What is a Grand Cru?

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A selection of Grand Crus of France from our Grand Cru Wine Class A grand cru is a regional wine classification designating a vineyard with a history and a reputation for producing great wines. It is the classification of a vineyard’s quality potential rather than the actual quality of individual wines. The grand cru concept has been applied differently across the four regions in France where we find grand crus namely Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne.

Bordeaux is the most famous for the grand crus because of the well publicised classification of the left bank vineyards in 1855 as requested by Napoleon III. In Saint-Émilion, on the right bank of Bordeaux, grand crus were put in place 100 years later in a different format. Burgundy was probably the first to apply the concept of grand cru vineyards back in medieval times but it was only formalised there in 1861. Champagne and Alsace followed in 1950 and 1975 respectively. But the idea of grand crus is very ancient. There is proof that the Romans classified their best vineyards more than two millenia ago.

The St Emilion Classification court case

Since its creation in 1955 St Emilion’s Grand Cru Classés are revised every 10 years unlike most other classifications (e.g. Burgundy and Medoc) which do not change. For the first time in their history a group of winegrowers that had been downgraded fought the 2006 classification in court and had it annulled. Now those who were downgraded have been reinstated and those who were upgraded have been allowed to keep their status.

This court case made me consider whether there was something to be said for the method of classification which does not change… (like Medoc – one I had always considered unjust – how can a classification of 1855 stand unchanged today?). Seeing the St Emilion machinations I realise there are positives to this method and in the end the market decides. Look at Lynch Bages in Pauillac which is a 5th class but which achieves 2nd class prices.

So who are the recently upgraded chateaux to keep your eye out for? Chateau Bellefont-Belcier, Destieux, Fleur Cardinale, Grand Corbin, Grand Corbin Despagne and Monbousquet were upgraded from grand cru to grand cru classé and those promoted from grand cru classé to Premier Grand Cru Classé B are Pavie Maquin and Troplong Mondot.

Until this review Chateau Angelus was the only property to have been upgraded from grand cru classé to Premier Grand Cru Classé. They now have their eyes set on joining the A class ranks of Ausone and Cheval Blanc and the next review. (see below for more on Angelus).

You can find details of our St Emilion day tour at DAY TOURS

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