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The 1855 Classification

Bordeaux in general, and the Medoc in particular, is the land of hierar-chies. These widely-traded wines have depended on giving customers clear signals of quality and price, and the 1855 Classification was one of several 19th-century lists drawn up by the wine trade. All the classed growths, as the 1855 chateaux are called, are profiled on the pages that follow.

Classifications existed before 1855: the surviving correspondence of the brokers, merchants and estate stewards of the 18th century is full of mentions of first, second and even third growths. The "Firsts" have remained constant since 1700: Mar-gaux, Haut-Brion, Lafite and Latour, with Mouton coming into the list in the 19th century and officially pro-moted in 1973. Elsewhere in the Gironde, the classifications have been, and are, less elaborate. Sau-ternes was classified at the same time as the Medoc, but Graves had to wait until 1953, and St-Emilion until 1956. Classifica-tion implies that the chateau so hon-oured is a fixed unit of land. This is not so: a proprietor can buy additional vineyards within the AOC and, even if the land was not part of a classed growth, it becomes so the moment it moves into classed-growth owner-ship. However, this was challenged by the authorities in 1986 when the St-Emilion classification was revised, and a Premier Grand Cru chateau was demoted for doubling its size.

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