Home Sample Issue Subscribe Biography Contact John Articles Wine Links

By John Salvi
December 2005

One hundred and fifty years may not be very much when compared to the millennium-long, intricate and fascinating histories of some of the great Chateaux of Bordeaux such as Chateau Margaux and Chateau d’Yquem, which both belonged to the King of England when Aquitaine was still under English rule and the King was the Duke of Aquitaine, or Chateau Ausone, which was founded during the Roman occupation. However it is none the less a considerable period of time and a landmark that should be carefully noted, well publicised and thoroughly celebrated. We are talking here about the “150th Anniversary of the Classification of the Wines of Bordeaux (Médoc and Sauternes)”. This classification, which was originally ordered by Napoleon, in order to show the greatest wines of the Bordeaux region at the “Exposition Universelle” or “World Fair” in Paris, in 1855, has since become world-renowned and has become a firm part of Bordeaux “lore”, giving to the classified Chateaux the most enormous prestige and added value. To obtain this list, the Chamber of Commerce had asked the Association of Brokers - “Syndicat des Courtiers” - to provide as exact and complete a list as possible and as rapidly as possible, since the fair was due to open within the month. The request was made on 5th April 1855 and the list provided within two weeks – on 18th April 1855. Today these 61 Chateaux are the image and the trend-setters for the entire Bordeaux market throughout the universe. Their opening prices, in the spring following the vintage, are awaited with bated breath and “pen poised over cheque books” by wine lovers and traders throughout the globe.

The celebrations were twofold and each was magnificent in its own right.

The first was the publication of a huge, weighty and handsome tome entitled “Bordeaux, Grands Crus Classés 1855 – 2005”. Bound in dark maroon coloured leather it is an absolute MUST in all wine libraries and all collections of wine reference books. It is published by Flammarion and has a foreword by Jean-Paul Kauffman. The preface is by Hugh Johnson and the texts by Dewey Markham, Cornelis van Leeuwen and Franck Ferrand. Dewey is a young American, who has written a highly authoritative volume on the history of the Crus Classés, and Cornelis is a Doctor of Oenology and Viticulture at the Bordeaux University of Oenology. The truly brilliant photographs are by Christian Sarramon. There is a brief word by Philippe Castéja, President of the “Conseil des Grands Crus Classés en 1855 (Médoc and Sauternes)” and this is followed by 320 pages of text and photographs on each of the 61 Classified Chateaux.

The launch of the book was celebrated by several receptions at different times and in different places, the most prestigious of which was at the premises of the Conseil Interprofessionel des Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB). Here, after the speeches, the presentation and the formalities, those of us fortunate enough to have been invited were able to sample “à volonté” selected vintages of all these classified growths, including all the Premiers Crus. As we left we were presented with a dedicated copy of the great book.

The second celebration was infinitely more lavish and will remain for ever engraved upon the memory of all those privileged to attend it. It took the form of a grand Gala Dinner, on 19th June 2005, at Chateau d’Yquem, during Vinexpo. D’Yquem was at the very height of its glory and magnificence. The Chateau and the grounds were illuminated, the weather behaved perfectly and the setting was absolutely splendiferous. Champagne and d’Yquem were served lavishly on the lawns for a considerable period before dinner and a memorable photograph was taken of all the “Representatives of the 1855 Classified Great Growths”. Almost never, if ever, during those 150 years, has such a photograph, gathering together all the representatives of “la crème de la crème”, been taken and published. It is a priceless memento.

The dinner that followed was momentous and will soon be legendary. Few people, throughout their lives, ever have the occasion and pleasure to sample all five of the Premiers Grands Crus Classés, AND Chateau d’Yquem, all during one meal. Great three-star Michelin chefs had been brought in to prepare dishes that perfectly matched the wines. They did a perfect and unfaultable job of it. Speeches were short and neat by both Philippe Castéja, President of the “Conseil des Grands Crus Classés in 1855 (Médoc and Sauternes) and by Monsieur Bernard Arnault himself, President of LVMH and principal shareholder of Chateau d’Yquem. The meal was served in a vast pavilion made entirely of glass and constructed specially for the occasion. The legendary 1967 d’Yquem was served with the dessert and fine Champagne was served afterwards, at the tables and on the terraces, to accompany a stupendous and artistic fireworks display, with the illuminated battlements and fortifications of the 14th century Chateau as a backdrop.

Sadly, many thousands of people would dearly have loved to attend and applied for tickets, but only a few hundred could be accommodated. Normally this event, which takes place each Vinexpo, is the evening for the International Press and is always at a Premier Grand Cru Chateau. Last Vinexpo it was at Chateau Margaux. This year it was, to a large extent, taken over by Monsieur Arnault, who brought a multitude of guests, and it was not in the end really a PRESS event at all. Naturally nobody would dream of questioning the right of the President of the Company who owns the property, to invite whomsoever he pleases and as many as he pleases, but there were some severe disappointments and some rather high handed refusals of entry to well known journalists who arrived convinced that they had been invited. They were subsequently chaperoned back to Bordeaux in chauffeur driven cars. Pierre Lurton, the Managing Director of Chateau d’Yquem as well as of Chateau Cheval Blanc, confided to me that although he was intensely proud to have been in charge of the soirée, it had none the less caused him a series of severe headaches. Be that as it may, he did a magnificent job and the evening was an overwhelming success.

The d’Yquem Grand Gala Dinner demonstrated to all who did not know it already, and to all wine lovers from all over the world, that when Bordeaux sets its mind to it, it can do things more magnificently than any other wine region in the world. This has to have been one of the finest evenings in its long and colourful history and I for one felt immensely privileged to have been invited to be present and to have been a joyful part of it.

Home Sample Issue Subscribe Biography Contact John Articles Wine Links