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A journey through the vineyards: the classification of Bordeaux wines

A journey through the vineyards: the classification of Bordeaux wines

One way or another, Bordeaux always takes us to wine. be with the wine museum – La Cite du Vin -, with meals at traditional brasseries washed down with generous glasses of drink or even in your renowned vineyards, one thing is certain: more than just tasting it, we celebrate its history and appreciate the grapes and people behind the careful tradition of making wine in the region.

Loaded with history everywhere, Bordeaux it is divided into important producing sub-regions, with their charming villages and communes that plant, care for and bottle the best wines in the world. It is in the surroundings that the famous are Châteaux – that here are the producers, the wineries themselves.

History says that most of the vineyards were located around these imposing buildings, where the wineries ended up being named after them. Thus, one of the great riches of this piece of France is discovering the daily lives of those behind the most distinguished labels in the world.

To immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes of the vineyards, in the flavors and aromas and understand a little of the process of making a good wine in the style of Bordeaux is letting our senses guide us to one of the best sides of life. And our relationship with wine must be this: that of nourishing the soul.

Already thirsty? Before embarking with me through the most charming vineyards in the region, we should know a little about the reasons that lead Bordeaux to produce the best wines in the world and also its complex, but equally interesting, classification systems.

Bordeaux vineyards

Exceptional qualities of climate and soil, centuries-old wineries and tradition are some of the recipes that place Bordeaux wines among the best and most expensive in the world. Permeated with long histories and fertile soils for growing grapes, the vineyards are located in the communes and villages of the Bordeaux sub-regions.

These sub-regions are divided according to their location in relation to the Gironde Estuary, and may be located in the left margin Where right – each with different producers and dominant soil characteristics.

Let’s start with the left margin: this is where the varietal predominates Cabernet Sauvignon – with a blend of other grapes in the final product. The soil on this bank is abundant with gravel, which makes water drainage favorable for the roots. Grapes are smaller, more concentrated and more complex.

The left bank is cooler due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, a factor that helps to maintain the acidity of the grapes and ensures longer aging in the bottle. The subregions of Médoc, Graves e Sauternes & Barsac are on this bank.

The right bank is known for having the varietal Merlot as predominant. Here the soil is more clayey and rich in limestone. Thus, the water is quickly drained but is kept at depth, helping in the warmer periods – the grapes ripen faster and have less acidity. The subregions of Saint Emilion e Pomerol, for example, are on this margin.

Overall, some numbers impress us: there are more than 112,000 hectares of vineyards in Bordeaux and around 55,000 jobs linked to the sector. Annual production is around 5 to 6 million hectoliters – around 700 million bottles, with 88% being red wine and 12% white wine, according to data from the Bordeaux Wine Council (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux).

Wine ratings

Bordeaux wines follow classifications that, at first glance, may seem complex. But, once understood, we can also taste a little of the history of Bordeaux wine and its contribution to the world.

They hierarchize the labels and systematize the essence of production in the region, that is, the names behind the best in tradition. It is worth noting that the own official website of Bordeaux wines emphasizes that “a wine or appellation can still be excellent even if it is not part of these classifications!”.

The best known of them and which persists to this day almost untouchable is the Classification of 1855 Bordeaux Wines. It emerged after Emperor Napoleon III asked each wine region in France to establish a classification to be presented at the Universal Exhibition in Paris – an event held to showcase the best of the country to the world.

Bordeaux wines were then classified according to the reputation of the Châteaux and the price of the bottles, which at the time were directly linked to the quality factor. In addition to this, other classifications from other producing sub-regions emerged over time, such as Saint-Émilion (on the right bank) and Graves, encompassing other producers who equally stood out – and stand out – in the production of wines.

1855 classification

At that time, each château had to present its most expensive wine for the Exhibition. Thus, with only one classified wine, the winery already guaranteed a lifetime title – which works as a guarantee of quality.

are, on the whole, 61 classified producers – all located on the left bank, with 60 châteaux de Médoc and only one de Graves, which have been divided into five categories, starting with the Premiers Grands Crus Classés (the First) and going on to the Cinquièmes Grands Crus Classés (the Fifths).

Almost unchanged, the list has undergone rare changes over these 166 years. Château Cantemerle was listed in 1856, but the most significant change to date has been the rise of Château Mouton Rothschild from Deuxièmes (Second) to Premier Grand Cru Classé in 1973, a feat unprecedented in history due to political and commercial efforts and influence of Baron Philippe Rothschild.

Hierarquia dos Grand Crus Classés from 1855:

  • 5 Premiers Grands Crus Classés: Château Lafite-Rothschild (em Pauillac); Château Latour (Pauillac); Château Mouton-Rothschild (Pauillac); Château Haut-Brion (Graves) and Château Margaux (Margaux).
  • 14 Second; incluindo o Château Gruaud-Larose (em Saint-Julien) eo Château Cos-d’Estournel (Saint-Estèphe)
  • 14 Third; including Château Palmer (in Margaux)
  • 10 Fourth
  • 18 Fifths; including Château Cantemerle (in Haut-Médoc) and Château Lynch-Bages (Pauillac)

To know the names of all the Châteaux, check out the official list of Bordeaux.It is important to emphasize that only red wines are present in this classification and that only those classified as Premiers will highlight on the label that they are the First.

Less commented than the systematization above, the sweet white wines from the Sauternes & Barsac sub-region they were also classified in the same year 1855, this time on three levels. There are 26 producers divided between Premier Cru Supérieur (only Château Château d’Yquem is in this position); the Premiers Crus (11 Châteaux) and Deuxièmes Crus (15 Châteaux).

Saint-Emilion Classification

The commune of Saint-Émilion is on the right bank and the classification of its wines was created in 1954. It is revised every ten years, with the most recent systematization occurring in 2012. Altogether there are 82 producers divided into two categories: Premiers Grands Crus Classés and Grand Crus Classés.

Premiers are further distinguished between Premiers Grands Crus Classés “A” and Premiers Grands Crus Classés “B”. But a curiosity: those categorized as “B” do not have the letter on the label, unlike those classified as “A”, being named only as Premiers Grands Crus Classés.

The top of this hierarchy is currently occupied by Châteaux Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Angélus and Pavie.

Bass Classification

Created in 1953, this classification of wines from the Graves sub-region has no hierarchy and there is also no revision. Altogether there are 16 producers in the region classified as Crus Classés de Graves, containing red and white wines.

Here is a curious fact: the Chateau Haut-Brion it is the only one listed in two classifications, appearing in both the de Graves and the 1855 Grands Crus Classés.

Crus Bourgeois and Artisans

Two other systematizations in Bordeaux manage to classify the wines that were left out. Crus Bourgeois are based on criteria of production, value and quality of red wines produced in sub-regions and communes. The ranking is revised every year in September, when around 260 properties enter the list.

On the other hand, Crus Artisans includes 36 family wineries, which are smaller in size and scale of production and handle the entire process: from planting, winemaking to sale. Names are reviewed every five years.

behind the labels

With all these classifications, the wine label works as a concentration of information. It is like a “treasure map” for us: it is from reading it that we know where the wine comes from, which sub-region it was produced and its position in the hierarchies.

It must contain the name of the appellation of controlled origin (AOC), that is, from which sub-region and commune the wine is made, and the bottler’s identification, which corresponds to the name of the Château, the city and the country. If they have been classified according to a hierarchy, the wines will carry their position as Premier Grand Cru Classé (in the case of Châteaux in the 1855 classification); Premier Cru Classé de Sauternes (in the case of the Châteaux de Sauternes); Grand Crus Classés de Saint-Émilion (in the case of the second classification of Saint-Émilion), and so on.

And a tip: look for the phrase “Mis en Bouteille au Château”, which means “bottled in the château”. This gives us the certainty that the stages of wine production were under the care of the winemaker himself, which guarantees us to taste a specific terroir.

Reference: CNN Brasil