Wine Ranking System Of Bordeaux & Burgundy And Their Exclusivity
France has always enjoyed the spotlight and center stage in the winemaking industry. French wines are unique in their flavor profile, texture, body, and aroma. Thanks to the terroir and expertise of the French winemakers and the efforts invested in preserving the centuries-old winemaking traditions, French wines—including Bordeaux & Burgundy wines—are globally renowned for their incredible quality, excellence, and experience.
To help understand why French wines are revered in the wine world, let us look into the ranking system of Burgundy & Bordeaux. This will allow us to tell their inherent differences and deepen our insights into the astonishing tradition of French wines. Before we delve deeper into the wine ranking system of Bordeaux & Burgundy, let’s take a second to touch on their history.
History of Bordeaux Wine
A trip into the beautiful and charismatic wine world will lead us to regions that have graced the world with one of the finest quality wines. They are recognized worldwide, and their tastes have set the bar high for other winemaking industries to follow. While the Barolo wine region of Italy and the Rioja region in Spain are famous names among wine enthusiasts, consumers, and producers; one name that stands out is France’s Bordeaux.
Bordeaux resonates louder and is revered amongst other wine regions in the world. It is home to some of the world’s most expensive wines, and its low-end bottles are also known to deliver value. For centuries, this city has maintained its excellence and influence as a global leader in winemaking.
What Makes Bordeaux Wine So Special?
The leading factors and rationale behind the approbation of Bordeaux wines as tour de force among their peers lie in the climate and soil conditions of the region. The climate in Bordeaux is perfect for viticulture and winemakers in this region understand how to make the most of these conditions. The favorable climate and soil quality, alongside the cooling oceanic winds and teeming trade interests, make Bordeaux what wine experts tag the “perfect wine country.“
The “character” of all these factors make Bordeaux wines so special. Moreover, these wines are judiciously blended and made from various noble grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The perfect blend of these varietals earned Bordeaux wines their title.
The Two Bordeaux Wine Regions
It is also worth mentioning that Bordeaux is divided into two distinct regions by the Gironde River; wines from both areas are characterized by their astringency and body. Consequently, they have distinct specifications.
Wines from the left bank of the Gironde River are characterized by their high concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon, which creates wines with elevated levels of tannins and astringency. These qualities are toned down and balanced by small quantities of Merlot, which produce their softness and refined feel into the mix.
Furthermore, wines from the right bank of the Gironde River are rich in Merlot — making them plumb, fruity and soft. Small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon are added to give it body and strength. Different wineries mix various other grape varieties to create unique blends of wines on both sides of the river.
Bordeaux Wine Classification
To maintain the high standards of wines from this region. Bordeaux created a specific ranking system that grouped various wines based on their quality and prestige. The earliest of these classifications (the 1855 classification) dates back to the era of Napoleon III in 1855. In addition to wine “craftsmanship” in the area, this wine classification also considers the terroir characteristics in the region. The wines are listed in a particular order that depicts their seniority.
Various classifications in the Bordeaux region include the 1855 classification. The Grave’s classification, the Saint Emillion’s classification, the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification, and the Crus Artisans classification. These classifications have been elaborated as follows:
- The 1855 Classification — the primary criteria for this classification are the price and the reputation of wine. It is only applicable to red wines from Médoc (although one wine from Graves is included) and the sweet whites from the Sauternes and Barsac appellations.
- The Graves Classification — Established in 1953, it is a unique classification because it only recognizes a single classification level without considering any hierarchy. It classifies wines based on their color type (whether red or white) and municipality.
- The Saint-Emilion Classification — This classification was initiated in 1954 by the Institut national des appellations d’origine (INAO). The classsification of its Crus began at the request Syndicat de défense de l’appellation Saint-Émilion. It is constantly revised by the INO at the end of each decade. So far, six revisions of this classification have been performed, and the last was published in 2012 under INO’s supervision and contributions from ministries of consumption and agriculture — it recognizes 82 estates.
- The Crus Bourgeois du Médoc Classification — This classification is based on the value and quality of red wines from the Médoc Overall, there are eight appellations, namely Saint-Estèphe, Médoc, Saint-Julien, Listrac, Pauillac, Moulis, Margaux, and Haut-Médoc. More than 240 estates are chosen to form Alliance des Crus Bourgeois — combined; they constitute at least 40% of Médoc’s wine production.
- The Crus Artisans Classification — Last but not least is the Crus Artisans. It considers mostly small estates from me Médoc appellations. These small wineries often belonged to blacksmiths, coopers, and wheelwrights, among other artisans. All 36 estates are listed in the 2012 journal of Crus Artisans Classifications, which is reviewed after every five years.
Burgundy Wines and Their Classification
While Bordeaux wines are known for their blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (along with a small amount of other varietals like Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot), Burgundy wines are famous for two primary varietals — Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for red and white wines, respectively. Unlike their Bordeaux counterparts, which can be made from a blend of the varietals mentioned above, Burgundy wines are produced with only one variety. 
Burgundy wines are often described as complex. The unfamiliar vineyards and villages where they originate can further complicate them for people who are new to wine. One does not need to be an expert to understand and savor the taste of these wines, all you need is basic knowledge of what sets them apart.
Unlike Bordeaux wines, which are classified more by producer and chateaux, Burgundy wines are categorized more by the geography of the region in which they are produced.
The Burgundy wine classification is visible on all the labels, including the name of the region or appellations followed by the producer’s name printed in small texts at the bottom. Burgundy classification in order of wine quality is given as follows:
- Grand Cru wines — This category comprises the best wines from small and the best vineyards.
- Premier Cru wines — This classification consists of wines from small vineyards. However, the quality of wines in this group is not up to the standard of the Grand Crus.
- Villages wines – communal wines, his classification is lesser to the previous two and deals with wine from specific communes and villages which are unique.
- AOC Burgundy – Any wine from Burgundy that follows the rules and regulations, but isn’t considered among the top.
Classifications of Burgundy wines are based on the village and regional appellations. Sparkling wines produced with grapes other than Chardonnay or Pinot Noir feature at the regional level. White and red wines can be found on the first three levels, as well as sparkling wines.
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On this Day
September 6, 2012 — The final classification of Saint Emillion’s was published. The publication listed 82 estates consisting of 64 Grand Crus and 18 Premier Crus.
April 20, 1808 — Napoleon III was born on this date. His full name was Charles-Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. He became the French emperor after serving as president from 1848 to 1852. His reign as emperor spanned from 1852 to 1870.
- Mitrofan-Norris, Benjamin. 2022. “What’s so Special About Bordeaux? – Winecoolerdirect.Com”. Winecoolerdirect.Com. https://learn.winecoolerdirect.com/bordeaux-basics/.
- “Understanding The Wines Of Burgundy, France | Double Decanted”. 2022. Doubledecanted.Com. https://doubledecanted.com/understanding-wines-burgundy-france/.