The Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 resulted from the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris, when Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system for France's
best Bordeaux wines which were to be on display for visitors from around the world. Brokers from the wine industry ranked the wines according to a château's reputation and trading price, which at
that time was directly related to quality.
The wines were ranked in importance from first to fifth growths (crus). All of the red wines that made it on the list came from the Médoc region except for one: Château Haut-Brion from Graves. The white wines, then of much less importance than red wine, were limited to the sweet varieties of Sauternes and Barsac and were ranked only from first great growth to second growth.
Within each category, the various châteaux are ranked in order of quality and only twice since the 1855 classification has there been a change, first when in 1856 Cantemerle was added as a fifth
growth (having either been originally omitted by oversight or added as an afterthought, depending on which of the conflicting accounts is correct) and, more significantly, in 1973, when Château
Mouton Rothschild was elevated from a second growth to a first growth vineyard after decades of intense lobbying by the powerful Philippe de Rothschild. A third, but less known "change", is the
removal of Château Dubignon, a third growth from Margaux that was absorbed into the estate Château Malescot St. Exupéry.
A superficial change is that since 1855, when only five of the estates were styled with the word "château" in their name, most Bordeaux wine estates now use this nomenclature.
As a classification of châteaux, the actual vineyards owned by some wineries have expanded, shrunk and been divided without any reclassification, and considerable plots of valued terroir have
Many wine critics have argued that the 1855 Classification became outdated and does not provide an accurate guide to the quality of the wines being made on each estate. Several proposals have been made for changes to the classification, and a bid for a revision was unsuccessfully attempted in 1960. Alexis Lichine, a member of the 1960 revision panel, launched a campaign to implement changes that lasted over thirty years, in the process publishing several editions of his own unofficial classification. Other critics have followed a similar suit, including Robert Parker who published a top 100 Bordeaux estates in 1985 and L'histoire de la vigne & du vin (English: The History of Wine and the Vine) by Bernard and Henri Enjalbert in 1989, as well as efforts made by Clive Coates (MW) and David Peppercorn (MW). Ultimately nothing has come of them; the likely negative impact on prices for any downgraded châteaux and the 1855 establishment's political muscle are considered among the reasons.
In March 2009, the British wine exchange Liv-ex released a modern re-calculation of the 1855 classification, with an aim to apply the original method to the contemporary economical context.
Many of the leading estates from the Médoc appellation that were not included in the 1855 classification are classified as Cru Bourgeois, a classification system that has been updated on a regular basis since 1932, banned in 2007, but reinstated in 2010.
FIRST GROWTHS (1855)
Château Lafite, now Château Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac
Château Latour, Pauillac
Château Margaux, Margaux
Haut-Brion, now Château Haut-Brion, Pessac, Graves
FIRST GROWTHS (1955)
Château Ausone, St Emilion
Château Cheval-Blanc, St Emilion
FIRST GROWTHS (1973)
Mouton, now Château Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac