St-Emilion’s new classification: a question of trust

st emilion new clasification.jpg

by Aymeric de Clouet

(Originally written in French)

Contrary to the famous 1855 Médoc classification, to date still unchanged, the 1955 St-Emilion classification is supposed to change every ten years, so as to encourage winegrowers towards excellence.

In 2006, the new classification was published, elaborated by the same type of persons as before, a group of Bordeaux professionals, but was vividly refuted by those owners whose châteaux were demoted. Typical to France, the authorities (in this case the Parliament, the Senate and the Constitutional Council) granted those châteaux the right to keep their former classification, while the newly promoted could use their new one!

In 2012, the INAO (French Official Administration for Appelations d’Origine) nominated a group of independent personalities to elaborate a new classification. Of course, some Château owners are also members of the INAO.

Caesar's wife must be above suspicion, so must a new classification.

The main benefit of the unchanged 1855 classification is that none can be suspected to influence anyone. Also, market prices establish another hierarchy which advantageously provides some fluidity. I could go on and on about the benefits of stability in rankings, especially when the terroir remains always the same, but here the main question is : why are the results of Saint-Emilion’s new classification so ambiguous? Why do we feel uneasy about the new promoted domains?

First, selecting the wine tasters: highly qualified professionals, with an excellent reputation, but not Bordeaux ones. Not every wine evolves like Bordeaux. No other wines could taste flat when young but still become fantastic after 30 years. It is hard to understand and accept it.

Second, the tasting methodology: one vintage only. What? How is it even possible to accept that the classification of a wine is based on a unique vintage? If you taste the Saint-Julien 89, then the Saint-Julien 90, you would have two very different classifications! Even the Cru Bourgeois require at least three vintages to compare properly.

Lastly, the ranking methodology: tasting accounted for just 25% of the global ranking ! How can I accept, as a wine lover, that quality should only account for one quarter of a wine valuation! I do not care about the quality of the parking lot, and I think that old fashioned cellars are just as good (in fact better) than new ones.

The only outcome from this type of behaviour is that wines are being selected on the basis of fashion and the latest trends!

When you know that a significant change in a vineyard requires time to make it through the bottle:

vine selection: a new vineyard will take ten years to produce decent wines, and twenty years for great wines
wine evolution: ten years in the bottle is a low minimum, twenty better
Basically, a real change will affect a wine in a certain way after up to 40 years… And some want to change the classification every ten years!

Yes, I am utterly outraged by the new Saint-Emilion classification. Again, not by the results, some of which were expected, some maybe even justified, but the approach has no excuses.