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

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