Bordeaux wines are famous for full-bodied red wine blends tasting of dark fruit and spices, dry white wines with tropical fruit, and luscious sweet wines.
Within the region of Bordeaux you'll find several special classifications on bottle labels. In fact, there are five different cru classification systems used throughout the region!
What's interesting to note is that all of the systems have tremendous wineries within them, so it's a great way to find high quality wines.
1855 Grand Cru Classé
During Napoleon's rule, an effort was made to categorize the best wineries in Bordeaux. The classification includes 5 quality tiers and a total of 88 wineries. What's surprising is that the still stands today!
Of the 88 wineries, 60 wineries sit in Médoc, one sits in Pessac-Léognan, and 27 sit in Sauternes and Barsac. There are only 5 wineries on the top tier.
For the longest time, if you weren't on the 1855 Grand Cru Classé system, you were basically a second-class winery–even if you made delicious wine! So, in an attempt to level the playing field in the Médoc region, another cru system was created: Cru Bourgeois (1932) with about 250 producers today!
Cru Classé de Graves
Sometimes this classification is called the Cru Classé de Pessac-Léognan because all the wineries are in Pessac! This cru classé system is quite small – just 16 wineries. What makes it unique is that it's one of the only crus in Bordeaux that features white wines prominently.
Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé
On the right bank, you'll find one of the most prestigious (and contentious) classification systems. The Grand Crus de Saint-Émilion was established in 1954 and has two tiers: Grand Cru Classé and Premier Grand Cru Classé. Within the Premier Grand Cru Classé category there are two divisions, A and B.
What makes this system unique is that wineries are reclassified every 10 years based on quality. And this means if you don't continue to make great wine, you will lose your cru status!
Currently, there are 64 wineries with "Grand Cru Classé" status, and 18 wineries with "Premier Grand Cru Classé" status. Of the 18 Premier Grand Cru Classé wineries 4 fall into the “A” category and 14 into “B”.
Premier Grand Cru Classé “A” wineries are considered some of the finest wines in Bordeaux, though it's useful to note that a couple famous wineries in Saint-Émilion recently refuse to be classified.
Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur
On the regional level, you'll find a couple of differences on the label.
- Bordeaux – This is the basic classification of Bordeaux which includes red, white, rosé, "clairet" (a darker traditional rosé) and sparkling Crémant de Bordeaux. These are affordable, daily drinkers–food wines.
- Bordeaux Supérieur – This regional classification has slightly more rigorous grape quality standards and can be found on dry white and red wines from Bordeaux. Some producers make their "Grand Vin" (best wine) a Bordeaux Supérieur so it's an interesting appellation to look for quality from lesser known wineries.