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It seems that the years running up to the Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1855 were indeed busy for the merchants of Bordeaux. That they were charged with drawing up a new classification of the red wines of the Médoc, in order to facilitate showing the wines at the exhibition, is well known. It is easy to forget, however, that the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac were classified along with their red counterparts.

As with the wines of the Médoc, the sweet wines were classified according to market value. It is not surprising that the Bordeaux négociants already had firmly established league tables, based largely on price (and therefore quality), and this knowledge formed the basis for this particular Bordeaux classification.

The system is less complicated than the Médoc classification, with essentially just two tiers, although within the higher ranking Yquem is accorded special recognition with its rating as Premier Cru Supérieur, an accolade unmatched by any wine from the Médoc. Below this level come the remaining 25 properties, and they range right across the quality spectrum, from the frequently delicious - such as Rieussec, Coutet and Climens - to the rarely seen, which obviously produce wines on which I am unable to comment. Here I am thinking of estates such as Caillou, Myrat and Suau, to name three examples, all second growth properties that should perhaps have a somewhat higher profile.

Chateau d’Yquem

With all such classifications the first question usually trotted out is relevance. What does this classification mean to us today? In quite straightforward terms I would argue none at all, and I would suggest that those who proffer a newly revised classification simply suffer from a lack of imagination. This is an item of historical interest, nothing more. The wines were classified to inform visitors to an exhibition, more than 150 years ago, as to which wines should impress them most, assuming those that cost the most also tasted the best. Today, the world is populated by a very different body of consumers, and to be frank very few of these consumers have any interest in Bordeaux, never mind the communes of Sauternes of Barsac, at all. Those that do, however, buy on tasting experience, track record and critical review, and for the latter they usually pay a handsome subscription fee. It may be that many of the high ranking properties continue to dominate the trade, that the premier cru estates on the whole tend to be better known, and tend to make better wines, than those ranked as deuxième cru. But this is not an unchallengeable assertion; there are a number of wines that frequently disappoint, as well as some that punch well above their weight - their weight in 1855, that is. It is these properties that show classifications such as this to be nothing more than an historical curiosity that we should all summarily acknowledge, and then summarily ignore, before moving on to taste and explore the wines of the region for ourselves. (30/11/07)

Source: http://www.thewinedoctor.com/regionalguides/bordeauxclassificationssauternes.shtml

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