What is a Grand Cru?
Grand Cru is a term that is used to define a wine of superior quality, with or without a legal mention linked to it.
The Grand Cru appellation, probably the best known for wines, was established in Bordeaux in 1855. It is used to classify wines in order of status, from First Growths to Fifth Growths. Originally, the list included 58 châteaux ; 4 premiers crus, 12 deuxièmes crus, 14 troisièmes crus, 11 quatrièmes crus and 17 cinquièmes crus. Over time, this list has evolved to include 61 châteaux.
In Burgundy, the AOC Grand Cru are the names of climats (or lieux-dits, 32 for Burgundy and 7 in the Chablisien) attached to a commune: chambertin, clos-saint-denis, musigny, clos-de-vougeot, romanée-conti, corton-charlemagne, montrachet, etc.
In Alsace, the appellation -Grand Cru- is authorized for 51 climates and only for the grape varieties: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris.
In the Loire, the only Grand Cru is the AOC Quarts-de-Chaume Grand Cru. (sweet white wine)
In Languedoc-Roussillon, there is only one Grand Cru, it is a Vin Doux Naturel (VDN), produced only in red: the AOC Banyuls Grand Cru.
In Champagne, only 17 communes are classified as Grand Cru and 44 are classified as Premier Cru.
The Grand Cru name is as you can see, very well linked to the French wine production, but you can also find it in Germany under the name Großes Gewächs, or even in Switzerland under the name Grand Cru Salgesch for example.
What does Grand Cru Classé means?
The Grand Cru Classé mention is a specific legal mention that you can find in the Bordeaux region only.
It is divided in 3 types of rankings, one being the 1855 Classification and the other ones being the Saint Emilion Classification and the Graves Classification.
The official 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines was established during the 1855 Paris World Fair’s at the request of Napoleon III. This ranking was based on the actual wine value in the trading market at the time.
Despite numerous critics and limits, this 1855 is still a reference for many wine buyers and consumers in the world.
You can find the full list of Grands Crus Classé by clicking here
For the reds, every wine that has been classified in 1855 comes from the Medoc region, mainly from Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estephe and Margaux. However, there is one exception to it which is Chateau Haut Brion , a First Growth located in the Pessac Léognan appellation.
For the whites, the 1855 classification included wines from the Sauternais that include the Sauternes and Barsac appellation. You will find wines classified as Premier and Second Crus Classé except for Chateau d’Yquem, which has been classified Premier Cru Supérieur.
In the Graves region, a ranking has been created in 1953 to include 16 estates that could have been included in the 1855 classification at the time. All the wines promoted by this classification are estates located in the Pessac-Leognan area. At that time, the appellation did not yet exist, it was only created in 1987.
You can find the list of estates classified as Grand Cru Classé by clicking here
The Saint-Emilion classification has been created in 1955 and its big difference with the 1855 classification of the Medoc is that it can be reviewed every 10 years. It has been reviewed in 1959, 1969, 1986 (the ten years were not met), 1996, 2006 and 2012.
The classification is devided between Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé and Premier Grand Cru Classé ( A and B ) and you can find the full list by clicking here