Grand Cru Classé 1855
Discover a wine tradition reaching back to the Napoleonic era that guarantees high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon with rich flavor.
In 1855, Napoleon ordered that wineries be classified in Bordeaux for the world's fair and it hasn't changed since. It's had a profound effect on wine prices in Bordeaux.
The majority of wines in the 1855 classification are red wines from the Médoc region. Made with Cabernet Sauvignon, expect these wines to taste highly structured (as in tannic) with notes of menthol, black currant, and tobacco.
The remaining wines of this system include sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac.
Buyers like to collect Grand Cru Classé wines because they age for decades. Still, the 88 wineries included in the 1855 Grand Cru Classification only account for 5% of the total vineyard area of Bordeaux.
What is the 1855 Cru Classification?
A system created by Napoleon III as part of the world's fair in 1855 to classify the vineyards in Bordeaux. There are five quality tiers for red wines. At the time, this was mostly done based on how much the wine was sold for, rather than a blind tasting of all the wines.
- 5 wineries are 1st growths (Premiers Crus)
- 14 wineries are 2nd growths (Deuxièmes Crus)
- 14 wineries are 3rd growths (Troisièmes Crus)
- 10 wineries are 4th growths (Quatrièmes Crus)
- 18 wineries are 5th growths (Cinquièmes Crus)
The same system also was applied to sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac with the following tiers:
- One winery (Château d’Yquem) is a Premier (1er) Cru Supérieur
- 11 wineries are 1st growths (Premiers Crus)
- 15 wineries are 2nd growths (Deuxièmes Crus)
Why is it so important?
It plays a role, in many ways, as to how much wines cost today, but it's also a strong indicator of quality. If you see "Grand Cru Classé" on a label you know it's a high-quality wine from a winery that's been around since 1855 at least.
You should also expect to pay pretty high prices, ranging from $50-$3000/bottle. Most of these wines should age for at least 5 years before opening, but many of them benefit from more than 10 years of cellaring.
Just because all the wineries are ranked, doesn't always mean, for example, that all 3rd growths are better than all 5th growths. Even though there have been almost no changes in the classification in over 165 years there have been changes to quality over time.
How do I choose?
This comes down to how much you want to spend, along with how well a particular winery did in that vintage (prices vary a lot due to vintage - check out the terroir section to understand why).
Also, it depends a lot on your preferred style of wine. There are differences in flavor, tannin structure, grape blend, and quality that have a lot to do with the soils but also how the wine is made each year, and how much oak is used.
Many people use wine ratings to help them choose too, but really it comes down to preference.
Who does it apply to?
60 wineries in the Médoc (red wines only) 1 winery in Pessac-Léognan, Château Haut-Brion (their red wine only) 27 wineries in Sauternes and Barsac (Sweet wines)
Premiers Crus - Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion
Sweet Wines - Château d'Yquem (actually has its own category above 1st growth – 1er Cru Supérieur)
There has only ever been two changes since 1855 - Château Cantemerle was added in 1856, and in 1973 Château Mouton Rothschild moved from 2nd Growth to 1st Growth.