Thursday, December 6, 2012

Saint Emilion Wines and their Classification, Bordeaux, France

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Annette Schiller, Ombiasy Wine Tours, with Count Stefan von Neipperg at Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, which was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé - B in September 2012

When the new Saint Emilion classification was released on September 6, 2012, I was visiting Saint Emilion. On that day, I visited Château Canon La Gaffelière, promoted to Premièr Grand Cru Classé B on that day, Château Beauséjour, in the satellite appellation Puisseguin Saint-Emilion, Château de Figeac, Saint-Emilion, also a Premièr Grand Cru  Classé B, which missed out on the well-deserved promotion to  a Premièr Grand Cru; Classé A and Château Tertre-Rôteboeuf, that is clearly at the Premièr Grand Cru level, but owner/winemaker Francois Mitjaville does not bother to apply for being included in the classification; thus, Château Tertre-Rôteboeuf remains an ultra-premium unclassified St. Emilion estate.

For more see:

Bordeaux Trip September 2012, France

Pictures: St. Emilion

I will write about the 2012 Saint Emilion classification in due course. This posting steps back and provides a general introduction to the Saint Emilion classification.

The St. Émilion Classification

Admittedly, Pomerol does not have a classification of its wines until this very day, but the St. Émilion classification was introduced late, only in 1955, 100 years after the Medoc classification had been released. Importantly, in contrast to the Medoc classification of 1855, which is set in stone, the Saint Emilion classification is revised periodically. The latest Saint Emilion classification was released on September 6, 2012, while I was visiting Saint Emilion.

Classified estates are grouped into three levels (with descending  quality level)

St. Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe A
St. Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe B
St. Emilion Grand Cru Classe, in addition, St. Emilion has 2 appellations:
Appellation St. Emilion Grand Cru Controle, and
Appellation St. Emilion Controle, with somewhat less strict requirements.

Taken together, the classification and the appellation systems represent a quality ladder with 5 steps: St. Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classe A wines are the absolutely top wines, followed by the Premier Grand Cru Classe B and the Grand Cru Classe wines. Below that group of less than 100 classified estates follows a large group of unclassified winemakers in the St. Emilion appellation, either at the Grand Cru level or at the regular St. Emilion level.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Count Stefan von Neipperg at Château Canon-la-Gaffelière, which was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé - B in September 2012

In terms of volumes, AOC Saint-Emilion accounts for about 50% of total production, unclassified AOC Saint-Emilion Grand Cru for about 30%, Grand Cru Classe for about 15% and 1. Grand Cru Classe for about 5%.

Confusing and Misleading Use of the Term Grand Cru 

The St. Emilion system is confusing and misleading. This is due to the use of the term Grand Cru in the appellation system. In the French wine culture, the term Grand Cru is of unparalleled significance, identifying an outstanding ultra-premium wine. But this is not the case in St. Emilion. Here, a large number of wines carry the term Grand Cru on their label, although they do not belong to the group of classified ultra-premium wines. This is confusing and misleading:

First, the difference between an Appellation St. Emilion Grand Cru Controle and an Appellation St. Emilion Controle in terms of legal requirements is minor. For the non-expert wine consumer, however, the supposed quality difference between a wine that is a AOC grand cru wine and wine that is not a grand cru is huge.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller, Annette Schiller, Ombiasy Wine Tours and Francois Mitjaville who does not bother to apply for being included in the classification, although his Château Tertre-Rôteboeuf is an ultra-premium wine

Eligibility for grand cru status comes with somewhat lower yields, a maximum 40 hl/ha rather than 45 hl/ha, and a minimum alcoholic strength of 11%, neither of which are particularly pressing requirements. AOC Grand Cru status is in effect available to any property in St.Emilion.

Second, the difference on the label between a wine that is Grand Cru “Controle" and a Grand Cru “Classe " is minor, just the word "Classe". The quality and price difference, however, between a “Grand Cru Controle" and a "Grand Cru Classe " is huge (except for a few exceptions like Chateau Tertre Rotebeuf that do not bother to apply for classification).

The use of the term AOC St Emilion Supérieur rather than AOC St Emilion Grand Cru would be much more appropriate and helpful for the consumer.

The Initial Classification of 1955 and Subsequent Revisions

Saint-Émilion's classification is a fluid system. It is not set in stone as the 1855 Medoc classification, but regularly revised.

The initial classification was published in 1955 and subsequently amended, with the final list having 12 properties ranked as Premier Grand Cru Classé and 63 as Grand Cru Classé.

The list was revised in 1969, followed by new revisions in 1986 and then 1996. It was with the next revision in 2006 that a huge controversy began. Following 3 years of legal wrangling, the classification was annulled by the courts, and then eventually partially reinstated. The listing ultimately ratified in 2009 was a combination of the 1996 classification and the 2006 promotions.

The 2012 Classification

In order to avoid the melodrama of the 2006 classification, in 2012, the INAO tried to establish as large as possible a wedge between the chateaux to be judged and the judges: The St.-Emilion Wine Syndicate and Bordeaux wine trade were no longer involved. The jury comprised seven wine professionals, all from outside the Bordeaux region. INAO also brought in two independent bodies - Qualisud for organising the tasting and Veritas-certification for ensuring the application process was correctly carried out.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Oscar at Chateau Figeac, St. Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé - B

Estates are graded, on a scale of 20, on 4 criteria: tasting, reputation, characteristics of the vineyard and infrastructure, viticulture and winemaking. To become Grand Cru Classé, chateaux had to score at least 14 out of 20, to become Premier Grand Cru Classé, at least 16 out of 20.

The following is the list as published in September 6th, 2012. Three demotions against 22 promotions mean few will be interested in a legal challenge to the new classification. The 2012 promotions are marked by *.

Premiers Grands Crus Classés - A

•    Château Angélus*
•    Château Ausone
•    Château Cheval Blanc
•    Château Pavie*

Premiers Grands Crus Classés - B

•    Château Beau-Séjour Bécot
•    Château Beauséjour
•    Château Bélair-Monange
•    Château Canon
•    Château Canon-la-Gaffelière*
•    Château Figeac
•    Clos Fourtet
•    Château La Gaffelière
•    Château Larcis-Ducasse*
•    Château La Mondotte*
•    Château Pavie-Macquin
•    Château Troplong-Mondot
•    Château Trottevieille
•    Château Valandraud*

Grands Crus Classés

•    Château L'Arrosée
•    Château Balestard La Tonnelle
•    Château Barde-Huet*
•    Château Bellefont-Belcier
•    Château Bellevue
•    Château Berliquet
•    Château Cadet-Bon
•    Château Cap de Mourlin
•    Château Le Chatelet*
•    Château Chauvin
•    Château Clos de Sarpe*
•    Château La Clotte
•    Château La Commanderie*
•    Château Corbin
•    Château Côte de Baleau*
•    Château La Couspaude
•    Château Dassault
•    Château Destieux
•    Château La Dominique
•    Château Faugères*
•    Château Faurie-de-Souchard
•    Château de Ferrand*
•    Château Fleur-Cardinale
•    Château La Fleur Morange*
•    Château Fombrauge*
•    Château Fonplégade
•    Château Fonroque
•    Château Franc-Mayne
•    Château Grand-Corbin
•    Château Grand-Corbin-Despagne
•    Château Grand-Mayne
•    Château Grand-Pontet
•    Château Les Grandes-Murailles
•    Château Guadet
•    Château Haut Sarpe
•    Clos des Jacobins
•    Couvent des Jacobins
•    Château Jean Faure*
•    Château Laniote
•    Château Larmande
•    Château Laroque
•    Château Laroze
•    Clos La Madeleine*
•    Château La Marzelle
•    Château Monbousquet
•    Château Moulin du Cadet
•    Clos de l'Oratoire
•    Château Pavie-Decesse
•    Château Péby-Faugères*
•    Château Petit Faurie de Soutard
•    Château de Pressac*
•    Château Le Prieuré
•    Château Quinault L'Enclos*
•    Château Ripeau
•    Château Rochebelle*
•    Château St-Georges Côte-Pavie
•    Clos St-Martin
•    Château Sansonnet*
•    Château La Serre
•    Château Soutard
•    Château Tertre-Daugay
•    Château La Tour Figeac
•    Château Villemaurine
•    Château Yon-Figeac

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