Wine is something which has withstood many civilizations and generations throughout the world. Wine is more than a libation that we enjoy on many an occasion; it is a story of local culture, of a time and place, language and history. European wine, in particular, can account for endless historical events which have formed the modern-day wine industry and culture, and throughout generations, it has proved to be a coveted product. Today we visit one event in particular that shaped the region of Bordeaux, the Official Wine Classification of 1855.

Emperor Napoleon III & Bordeaux

Although of Italian decent, Emperor Napoleon III was notably a French patriot, and thus, he loved French wine, and it was his intention to showcase the best wines of his country in the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris. However, what happened at that event was nothing short of a defining historical moment for French wine, resulting in the official classification of Bordeaux and its wines.

Napoleon's invitation went out to all the country's wineries, wherein he invited the Chamber of Commerce of Bordeaux. The list, which was sent a couple weeks following the invitation, became the famous list of the classified wine estates of the region. It included all fifth growths or crus; 4 Premier Crus, 12 Second Crus, 14 Third Crus, 11 Fourth Crus and 17 Fifth Crus. The list was to indicate the importance from first growths the to fifth growths, and all of the red wines from the Medoc region made the list with exception to one, Chateau Haut-Brion of the Graves sub-region. As white wines were of less importance, the only white wines to make the exclusive list were those of Sauternes as a first growth (Premier Cru) and Barsac as a second growth (Deuxiemes Crus).

While the event was a highly anticipated one, it is not without merit to say that the authors of the list were well aware that there might be some controversy to arise. All of their selections were wines from the region of the Medoc, except the aforementioned Haut-Brion. While there were/are many other sub-regions of the Bordeaux appellation, it was their argument that Medoc held the most quality of wines and had a long-standing history of wine in the region since the 18th century. Although it was well-known that Graves held an even longer history.

The original list was to rank the chateaus (wine estates) according to their quality within the individual classifications. However, following the criticism received upon public receipt of the list, the Chamber of Commerce adapted the list of each classification to be ordered alphabetically.

The Original 1855 Classification Invitation List

First Growths (Premiers Crus)

  • Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac
  • Chateau Latour, Pauillac
  • Chateau Margaux, Margaux
  • Chateau Haut-Brion, Graves (since 1986, Pessac-Leognan)

Second Growths (Deuxiemes Crus)

  • Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (now in the 1st growth category since 1973), Pauillac
  • Chateau Rauzan-Gassies, Margaux
  • Chateau Leovill Poyferre, St. Julien
  • Chateau Durfort-Vivens, Margaux
  • Chateau Lascombes, Margaux
  • Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Baron, Pauillac
  • Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, St. Julien
  • Chateau Montrose, St. Estephe

Third Growths (Troisiemes Crus)

  • Chateau d'Issan, Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
  • Chateau Langoa Barton, St. Julien
  • Chateau Malescot-St. Exupery, Margaux
  • Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, Margaux
  • Chateau La Lagune, Ludon (Haut Medoc)
  • Chateau Calon-Segur, St. Estephe
  • Chateau Marquis-d'Alesme-Becker, Margaux

Fourth Growths (Quatriemes Crus)

  • Chateau Talbot, St. Julien
  • Chateau Duhart-Milon Rothschild, Pauillac
  • Chateau La Tour Carnet, St. Laurent (Haut Medoc)
  • Chateau Beychevelle, St. Julien
  • Chateau Marquis de Terme, Margaux

Fifth Growths (Cinquiemes Crus)

  • Chateau Batailley, Pauillac
  • Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac
  • Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac
  • Chateau Mouton-Baronne-Phillipe (Chateau d'Armailhac after 1989), Pauillac
  • Chateau Haut-Bages-Liberal, Pauillac
  • Chateau Belgrave, St. Laurent (Haut Medoc)
  • Chateau Cos-Labory, St. Estephe
  • Chateau Croizet-Bages, Pauillac

Classification of 1855: Sauternes and Barsac

Great First Growth (Grand Premier Cru)

  • Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes
  • First Growths (Premiers Crus)
  • Chateau La Tour Blanche Bommes (Sauternes)
  • Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, Bommes (Saturnes)
  • Clos Haut-Peyraguey (Chateau Clos Haut-Peyraguey), Bommes (Sauternes)
  • Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau, Bommes (Sauternes)
  • Chateau Suduiraut, Preignac (Sauternes)
  • Chateau Coutet, Barsac
  • Chateau Climens, Barsac
  • Chateau Guiraud, Sauternes
  • Chateau Rieussec, Fargues (Sauternes)
  • Chateau Rabaud-Promis, Bommes (Sauternes)
  • Chateau Sigalas-Rabaud, Bommes (Sauternes)

Second Growths (Deuxiemes Crus)

  • Chateau Myrat (Chateau de Myrat), Barsac
  • Chateau Doisy-Daene, Barsac
  • Chateau Doisy-Dubroca, Barsac
  • Chateau Doisy-Vedrines, Barsac
  • Chateau d'Arche, Sauternes
  • Chateau Filhot, Sauternes
  • Chateau Broustet, Barsac
  • Chateau Nairac, Barsac
  • Chateau Caillou, Barsac
  • Chateau Suau, Barsac
  • Chateau de Malle, Preignac (Sauternes)
  • Chateau Romer (Chateau Romer du Hayot), Fargues (Sauternes)
  • Chateau Lamothe (Sauternes)

The original list of the Wine Classification of 1855 included fifty-eight chateaus. Today, that list includes sixty-one. It is not a list in which any chateau can be added simply for the reason that the wine they produce is that of quality in our present day. In order to become an amendment to the list, an estate must be able to trace its lineage to the original classification. The latest amendment to the list occurred in 1973, when after fifty years of relentless efforts, Baron Philippe de Rothschild was finally recognized and was able to elevate the classification of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild to Premier Cru status.

Further on in 1986, Chateau Haut-Brion was at the center of attention when its designated appellation was changed from Graves to Pessac-Leognan due to a further analysis of the appellation's soils.