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First Growths

One of the most significant and historic events associated with the 1855 World's Fair was the classification of Bordeaux estates. Wines from the large region called the Médoc in Bordeaux were submitted and judged. The findings grouped the wine estates into six categories. Five levels of quality were declared for sixty-one wine estates. All remaining properties that did not make the classification ranking were called Cru Bourgeois. Only wines from the Médoc were eligible in this competition, with one exception. The Médoc, or more specifically Haut-Médoc was, and still is, considered to be the premier wine making region in Bordeaux. Haut-Médoc's interior appellations, whose properties make up most of the "Classified Growths," include Paulliac, Margaux, Saint-Estèphe, and Saint-Julien.

Emerging on the top of the list were four wine estates. These "First Growths" or "Premier Crus" were Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Latour, and Chateau Haut-Brion (only estate to be outside of the Médoc). The subsequent Chateaus were categorized as Deuxièmes Crus (second growths), Troisièmes Crus (third growths), Quatrièmes Crus (fourth growths); and Cinquièmes Crus (fifth growths). This decree in quality was deemed permanent.

This evaluation stirred up some controversy and the loudest protests came from then second growth producer Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. It was not until 1973 that Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was upgraded to first growth. It is the only time any adjustment has been made to the list. Mouton-Rothschild wine label first read "First I cannot be, second I do not deign to be, I am Mouton." After being elevated to a first growth the label was changed to read "First I am, second I was, Mouton does not change." (In French of course.)

First Growths are considered to be the ultimate trophy wine. They are the bottle of wine you buy when your child is a baby, to drink with them when they have their first child. It is the ultimate kiss-up to your wine collecting boss, even if she's a Napa-phile.

You take on a commitment when you purchase a bottle with this kind of stature, to store it, preserve it, open it only when the time is right, and to decant it properly. But don't let me get in the way of your wine drinking rituals, if you want to open it tonight and have it with burgers, go right ahead.

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