Do Bordeaux classifications really matter? That persistently thorny question came into red-hot focus recently, when the two original Saint-Émilion Grands Crus Classés “A”, Cheval Blanc and Ausone, announced they were not submitting applications for the 2022 classification.
Bordeaux collectors went into meltdown. Since the classification system is inherently part of any value calculation, it is essential…. Or so we thought?
BORDEAUX WINE CLASSIFICATIONS
Before tackling the grand issue of their relevance, here is a quick review of the Bordeaux Classifications:
1855 Médoc and Sauternes: Emperor Napoleon III famously called for a ranking of France’s best Bordeaux for the Exposition Universelle de Paris. Négociants graded wines from first to fifth growths according to reputation and price. The categories have existed unchanged since 1855, aside from the renowned (almost-mythical) reclassification of Château Mouton Rothschild, after decades of intense lobbying by Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
1953 Graves: Estates in Pessac-Léognan (aside from Château Haut-Brion which had already been classified as a First Growth in 1855) were ranked for both red and white wines by a jury appointed by l’Institut National des Appellations d’Origine. The classification has been amended several times, most recently in 1987.
Cru Bourgeois: Includes châteaux from the Médoc that were not included in the 1855 Classification — properties of high quality, but of a level below Cru Classé. The first classification was drawn up in 1932 and revised several times, most recently in 2020.
Crus Artisans du Médoc: In existence for over 150 years, this classification includes small wineries in Haut-Médoc, Listrac, Moulis, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac, and Saint-Estèphe.
Saint-Émilion: The first list of classified Saint-Émilion estates was established in 1955. Since the initial ranking, the classification has been revised every 10 years, more or less, in 1969, 1986, 1996, 2006, and 2012. However the 2006 classification was declared invalid following a series of legal actions, and the 1996 version of the classification was reinstated for the vintages from 2006 to 2009.
Pomerol: Ironically, one of the region’s most notable appellations is unclassified.
Needless to say, the current classification system is incredibly complicated, but mostly, extraordinarily contentious!
Looking at the classified châteaux from the perspective of their prices in 1982 to 2005, “only 28 of the 61 estates would still remain in their original price groups. Several would warrant a higher placement, including Palmer, Lynch-Bages, Pontet-Canet and Grand-Puy-Lacoste.” (Benjamin Lewin, What Price Bordeaux?)
It is also worth noting that the wine of the era leading up to the 1855 Classification was unlike any contemporary red Bordeaux. It was “based on a differing mix of grape varieties, underwent a short fermentation and contained rather low levels of alcohol and tannin. In other words, not only has the position of many individual châteaux within the 1855 ranking evolved significantly, when judged by relative price; so has the actual taste profile of the wines themselves.” (Clive Coates, Grands Vins – The Finest Châteaux and Their Wines)
Moreover, during the past decades, ownership and personnel changes have constantly rearranged the status of Bordeaux châteaux. New investment and skillful winemaking have created superb non-classified estates. Ultimately, most critics and collectors agree: the marketplace sets the true value and rank of each property. “Any classification tends to be a partly subjective – if not political – exercise and cannot be considered exhaustive or precise. There is no substitute for knowing the individual properties, classified or not.” (Roger C. Bohmrich, Wine Auction Prices)
So perhaps, Cheval Blanc and Ausone are simply confirming what we intuitively knew all along? Classifications, if not obsolete, are at least less important than Liv-Ex (London International Vinters Exchange), Decanter, Wine Spectator, Vinous, et al. in determining value and, therefore, ranking.
OUR TOP-TIER BORDEAUX ESTATES
In response to the “Classification Controversy” we’ve put together a hierarchy based on our personal experiences over the years and critics’ reviews. These are estates we feel are eligible for inclusion in the top-tier along with First Growth properties. An in-depth classification for the entire region follows. All featured products can be ordered directly online — most are in stock, although some items may not be available until November. Write [email protected] or call 850-687-1370 for additional information.
Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande: Roederer Champagne acquired Pichon Lalande in 2007 and immediately launched a complete renovation — from replanted vineyards, to new cellars and the Château itself. The elegant reception areas now showcase spectacular views of neighboring Château Latour, a subtle reminder that the Comtesse shares the same terroir and now has a world-class winemaking facility and staff to match.
2009 Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. RP-97+ $203.99. 46 bottles
2015 Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. AG-98. $192.99. 36 bottles
2016 Château Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. JD-100. $219.99. 12 bottles
2009 Réserve de la Comtesse. $69.99. 9 bottles
2018 Réserve de la Comtesse. JS-94. $49.99. 18 bottles
Château Pontet Canet: Alfred Tesseron purchased Pontet-Canet back in 1975, but he and his talented technical directors — first, Jean-Michel Comme and now Mathieu Bessonnet — continue to update and implement biodynamic techniques. To age the wine, the estate uses a combination of new and one-year old French oak barrels along with 100 clay amphorae. The clay amphorae were a hefty investment, but the Pontet-Canet team feel that limiting oak is essential and the added minerality from the clay is of benefit. Obviously, the critics agree.
2015 Château Pontet-Canet. JS-98. $129.99. 30 bottles
2016 Château Pontet-Canet. WE-100. $154.99. 30 bottles
2016 Château Pontet-Canet in Magnum. WE-100. $358.99. 17 bottles
Châteaux Palmer: Thomas Duroux, CEO for Palmer once told us: “Palmer is a strange beast. It doesn’t know if it’s a Third Growth or Super Second. But it does have a very unique identity and style.” Hard to imagine now, that Palmer was ranked as a Third Growth in 1855. We’d argue that the many innovations in biodynamic farming and a string of 100-point ratings have secured Palmer’s spot within Bordeaux’s top tier.
2006 Château Palmer. $286.99. 15 bottles
2009 Château Palmer. JD-99. $379.99. 30 bottles
2010 Château Palmer. RP-98+ $375.99. 8 bottles
2014 Château Palmer. AG-95+ $279.99. 12 bottles
2015 Château Palmer. JS-100. $349.99. 12 bottles
2016 Château Palmer. AG-100. $349.99. 34 bottles
2015 Alter Ego de Palmer. JS-96. $93.99. 33 bottles
Château Rauzan-Ségla: The Wertheimer family, owners of Chanel luxury goods, acquired Rauzan-Ségla in 1994 and began renovating the property from top to bottom. Vineyards were replanted and large tanks were replaced by smaller capacity vats per parcel, allowing for more precise vinification. Nicolas Audebert, known for his creativity and love of “breaking just a few rules” (Decanter) took over winemaking duties in 2014 and also oversees Châteaux Canon and Berliquet in Bordeaux and Domaine de I’lle in Provence.
2009 Château Rauzan-Ségla. JS-96. $179.99. 12 bottles
2010 Château Rauzan-Ségla. JD-98. $158.99. 5 bottles
2015 Château Rauzan-Ségla. JD-98. $129.99. 20 bottles
2016 Château Rauzan-Ségla. JD-98. $114.99. 13 bottles
2017 Château Rauzan-Ségla. RP-96+ $77.99. 10 bottles
Château Malescot-St.-Exupéry: When the Zuger family bought Malescot-St. Exupéry in 1955, only 7 hectares of vines were planted! It’s taken almost 40 years, but the property now encompasses 30 hectares; the cellars and vats are state-of-the-art. Recent ratings reflect the effort and dedication lavished on the property. Not quite top-tier just yet, but knocking at the door.
2009 Château Malescot-St-Exupéry. JS-98. $119.99. 18 bottles
2010 Château Malescot-St-Exupéry. JS-95. $108.99. 20 bottles
2015 Château Malescot-St-Exupéry. JS-97. $79.99. 3 bottles
2016 Château Malescot-St-Exupéry. JS-97. $79.99. 36 bottles
2018 Château Malescot-St-Exupéry. JS-97. $68.99. 36 bottles
Château Cos d’Estournel: A long, distinguished history, beginning with original owner Louis Gaspard d’Estournel, has made Cos d’Estournel a formidable presence in Bordeaux. Hotel magnate Michel Reybier, owner of La Réserve luxury properties as well as Chateau Montelena in Napa, acquired Cos d’Estournel in 2000 and made a great property even better.
2008 Château Cos d’Estournel. JD-95. $179.99. 12 bottles
2009 Château Cos d’Estournel. JD-100. RP-100. $338.99. 36 bottles
2012 Château Cos d’Estournel. AG-94. $169.99. 6 bottles
2015 Château Cos d’Estournel. JS-98. $209.99. 6 bottles
2016 Château Cos d’Estournel. JS-100 RP-100 NM-100. $239.99. 5 bottles
2018 Cos d’Estournel. JD-98+ $199.99. 9 bottles
2016 Les Pagodes de Cos d’Estournel. JS-94. $49.99. 21 bottles
2018 Les Pagodes de Cos d’Estournel. $56.99. 10 bott
Château Montrose: Montrose has been producing great wine for centuries. Any number of investors have coveted the property, but telecom and construction industrialists Martin & Olivier Bouygues, managed to acquire the estate in 2006. The brothers invested an additional $65 million in renovations which included highly sophisticated geothermal systems, making Montrose one of the most energy-efficient properties in the Médoc. In 2010, the Bouygues also purchased a 49-acre parcel from Château Phélan-Ségur, to extend the estate.
2010 Château Montrose. RP-100. $264.99. 3 bottles
2012 Château Montrose. WE-95. $99.99. 4 bottles
2015 Château Montrose. JS-98. $148.99. 18 bottles
2016 Château Montrose. JD-100. $214.99. 42 bottles
2018 Château Montrose. JD-100. $199.99. 12 bottles
2015 La Dame de Montrose. JS-94. $49.99. 28 bottles
Château Calon-Ségur: Insurance giant, Suravenir Assurances, along with Pétrus’ owner Jean-Pierre Moueix and Duclot Négociants, purchased Calon-Ségur for over $215 million, in 2012. Since then, extensive renovations, costing well over $24 million, have been completed. The talented team and huge influx of cash have been worth the effort. The estate is producing superb wines with outstanding ratings.
2015 Château Calon-Ségur. WE-96. $126.99. 2 bottles
2017 Château Calon-Ségur. WE-96. $94.99. 6 bottles
2018 Le Marquis de Calon by Calon-Ségur. $33.99. 9 bottles
Château Léoville-Poyferré: The Cuvelier family bought Château Léoville-Poyferré, back in the 1920’s. More recently, Didier Cuvelier has worked to upgrade the property. Over 20 hectares of vines have been replanted and, in 2014, new cellars were constructed with 20 stainless steel, double skin vats, allowing for parcel by parcel vinification. The results speak for themselves, with consistently high ratings and 100-point wines.
2003 Château Léoville-Poyferré. RP-96 $174.99. 12 bottles
2005 Château Léoville-Poyferré. NM-95. $161.99. 30 bottles
2006 Château Léoville-Poyferré. $117.99. 24 bottles
2009 Château Léoville-Poyferré. JD-100 RP-100. $248.99. 10 bottles
2010 Château Léoville-Poyferré. JD-99. $184.99. 42 bottles
2011 Château Léoville-Poyferré. RP-94. $92.99. 13 bottles
2012 Château Léoville-Poyferré. WE 94-96. $92.99. 13 bottles
2014 Château Léoville-Poyferré. NM-95. $83.99. 25 bottles
2015 Château Léoville-Poyferré. JD-97. $102.99. 45 bottles
2016 Château Léoville-Poyferré. DC-98. $109.99. 65 bottles
2017 Château Léoville-Poyferré. AG-97. $79.99. 8 bottles
2018 Château Léoville-Poyferré. JD-100. $106.99. 21 bottles
Château Léoville-Barton: Founded in 1821 by Irish merchant Hugh Barton, the estate is still managed by the Barton family, who constantly upgrade the property and produce outstanding wine. Wine Spectator recently named Léoville-Barton’s 2016 vintage the “Wine of the Year.”
2010 Château Léoville-Barton. WE-100. $179.99. 3 bottles
2012 Château Léoville-Barton. WE 94-96. $94.99. 55 bottles
2016 Château Léoville-Barton. Wine Spectator “Wine of the Year” $149.99. 75 bottles
2017 Château Léoville-Barton. AG-96. $79.99. 16 bottles
Château Pape Clément: The former estate of Pope Clément V, is one of the oldest and most historic Grands Crus in Bordeaux. Equally imposing is the property’s current owner, Bernard Magrez. A wine impresario like no other, Magrez owns 42 vineyards around the world with annual sales of 4.5 million bottles — but Château Pape Clément is the crown jewel in his collection.
Not surprisingly, Magrez has become known for his use of technology. He was one of the first proprietors to employ drones equipped with cameras and other sensors designed to measure plant damage, water stress, vine health and ripeness levels. Magrez has also created a massive project to address climate change, with a collection of 75 grape varietals designed to identify new hybrids. Clearly a top-tier property, Château Pape Clément produces highly-rated Bordeaux Blancs as well.
2005 Château Pape Clément. RP-99. $244.99. 12 bottles
2010 Château Pape Clément. RP-100. $259.99. 6 bottles
2015 Château Pape Clément. JS-99. $119.99. 13 bottles
2016 Château Pape Clément. JS-98. $117.99. 45 bottles
2018 Château Pape Clément. JD-99. $94.99. 11 bottles
2016 Le Clémentin du Château Pape Clément. $49.99. 12 bottles
Château Smith Haut Lafitte: Many Bordeaux historians feel that Smith Haut Lafitte should have been ranked as a First or Second Growth in the 1955 Classification. Daniel Cathiard, owner of Smith Haut Lafitte, shared the backstory with us: “The original owner of the estate was Lodi-Martin Duffour-Dubergier, Mayor of Bordeaux and President of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce. Because of his stature and influence in the region, he was reluctant to promote his own Château.”
“I admire the fact that he never used his position and connections to promote himself and his estates,” Daniel said (with a wry smile) “But there are other days, I wish he had!” We think that by any standard, Smith Haut Lafitte clearly belongs in the top-tier category.
2009 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge. RP-100. $299.99. 19 bottles
2010 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge. RP-98+ $169.99. 9 bottles
2011 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge. RP-94+ $88.99. 8 bottles
2013 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge. $87.99. 49 bottles
2014 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge. JS-96. $89.99. 48 bottles
2016 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge. DC-98. $118.99. 47 bottles
2018 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Rouge. JD-99. $129.99. 3 bottles
2015 Château Smith Haut Lafitte “Les Hauts de Smith” Rouge. JS-93. $37.99. 18 bottles
2017 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc. RP-97+ $124.99. 36 bottles
2019 Château Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc. RP 96-98+ $99.99. 30 bottles
Château Figeac: During the last Saint-Émilion reclassification in 2012, Figeac had lobbied heavily to be promoted to Grand Cru Classé “A” status. When that didn’t occur, the estate owner, Marie-France Manoncourt, retired manager Eric d’Aramon and promoted Frederic Faye as director with the goal to upgrade and modernize the property. (The decision was somewhat controversial, since d’Aramon was also Manoncourt’s son-in-law.)
By 2018, Faye had modernized the cellars to allow for a complete plot-by-plot vinification and the old pumps were replaced with a new gravity-flow system. Particularly significant, was Faye’s decision to replant older Merlot vines with Cabernet Sauvignon. Many critics feel that 2015 and 2016 are “some of the best wines in the estate.” (Wine Cellar Insider) When the Saint-Émilion reclassification is announced in 2022, Château Figeac is definitely a property to watch.
2009 Château Figeac. DC-97. $269.99. 22 bottles
2010 Château Figeac. JS-98. $269.99. 12 bottles
2012 Château Figeac in Magnum. JS-94. $295.99. 2 bottles
2018 Château Figeac. WE-100. $235.99. 15 bottles
Château Troplong-Mondot: It’s almost impossible to imagine a better location — Troplong-Mondot sits majestically at the top of the Saint-Émilion plateau, with views of the village and surrounding vineyards below. For many years the Valette family, who owned the estate, also ran a Michelin-star restaurant that was considered one of the best in Bordeaux, both for the spectacular setting and the cuisine.
In July 2017, French Insurance Company SCOR bought Troplong-Mondot for the then record-setting price of $8 million per hectare. An additional 10.5 hectares were acquired from nearby properties. After the purchase, all amenities were shut down and the entire property was revamped from top to bottom. Aymeric de Gironde, then director of Château Cos d’Estournel, was hired to manage the estate.
Under Gironde, Troplong-Mondot has become different stylistically as well. Harvesting is earlier and the amount of new oak has been reduced. In describing the 2018 vintage, Jane Anson of Decanter wrote: “Many suggested, Gironde has gone too far in his quest to rewrite Troplong’s powerful style…but this is a brilliant Troplong. There’s clear depth just in the colour alone, and impressive complexity on the nose… I love the persistency.”
Will the massive upgrades and stylistic changes at Château Troplong-Mondot lead to a Grand Cru Classé “A” promotion? Another candidate to keep an eye on.
2009 Château Troplong Mondot. JD-100. $198.99. 12 bottles
2010 Château Troplong Mondot. RP-99. $198.99. 6 bottles
2016 Château Troplong Mondot. JD-97. $145.99. 12 bottles
2018 Château Troplong Mondot. JS-98. $109.99. 35 bottles
When analyzing the validity and utility of classifications, it’s hard to overlook the fact that one of the world’s most sought-after wines is in the unclassified appellation of Pomerol. Pétrus has received 100-point ratings from Robert Parker for vintages 1921, 1929, 1947, 1961, 1989, 1990, 2000, 2009, 2010 and numerous more 100-point ratings ever since. Typically, a bottle of Pétrus goes for $2,000 in an average vintage to $5,000+ for an exceptional vintage.
Other top properties in this unclassified group include (in alphabetical order) Châteaux l’Église-Clinet, La Violette, Le Pin, La Fleur-Pétrus, L’ Évangile, Trotanoy, and Vieux Château Certan. We would argue that Châteaux Clinet, La Conseillante and Clos L’Église are closing the gap.
Château Clinet: With some of the finest terroir in Pomerol, including a parcel of “La Grand Vigne” Merlot vines planted in 1934, Clinet is well positioned to move into a higher tier. Ronan Laborde, who has owned the estate since 1998, replanted 20% of the vineyard and rebuilt the winery and barrel rooms.
Laborde also produces an excellent negociant wine, with an annual production of 360,000 bottles of Merlot and 30,000 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc & Semillon.
2008 Château Clinet. RP-94+ $110.99. 10 bottles
2010 Château Clinet. JS-97. $169.99. 15 bottles
2012 Château Clinet. RP-95. $99.99. 12 bottles
2013 Château Clinet. WE-94. $79.99. 7 bottles
2015 Château Clinet. JS-99. $134.99. 26 bottles
2016 Château Clinet. JD-99. $128.99. 24 bottles
2017 Château Clinet. WE-95. $86.99. 7 bottles
2015 Ronan Rouge by Clinet. $12.99. 33 bottles
2016 Fleur de Clinet. $49.99. 12 bottles
2016 Pomerol by Clinet. $46.99. 13 bottles
Château La Conseillante: In a long, distinguished history, the Nicolas family have been in charge of La Conseillante since 1871. An extensive renovation was completed in 2012. Within the estate’s unique, circular-shaped winery, 22 new concrete tanks and an additional underground concrete vat were added. Marielle Cazaux, former director of neighboring Château Petit Village, took over winemaking responsibilities in 2015. Cazaux is credited with bringing a new elegance and precision to the style…”one gorgeous wine after another.” (Jeb Dunnuck)
2017 Château La Conseillante. RP-97. $187.99. 7 bottles
2018 Château La Conseillante. JD-97+ $222.99. 35 bottles
Clos L’Église: In 1997, Sylviane Garcin-Cathiard purchased Clos L’Église, a 5.9-hectares vineyard, for $14 million. A record price at the time, that amount for this superb Pomerol estate is a steal by today’s standards. In the past decade, Sylviane’s daughter, Hélène, and her husband Patrice Lévêque have taken over management and modernized the facilities. The couple produce a full-bodied, opulent wine that is highly rated. They also own and manage two estates in Saint-Émilion, Châteaux Barde-Haut and Poesia, as well as a property in Mendoza, Argentina.
2010 Clos l’Église. RP-95. $173.99. 7 bottles
2016 Clos l’Église. JD-97. $117.99. 7 bottles
2017 Clos l’Église. DC-93. $97.99. 6 bottles
2018 Clos l’Église. JS-96. $91.99. 23 bottles
2015 Château Barde-Haut. JD-95. $38.99. 15 bottles
2016 Château Barde-Haut. AG-96. $39.99. 28 bottles
2017 Château Barde-Haut. AG-94+ $39.99. 33 bottles
2018 Château Barde-Haut. JD-95. $39.99. 12 bottles
2016 Château Poesia. JD-96. $39.99. 60 bottles
2018 Château Poesia. JS 95-96. $39.99. 12 bottles
Below is our classification for the entire Bordeaux region. Each individual group is listed in alphabetical order, not ranking.
Group 1: Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Lynch-Bages, Mouton Rothschild, Pichon Lalande, Pichon-Baron, Pontet-Canet
Group 2: Armailhac, Clerc-Milon, Duhart-Milon, Grand-Puy Ducasse, Grand-Puy Lacoste
Group 3: Haut-Batailley
Group 1: Margaux, Palmer, Rauzan-Ségla
Group 2: Brane-Cantenac, Cantenac-Brown, Giscours, d’Issan, Malescot-St-Exupéry
Group 3: Labégorce, Lascombes, Prieuré-Lichine
Group 1: Calon-Ségur, Cos d’Estournel, Montrose
Group 2: Lafont-Rochet, Phélan Ségur
Group 3: Capbern, Lilian-Ladouys
Group 1: Ducru-Beaucaillou, Léoville-Barton, Léoville-Lascases, Léoville-Poyferré
Group 2: Beychevelle, Branaire-Ducru, Gloria, Gruaud-Larose
Group 3: Lagrange, Talbot
Group 2: Cantemerle, La Lagune
Group 3: Lanessan
Group 1: Domaine de Chevalier, Haut-Bailly, Haut-Brion, La Mission Haut-Brion, Pape Clément, Smith Haut Lafitte
Group 2: Carmes Haut-Brion, Malartic-Lagravière, Latour-Martillac
Group 3: Carbonnieux, La Louviere, Larrivet Haut-Brion
Group 1: Angélus, Ausone, Bellevue-Mondotte, Belair-Monange, Beauséjour-Duffau, Canon, Cheval Blanc, Figeac, Troplong-Mondot, Pavie, Valandraud
Group 2: Canon-la-Gaffelière, Clos-Fourtet, Larcis Ducasse, L’If, La Mondotte, Magrez-Fombrauge, Pavie-Macquin
Group 3: Barde-Haut, Bellefont-Belcier, Fombrauge, La Gaffelière, Pavie-Decesse, Poesia, Trottevielle
Group 1: l’Église-Clinet, La Violette, Le Pin, Lafleur, L’ Évangile, Trotanoy, and Vieux Château Certan
Group 2: Clinet, Clos l’Église, Feytit Clinet, Hosanna, Lafleur-Pétrus, Le Gay, Latour à Pomerol.
Group 3: Bellegrave, Gazin, Nénin, Petit Village
Group 1: Aile d’Argent Mouton Rothschild, Cos d’Estournel Blanc, Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux, Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, Y du Châteaux d’Yquem
Group 2: Blanc de Lynch Bages, Carbonnieux Blanc, R de Rieussec, S de Suduiraut
Santé! Here’s to well-made wine regardless of the classification!!