Shock news torpedoes St Emilion classification system?
Will Cheval Blanc and Ausone no longer be Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ as from the 2021 vintage?
If so, it won’t be because of the Commission de Classement. The closing of the Saint-Emilion classification applications took place on June 30 and neither Cheval Blanc nor Ausone returned their copies.
Unlike the left bank classification system of 1855 that is pretty much immutable (with the exception of Mouton’s promotion to Premier Cru in 1973), the St Emilion classification is reviewed approximately once every 10 years, permitting a periodic revaluation of quality and performance. It’s not all been plain sailing; the 2006 reclassification was plagued by accusations of impropriety and was eventually annulled. Consequently, tastings conducted for the 2012 reclassification were outsourced to independent groups from across France to rehabilitate the process.
Cheval Blanc and Ausone, the first St Emilion producers to be awarded Classé A classification in 1954 when it was created, are effectively leaving the classification system.
The Classé A incumbents evidently concluded that the system is no longer sufficiently discriminating to reflect the ranking of their respective properties compared to their peers.
This bombshell threatens to undermine the kudos and financial benefits of promotion to Classé A, and in turn the market pricing potential of those that are elevated. Not to mention it raises questions of the credibility of the St Emilion classification system more broadly.
So what does the two colossus’s departure say about the process of decennial review? How does this reflect on the composition and process of the Commission de Classement?
Is Grand Cru Classé A about to lose its lustre; devalued by ambitious properties busy erecting glitzy edifices? Concrete and stone, some say, matter more than they ought to compared to the brilliance of the wines and their track record.
Or, is Classé A promotion a reflection of the qualitative transformation we see taking place in St Emilion - given the strongly weighted preconditions of a sustained track record of exceptional results and market recognition - and therefore are not elevations thoroughly deserved?
Let’s see what happens over the coming weeks. Can Cheval Blanc and Ausone be courted back into the fold, or is their departure (by omission of submission) a fait accompli? Assuming the latter, perhaps we'll see more promotions next year than we might have otherwise. What effect this all has economically on those producers who attain Classé A classification is now more uncertain than ever.
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Tags: 1855 classification, Bordeaux, Bordeaux wines, fine wine, saint emilion, Saint Emilion classification, wine, Wine Owners,