the elite. Moreover, local and international competition is real with an increasing level from year to year. 

However it is also true that certain areas of Bordeaux live in the shadow of these Crus Classés. It could even be said the aura of the Crus Classés is too much brillant. Many little, good and unexpensive Bordeaux wines stay in the shadow. Bordeaux is today less courted than in the past. Bordeaux has the reputation of being composed only of wines with high prices.This is absolutely false and reductive, the Crus Classés representing a tiny percentage of the number of properties on the whole of the Bordeaux region.

Some winemakers like some appellations innovate away from these standards and you will find through this blog many references demonstrating this point ! Everything is not always classified and by searching in different ways, fantastic treasures have to be discovered. 

Personally I like to meet small unknown producers just as I like to go to a 1855 property. These are mythical places, full of stories with exceptional wines !

The world of wine is vast. Why limit ourselves to one aspect ?