The Great Chateaux of Bordeaux

March 2019

Bordeaux, the wine capital of the world, is the source of a great range and variety of wines in all colours, styles and prices. (See Bayview September 2018). But its fame rests on the reputation of the great chateaux that centuries ago brought this region to prominence, and that remain today at the apex of the wine world. Fascinating ethereal aromas, mouth-filling savoury richness, outstanding vinous quality, unbelievable complexity, incredibly long ageing potential and outrageous pricing all come together in these masterpieces of the vintner’s art. If you are serious about wine, you must eventually come to terms with the great chateaux of Bordeaux.

Since Roman times, Bordeaux wine has upheld its international reputation. When Henry II of England married Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, the entire Bordeaux region came into the English realm, and the English have been in love with Bordeaux wines ever since. (After Eleanor died, the French no longer acknowledged the English kings and fought for 100 years to regain their independence, but that is another story.)

This long and turbulent history reached a turning point in 1855, when the wines of Bordeaux were officially classified into ‘cru’, or growths. This classification has undergone very few changes since then, and the pedigree “Cru Classé en 1855” – or sometimes “Grand Cru Classé” – appears proudly on the label of those selected for this honour.

There are five levels acknowledged in this classification – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th growth, and includes some 61 chateaux. It is important to note that 2nd cru does not in any way imply second class. All of these ‘Cru Classé’ wines are top quality. You buy them young, lay them down in your cellar, and bring them out only for those very special occasions when the food and the company merit nothing but the finest, and price is no object.

The problem we face as true wine lovers today is the emergence of the new billionaire class around the world, increasing marketplace demand for these treasures and pushing their price into the stratosphere, putting them simply out of reach for mere mortals. The fabled First Growths (Premier Cru Classé) – and there are only five of these: Chateaux Latour, Lafite, Mouton, Margaux and Haut-Brion – now sell for four-digit prices, and are available in very limited quantities. Inevitably this puts escalating pressure on the price of all the wines of the region. But billionaires can be short-sighted, and looking just a little further down the list we find wines almost as great for one-tenth the price. To score value here you really must do your research.

Although Bordeaux clings to its 165-year-old classification, over those intervening years there have been real changes on the ground. Some chateaux have gone out of business, some have merged with or been taken over by their neighbours, and some have thrived while others have declined. Here are a few names currently available as futures from the LCBO: Chateaux Cantenac-Brown, Kirwan, Lagrange, Langoa-Barton, Prieuré-Lichine, Branaire-Ducru, d’Armailhac, Haut-Bages Libéral – all priced under $100. Go to and click ‘Bordeaux Futures’ for full details. All are good value Cru Classé from third to fifth growth, but a decade or more of patience is required to realize their glorious potential.

Note that the Gironde River runs right through the middle of the Bordeaux wine region, and all the chateaux in the 1855 classification are on the left bank, primarily from the communes of St. Estèphe, Paulliac, St. Julien and Margaux. There are just as many great wines from the right bank, so that is a story for another day.

© Paul Inksetter 2019

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