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Bordeaux Wine Classification Leaves Nasty Whiff

Thursday 01 March 2007

The official system of ranking wines from the Medoc, near Bordeaux, has been thrown into disarray by a recent court decision that has questioned the impartially of the whole process.

The Bordeaux region has its own peculiar system of classifying the quality of wines, with the most prestigious wines being granted the ranking of grand cru.

The list of ‘grand cru’ wines was created in 1855 and has not been changed since, despite the passage of time and the variable quality of wines on this list.

In response to producers unable to obtain access to the list of ‘grand cru’, a new classification called cru bourgeois was created in 1932, in which 420 Bordeaux wines were represented.

The list of ‘cru bourgeois’ was updated in 2003, reducing the number of wines able to carry this label by 40%, down to 247, involving about 150 Chateaux. It is this new list that the French courts have now thrown into question.

In particular, they consider that the list cannot be relied upon because the panel of experts judging the wines included amongst their number wine producers or chateaux owners, who were themselves seeking inclusion on the list!

The jury comprised 18 people, four of whom the court considered had a direct interest in the outcome of their deliberations.

The jury had been selected under the authority of the local business and trade organisations.

Accordingly, the court has recommended to the government that the changes to the ‘cru bourgeois’ listing carried out in 2003 be annulled.

One of the significant changes made by the jury, was not only to reduce the number of wines eligible for ‘cru bourgeois’ status, but to create three different categories – crus bourgeois exceptionnels, crus bourgeois supérieurs and crus bourgeois.

Whilst this new classification is not being brought into question, there is concern that up to nine Chateaux may have been elevated to ‘exceptionnel’ or ‘superieur’ status as a result of a lack of the complete impartiality of the jury.

It is not the first time the classification of ‘cru bourgeois’ has been called into question. In 2004, a court rule that 75 of the wines so classified should be removed from the list on the grounds that they were simply not good enough. The present court hearing had been brought by a number of producers dissatisfied with this initial court decision.

The label ‘cru bourgeois’ is one that is entirely voluntary, and there are a number of wine producers in Bordeaux who have preferred to remain outside of this system, yet produce wines that are of comparable or even higher quality.

Indeed, there are also many critics of the ‘grand cru’ classification, including doyen of Bordeaux wines, Robert Parker, who has publicly stated that the list "should be regarded by both the wine connoisseur and the novice as informational items of historical significance only." Wines from ‘Pomerol’, one of the greatest appellations in the Bordeaux region were not included in the original list, and remains unclassified today.

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