In France, wine is a religion. No wonder the famed classification of red wines that happened in what is known as the wine capital of the world, Bordeaux – ‘Grand Crus Classes En 1855’ is considered almost sacred and interestingly has more or less remained unchanged since centuries.
Wines are classified based on their superiority in terms of price and popularity, into five major categories – as first growth (ranking), second growth, etc. This was done in 1855 on the insistence of Napoleon III, who wanted the wines to be classified during an international expo, as he wanted France to be able to showcase the best of what they have. Even though there existed an unofficial classification of French wines that probably dates back to the first century and wines were being exported since 17th century, it is the 1855 classification that stood the test of time. They became as famous as the Chateaus – the huge family homes or rather estates that produced the wines. The classified Red wines were all from Medoc (left bank) (Saint Estephe, Pauillac, Saint Julien, Margaux, Haut Medoc) except for Chateau Haut Brion from Pessac, and then there are the sweet or dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac that were added later to the classification.
In February 2018, Hyderabad was host to an exclusive wine tasting session held at Falaknuma Palace, coordinated by the French embassy and Alliance Francaise. Around the resplendent 101-seater dining table at Falaknuma Palace were seated exclusive set of guests of Ambassador of France to India, Alexandre Ziegler, and Michel Vernejoul, President of International Relations at Bordeaux Metropole. They jointly hosted the evening of tasting a few from the finest collection of wines of Bordeaux. The guests included wine growers, decision makers, importers and general managers of hotels keen on gaining greater knowledge on wines from the French port city, and its growing popularity in India.
What made the session enriching experience is the members of the Conseil des Grands Crus Classés en 1855, Denis Lurton – propriétaire du Château DESMIRAIL of Margaux, Dominique Befve – directeur general, Château LASCOMBES of Margaux, Damien Sartorius – Château LANGOA-BARTON of Saint Julien, Berranger Le Boursicot – Château BATAILLEY of Pauillac who were there to present wines from their respective chateaus. They shared the history, tasting notes and characters of the wine followed by the tasting of the Red wines. The soiree began with Chateau Desmirail 2010 and Chateau Lascombes 2009 – both from Margaux appellation, which has the most number of Cru Classe wines from the 1855 classification. The former was fruity with oak undertones, had silky tannins and was from the third growth; Lascombes on the other hand was spicy and with fruity nose, it had full body and just the right density of tannis to suit the modern taste of the neo-wine aficionados. This was a blended wine ranked second growth. The name comes from the first owner of the Château Chevalier de Lascombes, born in 1625.
Then came the Chateau Langua Barton St.Julien 2012 – the second growth medium-bodied wine from the Chateau that has the distinction of being still in the hands of the same family since 1855; Chateau Batailley Pauillac 2011 was next served – a savoury wine that is classified as the fifth growth. The Bordeaux trail ended with the sweet and classy – Chateau Nairac Barsac 2013 and Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2007. It was an exhilarating evening over fine wines that gave, but a small glimpse of the treasure land of wines – Bordeaux, which also entices visitors with its magnificent architecture – mansions, chateaus, beautiful, fountains and museums, the famous Garonne river, gardens, and centuries-old history.
While the wines were surely not from the top in the classification, they surely gave a glimpse of what one can expect from the Grand Classification. The presence of a few owners of the wine labels added an edge to the tasting session. And a selfie and the picture session with them made it fun too.
(The story is based on tasting experience, and discussion with experts)