The Grands Crus Classés of Saint-Emilion

The Grands Crus Classés of Saint-Emilion

The Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classé classification is specific to the Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru appellation ( on the right bank of Bordeaux). It should not be confused with the 1855 Grands Crus Classés classification  (to learn more about this classification click here)To directly go to the list of the Saint-Emilion-Grand-Classé at the bottom of the page click here.

The Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru-Classé is a classification  started in 1955 (decided in 1954) with the particularity  to be revisable every 10 years in principle. In principle ? Yes, because this classification has a key importance for the Châteaux of Saint-Emilion. Also each revision is delicate, very complex, and can cause some delays. The big interest is to stay actual, promoting emulation between properties and ensuring high quality standards for the consummer.

The Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru-Classé classification has been revised 6 times since its creation: 1959-1969-1986-1996-2006-2012. The next revision is expected in 2022. The INAO (national institute of origin and quality) is in charge of this classification. 

How to become Saint-Emilion Grand-Cru-Classé ?

Its is very important to understand that this classification is about properties under the Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru.

 To obtain the mention of « Cru Classé » the Château has to  register to the specifications of the Saint-Emilion Grand-Cru AOC. Theses specifications are different of the Saint-Emilion AOC (more technical informations on the INAO official website : click-here )

The property who is under the Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru is free to make (or not) a specific request for trying to become part of this classification. 

This specific request requires the submission of an application to be able to claim this level of Cru Classé. This indispensable prerequisite has to be reformulated each time the classification is revised. The wines are tasted blind over 10 or 15 vintages by a committee. Other criteria are taken into account, such as the reputation, property tax, distribution methods, wine quotation, etc.

A global score is determined and give the access to the categories : Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru-Classé or Saint-Emilion-Premier-Grand-Cru-Classé ( 16/20 is the minimum to be part of this last one ). 

Consider that we often write « Appellation Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru-Classé » whereas it would be more correct to write : « Appellation Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru, Grand-Cru Classé ». This last writing is precisely the one that we find in the technical appellations post written by the INAO. The reason appears logical, we avoid to speak « Grand Cru » two times. This could be the reason why « Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru » and « Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru-Classé » are confused. 

(Sources and more details on the official website of the Saint-Emilion wines : click-here,  and on Légifrance, click-here). 

Remember about the different appellations of Saint-Emilion

With this classification, the wine from Saint-Emilion have many appellations and can be confused at the beginning. Here is a summary list, starting with the most prestigious rank :

– Appellation Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Premier Grand Cru Classé ( 2 ranks: « A » and « B« )

– Appellation Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Grand Cru Classé 

– Appellation Saint-Emilion Grand Cru

– Appellation Saint-Emilion 

+ 4 neighboring communes in Saint-Emilion, called « satellites » that can add to their location the Geographical Indication of Saint-Emilion: Lussac, Puisseguin, Saint-Georges, and Montagne.  To learn more about the appellation Saint-Emilion click here (under construction)

It would be important to retain that the properties in Saint-Emilion can decide whether or not to participate in the Crus Classés classification. This not necessary mean that they are qualitatively inferior or less valued. Some « Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru » are sold at premium or super premium prices, as « Saint-Emilion-Premier-Grand-Cru-Classé » (this remains uncommon). This is important to mention : you can find great wines in each of these appellations, including the Saint-Emilion appellation. 

Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé "A" and "B"

The category Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé has been subdivided into 2 ranks « A » and « B« . Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classified « A » is the most prestigious and with only 4 Castles whose super premium prices : Château Ausone, Château Cheval-Blanc, Château Angélus, Château Pavie. 

Château Angélus and Château Pavie are at level « A » since the last revision in 2012. These grades « A » and « B » are not always found on the labels of the bottles: many of them usually prefer the only mention « Premier Grand Cru Classé ». The different reasons could be the subject of an article.

Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé classification

The Grands-Crus-Classés of Saint-Emilion offer an additional dimension to the Saint-Emilion appellation which previously counted only two categories: the appellations « Saint-Emilion » and « Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru ».

Even this classification is linked to the Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru AOC, keep focus on the fact that it is a way to underline the whole region of Saint-Emilion. We can remind here that the Saint-Emilion wine region is composed of more than 500 properties. A good opportunity here to establish, if not a hierarchy, additional benchmarks and a worldwide attractiveness for the wines from Saint-Emilion.

On this site the classification about the Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés resumes the last classification : 2012. 82 properties are listed on different levels starting from the most prestigious (in each ranking, properties are listed alphabetically) : 

Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé A (4 Châteaux)

Saint-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé B (14 Châteaux)

Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé (64 Châteaux)

For each of the listed properties it will be possible to click on the name of the Château to access on a dedicated page (under construction).

For more informations about this classification and to know more about the older classifications, click-here

My opinion about the Grands Crus Classés of Saint-Emilion

The Grands-Crus-Classés of Saint-Emilion carry the prestige of the wines from the Saint-Emilion area. Saint-Emilion is full of mythic wines and a classification that distinguishes them is a nice way to make them shining a little more. 

The fact that this classification can be periodically revised is a good thing. It ensures consistency, it remains actual, and no one can stay on its laurels. But on the other hand, this ranking let appear all the issues to be at the top. The various media and judicial stories are the illustration. However, it was also the way to improve the organisation and the coherence of this classification. I am optimist for the next édition. 

For the consumer this ranking remains an interesting and reliable benchmark. Do not forget that Saint-Emilion covers more than 500 domains, so choosing a « Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru-Classé » allows to increase the probabilities to make the good choice. It should be noticed that this choice has to be accompanied with  the appropriate budget, the Grands Crus Classés of Saint-Emilion are very qualitative wines whose demand is strong. These wines are prestigious AND within a very coveted appellation.

In terms of budget, yes buying a Grand Cru Classé and especially a Premier Grand Cru Classé A is (very) expensive. However, the option of choosing  the second wine of the property may be an interesting alternative. Usually (but not all the time) these wines come from the youngest vines of the property, they will display less fruit flavor concentration, but this is not necessarily a problem because they can thus be more oriented towards immediate consumption, while being worked under the same quality standards as for the first wines ( this is only one aspect of the second wines, a very large subject who could be treated in a special topic, and who is specific on each property).

My 5 favorites Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés

If I had to list you 5 Crus Ranked at different price levels that I like very much :

  • Château Ausone : a mythical wine, with an exceptional quality, but difficult to find and extremely expensive (count in the 500-1000+ € a bottle!)
  • Château La Clotte : a wine that seduces me from year to year, relatively little known and of very high quality. For me a rising reference of great wines of Bordeaux. 
  • Château Peby-Faugères : excellent quality, very nice work on fruits in general.
  • Château Fleur Cardinale : a wine that rises in power and in notoriety with very active owners. Absolutely fan of the 2010 vintage.
  • Château Grand Corbin d’Espagne : a reference at correct price, easy to find with a very worked wine that I appreciate from years to years.

Of course this list is not exhaustive ! Now it is your turn to find your favorite Saint-Emilion-Grand-Cru-Classé ! Do not hesitate to mention it on comments.