The Bordeaux Classification (1855) – A Simple Guide

The 1855 Bordeaux Classification is a historic and prestigious ranking of wines from the Bordeaux region in France. Established by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce in preparation for the 1855 Paris Exposition, this classification aimed to showcase the best wines of Bordeaux to the world. This article delves into the history, structure, and significance of the 1855 Bordeaux Classification, and the noteworthy addition of Chateau Mouton Rothschild in 1973.

The Origins of the 1855 Bordeaux Classification

In anticipation of the 1855 Paris Exposition, Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system to distinguish and present the finest wines from Bordeaux. Wine brokers and merchants were tasked with creating the ranking based on the châteaux’s reputation, the quality of their wines, and the prices they commanded in the market.

Classification Criteria and Structure

The 1855 Bordeaux Classification ranked the châteaux into five tiers, known as “growths” or “crus” in French, with the First Growth representing the highest level of quality and prestige. The classification primarily focused on wines from the Médoc region, with one exception from the Graves region, and also included a separate classification for sweet white wines from Sauternes and Barsac.

The original 1855 Classification included 61 châteaux, with only four châteaux designated as First Growths: Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour,Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut-Brion (the only château from the Graves region).

Addition of Chateau Mouton Rothschild

Chateau Mouton Rothschild, initially classified as a Second Growth, was owned by Baron Philippe de Rothschild. He believed that his estate deserved a higher classification and campaigned relentlessly for its elevation to First Growth status. In 1973, after years of lobbying and persistence, the French government officially reclassified Chateau Mouton Rothschild as a First Growth, making it the first and only château to achieve such a distinction since the inception of the 1855 Classification.

The First Growths / Premiers Crus

Today, there are five First Growth châteaux in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification:

  • Chateau Lafite Rothschild
  • Chateau Latour
  • Chateau Margaux
  • Chateau Haut-Brion
  • Chateau Mouton Rothschild (added in 1973)

Second-Growths / Deuxièmes Crus

  • Château Rausan-Ségla (Rauzan-Ségla) (Margaux)
  • Château Rauzan-Gassies (Margaux)
  • Château Léoville Las Cases (St.-Julien)
  • Château Léoville Poyferré (St.-Julien)
  • Château Léoville Barton (St.-Julien)
  • Château Durfort-Vivens (Margaux)
  • Château Gruaud-Larose (St.-Julien)
  • Château Lascombes (Margaux)
  • Château Brane-Cantenac (Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux))
  • Château Pichon-Longueville Baron (Pauillac)
  • Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pichon Longueville Lalande) (Pauillac)
  • Château Ducru-Beaucaillou (St.-Julien)
  • Château Cos-d’Estournel (St.-Estèphe)
  • Château Montrose (St.-Estèphe)

Third-Growths / Troisièmes Crus

  • Château Kirwan (Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux))
  • Château d’Issan (Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux))
  • Château Lagrange (St.-Julien)
  • Château Langoa Barton (St.-Julien)
  • Château Giscours (Labarde-Margaux (Margaux))
  • Château Malescot-St.-Exupéry (Margaux)
  • Château Cantenac-Brown (Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux))
  • Château Boyd-Cantenac (Margaux)
  • Château Palmer (Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux))
  • Château La Lagune (Ludon (Haut-Médoc))
  • Château Desmirail (Margaux)
  • Château Calon-Ségur (St.-Estèphe)
  • Château Ferrière (Margaux)
  • Château Marquis-d’Alesme-Becker (Margaux)

Fourth-Growths / Quatrièmes Crus

  • Château St.-Pierre (St.-Julien)
  • Château Talbot (St.-Julien)
  • Château Branaire-Ducru (St.-Julien)
  • Château Duhart-Milon Rothschild (Pauillac)
  • Château Pouget (Margaux)
  • Château La Tour Carnet (Haut-Médoc)
  • Château Lafon-Rochet (St.-Estèphe)
  • Château Beychevelle (St.-Julien)
  • Château Prieuré-Lichine / Cantenac-Margaux (Margaux)
  • Château Marquis de Terme (Margaux)

Fifth-Growths / Cinquièmes Crus

  • Château Pontet-Canet (Pauillac)
  • Château Batailley (Pauillac)
  • Château Haut-Batailley (Pauillac)
  • Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste (Pauillac)
  • Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse (Pauillac)
  • Château Lynch Bages (Pauillac)
  • Château Lynch-Moussas (Pauillac)
  • Château Dauzac (Margaux))
  • Château Mouton-Baronne-Philippe (Château d’Armailhac after 1989) (Pauillac)
  • Château du Tertre (Margaux)
  • Château Haut-Bages Libéral (Pauillac)
  • Château Pédesclaux (Pauillac)
  • Château Belgrave (Haut-Médoc)
  • Château Camensac (Haut-Médoc)
  • Château Cos Labory (St.-Estèphe)
  • Château Clerc Milon (Pauillac)
  • Château Croizet-Bages (Pauillac)
  • Château Cantemerle (Haut-Médoc)

Is the classification still relevant?

The 1855 Bordeaux Classification remains a vital reference for wine enthusiasts, collectors, and investors worldwide. It has been remarkably stable over the years, with Chateau Mouton Rothschild’s addition in 1973 being the only significant change. To some extent, the classification’s endurance and prestige are testaments to the timeless quality and allure of Bordeaux’s finest wines.

However, it is important to note that many of the chateaux featured on this list have, through continuous improvement and dedication to the art of winemaking, been producing wines of a quality that surpasses their current classification. For instance, Château Pontet-Canet, a fifth-growth estate located in Pauillac, has been praised by critics and wine connoisseurs alike for the exceptional wines it has been producing in recent years, arguably rivaling or even surpassing some of the first-growth estates.

Likewise, Château Lynch Bages, also a fifth-growth Pauillac, has gained recognition for the consistency of its full-bodied and richly aromatic wines. In the St.-Julien appellation, Château Léoville Las Cases, despite being classified as a second-growth, has been regularly compared to the first-growths for its beautifully structured and expressive wines. Similarly, Château Palmer, a third-growth estate in Margaux, is renowned for its opulent and sophisticated wines that are considered by many to be on par with the higher classifications.

While the 1855 classification provides a historical snapshot and remains a reference point, these examples illustrate how a lower classification does not necessarily limit a château’s ability to produce first-rate wines. The relentless pursuit of quality and refinement in these estates showcases the dynamic nature of the Bordeaux wine industry, where excellence is constantly being redefined.

Take a quiz to test your knowledge

Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

Wine Sections

Tasting and Enjoying Wine | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

Tasting & Enjoying Wine

Understanding Wine Making | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

Understanding Wine Making

Understanding Wine Regions | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

Understanding Wine Regions

Understanding Grape Varieties | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

Understanding Grape Varieties

Understanding Wine Labels | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

Understanding Wine Labels

The Wines of the World | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

The Wines of the World

Wine Trends & Technology | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

Wine Trends & Technology

Wine and Food Pairing | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

My Wine Adventures

Wine & Food Diary | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

Wine and Food Pairing

Wine Reviews | Bernard Marr | Wine Cellar

Wine Reviews

Some of my most memorable wines