1855 Bordeaux Classification System

By Ryan Snyder

Many regions in France have systems in place that are used to rate the quality of the producers in that area. Cru, literally defined as "growth", has come to be recognized as a name synonymous with quality. What preceeds or follows the word is another story, as each region has a different term for each rank of quality. For example, in the Médoc sub-region of Bordeaux, Premier Cru signifies the highest quality of wine, while in Burgundy Premier Cru is actually a step below the highest quality, which is Grand Cru. Confusing, right? We've put the following list together to help you understand the differences between each region's classifications.

Médoc:

Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system for France's best wines, which were to be put on display at the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris. Wine brokers ranked the top Médoc producers according to the château's reputation and the average price each producer's wine fetched at the time. The result was the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

This classification designated the top 4 producers as Premiers Crus (First Growths), 14 Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths), 14 Troisièmes Crus (Third Growths), 10 Quatrièmes Crus (Fourth Growths), and 18 Cinqièmes Crus (Fifth Growths). Since 1855, only Château Mouton-Rothschild has shifted positions in this classification, by climbing to the Premier Cru classification from its original Deuxièm Cru position in 1973. One Graves (Pessac-Léognan) producer, Château Haut-Brion, was also listed in this classification.

Today, wine consumers still refer to this system as an indication of the quality of each wine. The general order of Médoc quality is as follows:
1) Premiers Crus
2) Deuxièmes Crus
3) Troisièmes Crus
4) Quatrièmes Crus
5) Cinqièmes Crus
6) Cru Bourgeois

View the full list of designated Médoc Crus wineries.

Sauternes and Barsac:

Also in 1855, the top producers in these Sauternes and Barsac were given classifications. The top producer, Château d'Yquem, was the only producer designated as a Premier Cru Supérieur Classé, while 11 were designated as Premiers Crus Classés and 12 as Deuxièmes Crus Classés. Some of the Premiers Crus Classés producers have split into smaller estates, increasing the number of Premiers Crus Classés to 15.

View the full list of Sauternes and Barsac Crus wineries.

The general order of Sauternes and Barsac quality is as follows:
1) Premier Cru Supérieur Classé
2) Premiers Crus Classés
3) Deuxièmes Crus Classés
4) Cru Bourgeois

Graves:

16 Châteaux were classified as Crus Classés in 1953. This list has been revised once, in 1959. View the full list of Graves Crus Classés wineries.

St-Emilion:

In 1954, 11 producers were classified as Premiers Grands Crus Classés, while 53 were designated Grands Crus Classés. This classification list is updated once every decade. View the full list of St.-Emilion Crus Classés wineries.

General order of St-Emilion quality:
1) Premiers Grands Crus Classés
2) Grands Crus Classés
3) Cru Bourgeois

Burgundy:

Wines from the Côte d'Or, a sub-region of Burgundy, are grouped into four levels of quality:

Grand Cru (Great Growth): 33 vineyards are classified Grands Crus, the highest Burgundian designation. These wines are so prestigious that only the name of the vineyard will appear on the bottle (i.e. Le Montrachet and Le Chambertin).

Premier Cru (First Growth): 562 vineyards have been designated Premiers Crus. Wines from these vineyards use both the village and vineyard names on the label (i.e. Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet Folatières).

Village Wine: A wine made entirely from grapes grown on the land surrounding a village and named after the village. A step up from the table wines above.

Borgogne Rouge / Blanc (Red and White Burgundy): Table wines made from various grapes grown anywhere in Burgundy

General order of Burgundy quality:
1) Grands Crus
2) Premiers Crus
3) Village Wine
4) Borgogne Rouge / Blanc