Before I dive into the other regions of Bordeaux, I’m going to attempt to tackle the Bordeaux Classification System. Um…wish me luck…
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
I think the best way to do this is from the ground up. As in, the most “generic” labeling to the most specific.
Wines labeled “Bordeaux” or “Bordeaux” Supérier” will be the most “generic,” meaning that the grapes for either of these wines can be sourced from anywhere in Bordeaux. They’re usually known to drink well young, not necessarily meant for aging, and are “easy drinking” wines.
It’s when we get into the smaller appellations where we have to pay a little bit more attention, as a few appellations have their own laws and regulations regarding wine classification.
Let’s start with Médoc, on the Left Bank.
As we discussed in a previous post, the Médoc is divided into two broad regions: Médoc and Haut-Médoc. These regions are then further divided into villages (sometimes referred to as communes), the most renowned of which are: St. Estéph, Pauilliac, St. Julien and Margaux. Note: All of these village appellations are for red wine only. There are no smaller appellations used to indicate the quality status of these red wines.
Within the Médoc two classifications are currently in place:
- The 1855 Classification: I alluded to this in an earlier post. But basically, as understand it, way back when (1855 to be exact), the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce rated the best chateaux (of the time) in Médoc, into five quality levels.
Note: Winemakers do not have to list what level they were classified into, instead simply labeling their wines with the name of their chateau, the appellation, and the words ” grand cru classé.” Example below.
This list is still in place. And the weirdo thing about it is that the classification refers to the chateaux, not the actual vineyards. So, technically, someone listed as a premier cru chateaux, could sell his fancy vineyard, purchase a cheaper vineyard and still have premier cru status because it refers to, basically, his “brand name.” Yeah.
The same is true of Sauternes. This list indicates the best white wine producers and only has three levels of classification.
PS There’s no way to wiggle your way into this club. You missed out in 1855? Sorry.
Are we still altogether?
2. THE LOOPHOLE: Crus Bourgeois
Wines that were not included in the 1855 Classification can apply for the status cru bourgeois. Unlike the crus classé situation, the cru bourgeois status applies to the individual wine (not the chateau/brand name nor the vineyards from which the grapes were harvested). Also unlike the cru classé, one can actually apply for the cru bourgeois status every year. (Of course, you have to pass the entry application process to actually label your wine[s] cru bourgeois.)
FOOTNOTE: Because you can’t time travel back to 1855 and put your name on the list and because you have to submit you individual wine(s) for cru bourgeois status each year, there are producers who are not classified under either of these.
How am I doing so far?
Graves…also Left Bank
Within Graves, there is only one appellation for white wine: Pessac-Léognan
The wines of Graves are classified with parallel, but separate lists: one for red and one for white wines. So a chateau in Graves could have cru classé status for their red wine, but not their whites. FUN FACT: The soils of Pessac-Léognan are very similar to that found in the Haut-Médoc (gravelly, well-drained), thus produce very high quality Cabernet Sauvignon. Although, it’s noted that the wines themselves are a little lighter in body and ore fragrant that those found in Haut-Médoc. But that has no affect on the overall quality (or price) of these esteemed red wines.
When it comes to the classification, there is no hierarchy of quality, as in Médoc; wines within the classification are simply labeled cru classé, and there is a separate list for red wines and white wines.
NOTE: All the crus classé chateaux actually lie within the Pessac-Léognan region, as this appellation was created after the Graves classification was created.
Omigod…I think I’m slowly making sense of all this. How are you doing?
St. Émillion…Right Bank
Here, the classification system is incorporated into the appellation system. So we have, at our base level, St. Émillion appellated wines. Above that, St. Émillion Grand Cru Classé. And above that we have St. Émllion Premier Grand Cru Classé. (Yea…all the words. just…all…the…words…) NOTE: Because this is part of the appellation system, all the words will appear on the label. (Yeah, all the words…)
Why we love Pomerol
Pomerol is on the Right Bank, which I have to admit is where most of my favorite Bordeaux wines come from. I read an interesting article that tried to define the difference between the wines of St. Émillion to that of Pomerol. (If I can find it again, I’ll add the link here.) And, while it admitted that even the most seasoned tasters struggled to tell the difference between the two, it did conclude that the wines from Pomerol, in general are just a tad bit richer, spicier, and in some cases more tannic. It has mostly to do, as I noted before, with the soil composition that varies ever so slightly between the two regions. Hm, but I digress once again.
Why do we love Pomerol? They have no specific classification system. Done deal.
Ok, how’d I do? Did I say this clearly enough? Questions, comments, concerns, observations or requests? Do you have any tricks to memorizing all this chaos?
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