July 20: Châteaux Cheval Blanc and Ausone, two oldest St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ estates of St. Emilion, have decided to opt out of the Classification System of 1955, and have not submitted the application for the 10-yearly evaluation in 2022, writes Subhash Arora who feels the Classification system might not be affected much by this decision but the judging criteria for the Classification might need a relook in future
When the St- Emilion classification system was created in 1955, a century after the introduction of Bordeaux 1855 classification,mainly for the Medoc chateaux on the Left Bank, Ausone and Cheval Blanc were the only two estates awarded the top ranking in the hierarchy as the Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ status. In the previous revision of 2012, Chateaux Pavie and Angélus were also promoted to the ‘A’ status.
Unhappy with the recent moves by the Classification system, these original top Estates have decided to walk out of the System before the review takes place in 2022. Both Estates have taken the decision based on their own analysis, independent of each other even as some critics feel that a few more Chateaux may be in line for promotion to the top classification of Class A.
The two chateaux are not expected to have any negative price impact because of their impeccable image and solid support to the brand over the decades and the loyal customers buy only for the brand and its quality, a luxury not available to the lesser Chateau.
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The wine council of St-Emilion has expressed regret at the decision of the two estates to withdraw while defending the judging process.
These chateaux have cited a significant change in the philosophy of the classification, especially regarding new criteria in the previous re-evaluation of the classification in 2012. These criteria laid emphasis on the media presence, including Press Releases and social media and the wine tourism infrastructure developed. According to Pierre Lurton, director of Cheval Blanc the evaluation was getting too far removed from what seemed fundamental to them- the terroir, its wine and history.
They feel that much less importance is given to terroir and viticulture as the criteria to judge a wine. The system has lost sight of the notion of identity and typicity, thus downgrading the culture of wine, aging potential over several decades and knowledge of the appellation. They feel it is not enough to decide about an estate after tasting only for the last 15 vintages.
The Classification system has announced that for the premier Grand Cru Classé level in 2022, half of the final grade of an Estate will come from a blind tasting of the last 15 vintages. Tasting notes constituted only 30% of the grade in the 2012 classification.
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Saint Emilion, on the right-bank of Bordeaux, started the classification system in 1955 with Premier Grand Cru Classé A, Premier Grand Cru Classé B, Grand Cru Classé and the Grand Cru based on the quality of the wines, Terroir and the celebrated status of the winery. Unlike the Bordeaux 1855 classification, there is a system of review by expert panels every ten years and a few changes take place.
The local system of classification is supposed to be dynamic and ratings change every 10 years based on criteria laid down and known to the producers. There have been constant arguments between châteaux at the top of the classification and those who fail to make the top grade. The difference in prices can be 20, 40 times or even more at the two ends of the spectrum, and is the main reason for all the bickering and arguments.
The system worked fairly well till 2006 when the Classification faced much resistance and the results were rejected 2 years later. As reported in delWine then, it was even suspended by a tribunal which had expressed serious doubts over the legality of the classification process and felt that some chateaux might have been unfairly discriminated against.
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St-Emilion’s 2012 classification was the sixth revision of the ranking since its launch in 1955. The current 2012 list ranks 64 estates as St-Emilion Grand Cru Classé, with 14 as St-Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé and Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Angélus and Pavie classified into ‘A’ status.
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