1855 Bordeaux Wine Classification

The historic 1855 Bordeaux Classification is a French standard for wine categorization, which is regarded as the world’s most prominent and authentic wine classification system designed based on wine-producing regions.

This historic document has stood for a significant number of years, with only a few alterations. Since 1855, the official categorization of Bordeaux wines from the Medoc has only allowed only two changes in 167 years, i.e., Cantemerle was included as a fifth growth in 1856, and Château Mouton Rothschild was added to the first growth in 1973.

What is Special about these Wines?

Before the official Classification of the  Bordeaux Classification in 1855, the wines produced in the Bordeaux region had been unofficially categorized as the best in the world.

The historical documents suggest that customers used to prefer Bordeaux wine in the 1600s when the wine was first exported to other European countries. Throughout the years, buyers across many countries searched for wines all over the Bordeaux appellation. Soon the merchants opened taverns across Europe to sell and promote wine brands of Bordeaux.

In the 18th century, Lafite, Latour, Margaux, and Haut Brion were among the first Bordeaux appellations to acquire recognition for their distinctive wine qualities. They were the first to become well-known chateaux, among them merchants and buyers.

Negociants and merchants were quick to name Lafite, Latour, Margaux, and Haut Brion as the best, and therefore most expensive Bordeaux on the market. At that time, wine from Haut Brion Pessac was famous among customers across Europe.

And to meet this rising demand in many counties, including England, Arnaud de Pontac, the proprietor of Haut Brion, established a tavern in London in 1666 to promote Chateau Haut Brion and his other brands in England.

After establishing the trend to sell and price wine based on the appellation, the next step was to include the consumer’s preference in classifying a wine. Merchants began offering wines from Pauillac, Margaux, Saint Julien, Saint Estephe, and Graves for tasting and observed the response of their customers’ quest for quality in the appellations.

Thomas Jefferson and Bordeaux Wine

During his visit to Bordeaux in March-June, 1787, Thomas Jefferson, the future President of the United States, compiled his personal list of the finest wines in the region. As we know them, the First Growths were likewise at the top of his list.

He rated the wines of the Medoc to be the first as a whole rather than by appellation. Additionally, he came up with the concept of three classification levels for the wines. During this time, the next level of classified growth emerged, giving birth to what we now refer to as the Second Growths. Thomas Jefferson noted four excellent vineyards in the Bordeaux region:

  1. Chateau Margaux
  2. La Tour Segur (Chateau Latour)
  3. Haut-Brion
  4. Chateau de la Fite (Chateau Lafite Rothschild)

The four best Bordeaux wines nowadays have already been identified by Thomas Jefferson as the best. He placed the four wines in his First Growths, similar to what would happen in the official Classification after tasting by many wine experts many years after during the official 1855 classification.

Other notable tasters who made their own Bordeaux ranking system include Andre Simon in 1800, Guillaume Lawton of Tastet and Lawton in 1815, Wilhelm Franck in 1845, and, most famously, Cocks and Feret in 1850.

Chronology of wine classification

1600s – In the 1600s, customers began classifying Bordeaux wine when the wine was first transported to other countries.

1787 – In 1786, Thomas Jefferson compiled his list of the finest wines during his visit to Bordeaux.

1800 – In 1800, Andre Simon made his Classification.

1815 – Guillaume Lawton of Tastet and Lawton made their Classification.

1845 – In 1845, Wilhelm Franck made his Classification.

1850 – In 1850, Cocks and Feret made their Classification.

1855 – Bordeaux wines were officially classified, which was surprisingly similar to Thomas Jefferson’s.

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