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St-Emilion classification: Do vineyards matter? – Ask Decanter  

A latest round of legal wrangling has upheld the 2012 St-Emilion classification, again, but how does the ranking translate to bottle labels and why does Jane Anson describe it as a 'rebuke' to those who claim Bordeaux isn't interested in terroir?

A Bordeaux court of appeal recently upheld the St-Emilion classification of 2012 against a years-long challenge by three estates, Châteaux Croque Michotte, La Tour du Pin Figeac and Corbin Michotte. We may not be finished yet, but that’s another story.

Decanter’s Jane Anson said in a column this week, ‘St-Emilion’s classification system has invariably been overshadowed by arguments and legal battles that run alongside the ranking, but at its heart it is a rebuke to those who believe Bordeaux has no understanding of terroir.’

How does this work?

Most Bordeaux lovers will know that, unlike the largely static Bordeaux 1855 ranking on the Left Bank, the St-Emilion classification – born a century later – was designed to be revised every 10 years.

There are various criteria that classified estates are expected to meet.

For the 2012 ranking, châteaux were judged on their terroir, renown, methods of vineyard and cellar work and through a blind tasting of 10 vintages. This rose to 15 vintages for those wanting Premier Grand Cru status, as previously reported by Decanter.com.

However, not every hectare of vines is classified at a given estate, all the way up to Premier Grand Classé A, as highlighted by Anson in her excellent column on Château La Gaffelière this month.

For example, Château Angélus, which was promoted in 2012 to become one of only four Premier Grand Classé A estates, has 27 hectares of vines classified at this top level. Grapes from these vineyards are used to make the estate’s ‘first wine’.

Its second wine, Carillon d’Angélus, is sourced from 15 hectares of its vineyards that lie within the St-Emilion grand cru appellation, according to the Château’s technical sheets. As a result, Carillon d’Angélus is labelled as a St-Emilion grand cru; still from highly prized vineyards but outside of the classification system – although they have purchased new vines to be added soon.

La Gaffelière has 22ha of its 38ha of vineyards classified as Premier Grand Classé B, although has recently started using only 16ha of its top-tier vines to make the ‘first wine’, Anson reported.

It is this detail that shows the importance of vineyard site in the St-Emilion classification. Of course, to stay classified or to move up, châteaux must know how to make the most of a natural advantage; viticulture and winemaking are naturally also crucial.

Read: Tasting Château La Gaffelière shows St-Emilion’s reinvention

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