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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Blasphemy! A Modern Bordeaux Classification

Context: This is an exercise in 'vinitainment', not a serious attempt to subvert 159 years of tradition. Though, by 'tradition' I mean bureaucratic conformity.

Any lover of wine who studies Bordeaux learns of the famed 1855 classification and wonders about its relevance in the modern world. Originally created at the request of Napoleon III to communicate to the visitors of that year’s Exposition Universelle in Paris which of Bordeaux’s many châteaux produced the “best” wines. The 1855 classification was a collaborative effort by the region’s negociant (wine brokers) based on a review of each established château’s reputation and the quality of its wines which directly affected the trading price the negociant could, well, negotiate. Essentially, the theory was people will pay more for prestige (both actual and perceived) and quality, therefore, these principles should form the basis of the ranking system: aka, money talks.

Today, people are exactly the same. Today’s Bordeaux landscape reflects this pay for prestige mentality with many lower or un-classified wines repeatedly commanding higher prices than supposedly ‘superior’ wines (based on their historical classification) thanks to higher scores from critics and changing palates. The 1855 ranking simply doesn’t match the modern market where consumers are rewarding château with their patronage who have earned their enhanced reputations thanks to investments made in their vineyards and the use of modernized winemaking techniques.

Not to mention the most glaringly obvious omission of the 1855 classification, by today’s standards, is that Right Bank wines were never included. This was due to the fact that, in 1855, Right Bank wines were yet to attract the international recognition their Left Bank cousins had been afforded since the British occupied Aquitaine. Right Bank wines were classified separately in the twentieth century, within their own communes, in an attempt to set-up their own regional hierarchy. However, too many classifications creates confusion for consumers and it’s time for a do-over; one rank to rule them all.

Thus, I offer-up a modernized classification of Bordeaux châteaux based on the original concept that a wine’s ranking should be based on the price it can fetch on the open market, which, in turn, is based on its perceived prestige and the points it gets awarded routinely by established critics. We’ll call this new classification “3P” for Prestige, Points and (most importantly) Price.

  • Red wines from all Bordeaux AOC (Left and Right Bank) have been considered.
  • Sauternes/Barsac wines have been included.
  • Dry white wines, never part of the original classification, have been excluded.
  • Classification is based solely on the Chateaux’s primary/namesake wine. “2nd Label” wines have been excluded.

Second Growth - coming soon
Third Growth - coming soon
Fourth Growth - coming soon
Fifth Growth - coming soon

First Growth

A modern, re-imagined classification of Bordeaux's First Growth wines: (listed alphabetically)

Angélus, Saint-Émilion (New)
Ausone, Saint-Émilion (New)
Cheval Blanc, Saint-Émilion (New)
Haut-Brion (Red), Graves
Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac
Latour, Pauillac
La Mission Haut-Brion, Graves (New
Le Pin, Pomerol (New)
Margaux, Margaux
Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac
Palmer, Margaux (New)
Petrus, Pomerol (New)
D’Yquem, Sauternes (New)

Inclusion of the elite wines of the Right Bank, which routinely outsell the original Left Bank First Growths, is a no-brainer. However, the biggest benefactor of a modern re-classification is the addition of new Left Bank wines: Palmer from Margaux and La Mission Haut-Brion from Graves.

Chateau Palmer was a lowly Third Growth under the old classification despite its long history of achieving excellent scores and consistently outselling all Second Growth wines over the past 15-20 years. Palmer deserves to 

La Mission Haut-Brion sits adjacent to the Haut-Brion property and since the early 20th century has been considered its equal in every way; often matching the release price and critical scores of its famous neighbour. Both properties release a limited amount of a namesake white wine which could both easily have been added to the list of First Growth wines if we were to include white wines in this classification.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Monthly Picks: April - World Malbec Day

April's only official statutory holiday is Easter, but there's another fun fiesta worth making on your calendar taking place on the 17th: World Malbec Day.

Yes, it's a creation of the Wines of Argentina marketing machine, but we're willing to put that aside and embrace the manufactured reason to enjoy a bottle of Malbec along with millions of our wine-loving peers world wide.

Many liquor stores and wine shops have also embraced the idea, so look for complimentary Malbec tastings at your local haunt on the day. Sip, quaff and take home a bottle. Or, for those of you in too much of a hurry to stop and go through a few samples, here are some Malbec recommendations to fulfil your quick shopping requirements:

Graffigna 2011 Centenario Reserve Malbec - $14.50
Impressive intensity and balance of aromas on the nose of this Malbec with ripe blackberry and sweet spices in the lead supported by light, toasted oak and sun-drenched rock notes.
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Pascual Toso 2012 Malbec - $15
This easy-drinking, fruit-forward Malbec offers plenty of juicy, ripe cherry and tangy wild-blackberry fruit on the otherwise spicy-vanilla nose and the mild-mannered palate where light tannins and acidity play a supporting role to the hero of the wine, its tangy, fleshy fruit.
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Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón 2012 '1884' Reservado Malbec - $17
There's a warm smokiness on the nose of this Malbec that envelopes the blue fruit, mocha and light spice aromas while hints of vanilla and oak poke through the fog adding impressive depth and complexity for this price point.
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Luigi Bosca 2011  Malbec - $20
A very pure expression of Malbec with a focus on the balance between the natural, fleshy-fruit and peppercorn qualities of the variety. Some oak influence from 12 months in French barrels is perceptible and successfully enhances both the blackberry and plum-infused nose and the modern, fruit-forward, easy-drinking palate. 
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Michel Torino 2011 Don David Finca La Maravilla #6 - $20
This inky-purple, single-vineyard Malbec from the Cafayate Valley packs a punch. Albeit, a well-balanced, accurate punch. Should make for an excellent pairing with a fine cut of beef, either grilled or broiled.
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Bodega Norton 2010 Reserva Malbec - $20
Warm, inviting and layered, the Reserva from Bodegas Norton is the Malbec for lovers of red wines with character, a sense of place and bold fruit but without the residual sweetness all too common among red wines these days.
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River Stone Estate Winery 2012 Malbec Rosé - $20
Bold, both in hue and in flavour, the River Stone Malbec Rosé is one of the more colourful and fuller-bodied blush wines on the market in BC today.
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Perseus Winery 2011 Select Lots Syrah Malbec - $29
Sourced from vineyards in the Similkameen Valley and Osoyoos, this blend of 68% Syrah, 23% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot and 3% Merlot offers ripe and spicy red and blue fruit aromas on a charming nose enhanced with toasted oak notes and hints of cinnamon sticks.
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 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2014