In the 19th century, the decision was taken to classify the wines of Bordeaux's Médoc - at the time the most highly rated wine-producing region of France - to represent the best of the country's wine at the Paris Exhibition in 1855.
The top brokers of Bordeaux were asked to classify the Châteaux of the Médoc into five Classes of Growth, depending on market prices for their wines at the time.At that time, St. Émilion and Pomerol did not have the importance they do today, and as such were not included in the classification. In fact, the only wine on the 1855 list not to be from the Médoc was Château Haut-Brion, the most famous estate in the region of Graves.
Since it was created in 1855, the classification has only been changed twice. The first alteration was the addition of Château Cantemerle in 1856 - apparently due to it having been forgotten the previous year! The more significant change was the promotion of Château Mouton-Rothschild from Second to First growth in 1973 following a fifty-year lobbying campaign by Baron Phillippe de Rothschild.
However, it is worth noting that though there have been minimal changes in the rankings of the estates on this list, the status of first, second, third, fourth or fifth growth applies to the estate, rather than to the land itself. This means that with the buying and selling of vineyard area that has taken place since 1855, some properties do not occupy exactly the same vineyard area as they did when the classification was set down.
Despite the above, it is undeniable that even over a century and a half later, this ranking still has a huge influence on the Fine Bordeaux market. There are of course other factors at play, notably point based score systems from influential wine critics and fine wine price indices, but the cache a Classed Growth title brings with it is hard to ignore.
In recent years, the phenomenon of the Super-Seconds has come to be important: a group of estates who are widely acknowledged to be of higher quality than the majority of the Second Growth category. These are (in no particular order): Pichon Longueville Baron, Pichon Comtesse Lalande, Lynch-Bages, Léoville-Las-Cases, Léoville Barton, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Cos d'Estournel, Montrose and Palmer.
The first growths are: Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild
The second growths are: Rauzan Segla, Rauzan Gassies, Léoville las Cases, Léoville Poyferre, Léoville Barton, Dufort Vivens, Gruaud Larose, Lascombes, Brane Cantenac, Pichon Longueville Baron, Pichon Comtesse Lalande, Ducru Beaucaillou and Cos d'Estournel, Montrose,
Estates not in the classification but of an equal (if not better) quality than the list of first growths: Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Pétrus and D'Yquem