The First Growth wines of Bordeaux are the most notable and expensive wines in the world, and are truly in a class of their own. Anyone with even a casual interest in investment-grade wines knows that the First Growths (French: Premier Cru) are the most elite collection, coveted by anyone wishing to start a wine investment portfolio.
We are going to take you through the history of the First Growths and how only five wines have been deemed worthy of this classification. If what you read today grabs your interest, we will explain at the end of this article how you can obtain these rare and celebrated wines for your own portfolio.
The year was 1855. The upcoming Exposition Universelle de Paris (Paris Exposition) sparked a debate that led to the formalised classification for the area. The Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce believed this recognition and promotion at the Paris Exposition would transform the Medoc region’s fortunes…and they were right.
The Bordeaux establishment succeeded in promoting the region’s most luxurious and high-quality wines to the Parisian elite. Napoléon III saw this as a perfect opportunity to show the world the best of France’s culture and exceptional wines. So, Na
poléon commissioned the Bordeaux brokers to rank the best wines of Bordeaux, creating the formal hierarchy which is now known as the 1855 framework, or the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.
In said framework, only the top ranked properties are chosen as the Grand Crus Classés (Great Classified Growths). There are several thousand Chateaux producing their wines in Bordeaux, so to be classified is a mark of the highest prestige. Once designated as a Great Classified Growth, the wines are further classified as First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth growths.
The best of the best wines were ranked the Premier Cru: Château Latour, Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Margaux and Château Haut-Brion. Amazingly, all but one of the original 61 great classified wines hailed from the Médoc region, with the exception of Château Haut-Brion from the Graves region.
Although Haut-Brion was technically located outside of the classification’s remit, the Bordeaux brokers argued that an official hierarchy that omitted this iconic winery would be a fallacy. Haut-Brion had already cemented its name and reputation among the most sophisticated circles, and demanded impressive prices for its vintages. To this day, Haut-Brion remains the only First Growth grown outside of the Médoc region.
After more than 160 years, the 1855 Bordeaux Classification remains impervious to calls for change or modifications. In fact, the only significant change happened in 1973 when Mouton Rothschild was promoted from Second Growth to Premier Cru status.
It’s well documented that late owner Baron Philipe de Rothschild essentially lobbied the authorities aggressively and relentlessly to facilitate this promotion. The baron spent an inconceivable amount of time and money and eventually achieved what no other estate could boast. Every Bordeaux aficionado is familiar with the baron’s response to his successful campaign:
“Premier je suis. Second je fus. Mouton ne change.”
Translated, “First I am. Second I was. Mouton does not change.”
It goes without saying, the First Growth classification is highly political. The properties we’ve already mentioned are more than content with the current ranking system, of course. Though properties that are classified at the bottom of the list are enthusiastically supportive of a revision. There are currently no plans to change the ranking system, and the official classification does not alway directly impact the valuation and price of a wine.
It must be stressed that First Growth wines are consistent, valuable and exceptionally sought after in the world of serious wine collectors. These vintages are resilient to economic shifts and are not in danger of being edged out by newer, sexier Châteaux. That said, a wine’s market price is not always reflective of its official classification (which is great for any wine not boasting First Growth status).
Release price of a wine is more often in line with market perception, mostly due to modern sensibilities and the realities of globalised markets. Other recognised methods of wine classification, like the Robert Parker rating system or other tiered systems, give the less popular growths a fighting chance for notoriety.
Note that no critic or serious collector would ever challenge the five Premier Cru estates’ worthiness. The classification has been a wonderful and lasting PR tool for the five famous wineries; it’s unlikely that they would still be as dominant a collective force without the 1855 classification project.
Our team of experienced brokers at Liquid Opulence can help you get your portfolio started. Whether you’re interested in acquiring a vintage from the famous five First Growths, or you’re interested in learning about what else is making waves right now, our team can help guide you toward the best investments possible.
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