The subtleties of the 1855 classification

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Alex Rychlewski, May 10, 2018.

  1. Most people tend to think of the famous 1855 classification of the Médoc and Sauternes (plus 1 Graves) as set in stone, but there have been important changes along the way. The promotion of Mouton Rothschild to first growth is the most famous, but far from the only one.

    Take for instance the recent purchase of Château Lieujean, a 54-hectare cru bourgeois in Saint-Sauveur (AOC Haut-Médoc) by Bernard Magrez. This was sold by the AdVini group (Antoine Moueix, Rigal, Champy, Laroche, Jeanjean, etc.).

    Along with several other crus classés, Magrez owns the huge (122 hectares, 560,000 bottles a year) fourth growth La Tour Carnet in Saint-Laurent, the next town over from Saint-Sauveur. Seeing as both Lieujean and La Tour Carnet are in the same Haut-Médoc appellation, there would be no legal impediment whatsoever for La Tour Carnet to simply absorb Lieujean wholesale and incorporate it into the grand vin, in effect rebaptizing it a full-fledged great growth. Magrez has said from the get-go that he intends to use Lieujean's vineyards to produce La Tour Carnet's second wine, Les Douves. But one of course wonders: why stop at the second wine?

    There is much obfuscation here, as when château managers go through all sorts of Jesuitical explanations as to why their second wine really isn't a second wine at all, but "something else"... So it goes with vineyards that have been recently acquired. Visitors ask what will become (or has become) of wine made from the new vines, but the answer is rarely specific...

    The classification is, to a certain extent, outside the appellation contrôlée system. So long as a grand cru's vines are within the same appellation, they are entitled to great growth status.

    Before anyone considers this an indictment of the 1855 classification (what could be more tiresome and futile?), it should be noted that the 21st century reality is quite complex compared to the 19th century one. The terroirs of some classified growth vineyards are radically different from what they were in 1855, but others are virtually identical. It is difficult to generalize. Certain vineyards have grown, others shrunk, and a great many plots have been swapped as well...

    There are few precise statistics on the great growths, which means that much nonsense is written about them. In the example cited above, one definitely needs to factor in the notion of quality. If La Tour Carnet were to simply label most of Lieujan's production as their grand vin, not only would they be unsure of finding a commercial outlet for the increased production, but they would also run the risk of lowering their standards, garnering lower scores from critics, and harming the wine's reputation – in short, be shooting themselves in the foot.

    No one lifted an eyebrow when, for example, second growth Château Montrose bought 22 hectares of vines from cru bourgeois Château Phélan Ségur in 2010. What would be unthinkable in Burgundy is considered normal in Bordeaux… In the last analysis, what counts is the quality of the wine, and if this can be maintained or even improved when new vineyard plots are added, who really has the right to complain?

    What this also goes to show is that far from being a staid place, where everything was defined a couple of centuries ago, things are in constant state of flux in Bordeaux, even among the top estates. Keeping up with the changes is both challenging and fascinating.

    Best regards,
    Alex R.
  2. I agree with many of your observations, Alex, but your use of terminology is a bit loose. In the above three sentences, I believe you mean:

    The vineyards comprising some classified growth châteaux are radically different from what they were in 1855, but others are virtually identical. It is difficult to generalize. Certain châteaux have grown, others shrunk, and a great many plots have been swapped as well...
  3. I didn't know that about Montrose and Phelan. Any change detected in Montrose's wine since?
  4. Jeremy,

    I have tasted Montrose en primeur for the past several years, and the château seems to be going from strength to strength.
    The estate is owned by the Bouygues brothers, two of the wealthiest men in France. Money can’t buy you everything, but it sure helps!
    The new cellar is absolutely palatial. Magnificent!

    The Bouygues also own cru bourgeois Ch. Tronquoy Lalande, a stone’s throw from Montrose. I was particularly impressed with their 2017.

    I’ll be very interested to read what others have to say.

    As an aside, Pétrus added 5 hectares acquired from Château Gazin in 1969, and I have never heard anyone say that the wine suffered as a result. Of course, Pétrus is not classified.
    Odd isn’t it that Pétrus has no second wine. They have 11.5 hectares of vines and Ausone, with just over 7 hectares, has one…

    Alex R.
    James Gardner and Jeremy Caan like this.
  5. I seem to remember reading a few years back that Ch Olivier were having a thorough soil survey done across the estate and potentially converting forested land to vineyard as the terroir was deemed suitable/of sufficient quality.

    The whole separate label rather than second wine is very confusing and seems to be a bit of a moveable feast (whether it is or not) Clos du Marquis springs to mind.
    Alex Jagger likes this.
  6. Petrus sells off the grapes that are deemed not fit for the grand vin.
    Look out for the next Laithwaites clean skin Pomerol offer.... ;-)
    Will Devize likes this.
  7. Simon,

    Yes, Latour and Léoville Las Cases have second and third wines, and are hell-bent on saying that Clos du Marquis is a separate entity and therefore not a second wine.
    Yes, but as separate as it may be, it is from the same estate!

    A lot of this is a question of semantics....Palmer is a good example. If you visit the château and refer to Alter Ego as a second wine, you will be corrected… But, really, if one estate has a grand vin and then another made from a different part of the same estate and/or with young vines, and sold at a much lower price, how not to view this as a second wine?

    Best regards,
    Alex R.
    Ian Hampsted and Mark Palmer like this.
  8. Thank you, Alex. Sometimes I wish I was still buying young claret.
  9. Semantics indeed.

    Perhaps it is the term second wine which needs revisiting as there is at least more than one type or interpretation of it in the modern day - even just on this forum!

    Perhaps the Bordelaise(y) need to start being more accurate and specific about how they describe the wines or their own definition of their descriptions.
  10. and from semantics to pedantry

    Bordelaise = a single female person from Bordeaux, or adjective for any feminine noun

    the denizens of Bordeaux collectively are the Bordelais

    but spell check/autocorrect may not be your friend here - indeed I have just tried it out and been incorrectly corrected
    Raymond Tilney likes this.
  11. Interesting Jasper - so should it be bordelais sauce not bordelaise?

    Wikipedia has bordelaise down as 'from Bordeaux' but I stand pleasantly corrected :)
  12. I'm not Jasper, Alex, but the reason it is sauce bordelaise is that sauce is a feminine noun and so takes the feminine ending (i.e., e on the ending) on its adjective.

    Wikipedia here in France (but searching in English) gives me an entry for for Bordelais: Bordelais - Wikipedia, but if I search wikipedia for Bordelaise, there is no entry and I am redirected to the following: Bordeaux - Wikipedia
  13. In my experience, many English people pronounce the word "bor-de-layse ", whatever way it is written.

    In much the same way as the English say “Dor-doyne” for Dordogne.

    I’ve also heard Pau pronounced Pow in English airport...

    As for sauce bordelaise, it is something you surprisingly come across very rarely in Bordeaux. Go figure…

    Alex R.
  14. Hello, Alex,

    I'm not English, but how would you pronounce Dordogne or Pau? I would have sided with the English people you met....

  15. Alex,

    Well the French often speak English using French pronunciation rules. I seldom hear them trying to mimic native English pronunciation exactly. I don't think we need to be 100% precise. In any case, I find the French seem more impressed by a good accent more than grammar/pronunciation accuracy.


    I'd guess dor-dor-nyer and poh (rhythming with low.)
  16. I still say Paris & not Paree. :oops:
  17. Mark,

    It's only pronounced like that in Frons and Fronsay speaking countries. :D

    Apologies for repeating myself, but it seems to be very important to pronounce French accurately (I try my best!), but not so for most others.

    Bĕijīng, anybody?
    Last edited: May 11, 2018
  18. I say Londres when I'm talking French and London when talking English.
  19. Or Peiping, even, not to mention Peking. Does it not depend upon where in China one is from?
  20. The hunt for a Danish pastry in Denmark will be equally fruitless, as will that for Singapore noodles in Singapore and Wieners in Vienna.
  21. A nice bowl of zuppa inglese makes me feel right at home when in Italy.
  22. I find it really hard to say Rheems when talking about champagne with Brits but Rhance (you know what I mean) gets blank looks...
  23. D'or - donye
    P eau
  24. This I don't get. Similar to Dordogne, Bourgogne is pronounced Bor-goyne in UK.

    In the United States, many people will mispronounce French words because they don't know any better, but still will do their best, and if told the correct pronunciation, they will adapt. The Brits seem to revel in their deliberate mispronunciations and even people who know the correct pronunciation will use the corrupt one.
  25. Chortle - Dor - doyne is pretty ubiquitous in the UK but i don’t often hear Bor - goyne.

    Good point Claude!

    We can’t even say Bordeaux bonging it out as Claret.

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