“Grand Cru” Old World vs. New

You don’t have to work within the luxury market for long before you hear words such as First Growth, Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Cult Cabernet. Wine, not just an alluring experience of the senses, has long been a source of status, prestige and even investment. However, what does it mean to hold the designation of First Growth, Second Growth, Grand Cru or Premier Cru and how do we understand the equivalent level of quality from other wine-growing regions?

The French not only hold a tradition of superb wine-making, but also a keen sense for marketing. One of the first exporters of wine, one could find Bordeaux wines in England as early as the twelfth century. Shipping many well-known names such as Chateau Margaux, Lafite and Haut-Brion, the demand for Bordeaux began early. However, not all wines exported were worth the price you paid for them. So, how was one to know?

Emperor Napoleon III tried to remedy just that question by calling for the creation of a classification system during the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris. Wine merchants and négociants ranked what they considered Bordeaux’s finest producers in terms of both Chateau quality and the closely related price. They ranked the Left Bank red producers from the best, or First Growth, down to the Fifth Growth. Haut Brion (Graves) was the only classified First Growth outside of Medoc. The classification of these Cabernet-based wines continue to command the marketplace, with many Second Growths deemed worthy of First Growth Status and price.

Bordeaux Producers

First Growth & Region
Second Growths & Region
Chateau Lafite-Rothschild – Paulliac
Chateau Rauzan-Segla – Margaux
Chateau Latour – Paulliac
Chateau Brane-Cantenac – Margaux
Chateau Margaux – Margaux
Chateau Rauzan-Gassies – Margaux
Chateau Haut Brion – Pessac
Chateau Pichon-Longueville – Paulliac
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild – Paulliac 1973
Chateau Leoville Las Cases – St Julien
Chateau Leoville-Poyferre – St Julien
Comtesse De Lalande – Paulliac
Chateau Leoville Barton – St Julien
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou – St Julien
Chateau Durfort-Vivens – Margaux
Chateau Cos D’Estournel – St Estephe

Hot on their trail, Burgundy’s Dr. Jean Lavelle also came out with a classification system in the early 1860s. However, he based his classification of the region’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on vineyards, rather than Producer. Although the classification names changed, Lavelle’s classification became the foundation of the formal classification of 1936, which remains in place today. Consumers and collectors rest in the quality inference of Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village and the base level Bourgogne designation, of which Grand Cru and Premier Cru stand as the most highly sought after and pricey.

Burgundy Grand Cru Vineyards

La Grande Rue
Chambertin-Clos de Bèze
Clos de la Roche
La romanèe
Clos des Lambrays
La Tache
Clos de Tart
Clos Sain-Denis


One cannot discuss class without touching on those joyous tiny bubbles produced in the Champagne region of France. Created to stabilize grape prices, the quality designations of Champagne’s Grand Cru and Premier Cru status lies at the village level. Thus, Champagnes produced from grapes harvested within the highest rated villages, regardless of technique or results, afford the right to use the designation on their label.

Champagne Villages

Grand Cru
Premier Cru
Avenay, Bergeres-les-Vertus,
Bezannes, Billy le Grand, Bisseuil,
Chamery, Champillon, Chigney les Roses,
Chouilly (PN), Coligny (CH),
Cormontreuil, Coulommes la Montagne,
Cuis, Cumieres, dizy, Ecueil
Etrechy (CH), Grauves, Hautvillers,
Jouy les Reims, Les Mesneus, Ludes,
Mareuil sur Aÿ, Montbre, Mutigny,
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
Pargny les Reims, Pierry, Rilly la Montagne,
Sacy, Sermiers, Taissy,
Tauxieres, Tour-ser-Marne (CH),
Trepail, Trois Puits, Vaudemanges,
Vertus, Villedommange, Villeneuve,
Renneville, Villers Allerrand, Villers aux Noeuds,
Villers Marmery, Voipreux
and Vrigny


So, where does that leave us for other regions of the world? Understanding the fabulous consumer tool that such designations provide, New World wine producing regions and their critics often use such terms as “The Grand Cru of… ” or “Grand Cru Vineyard” in wine producing regions such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile. However, is that warranted or necessary? Remember, the main goals of such designations are to provide formalized, informed professional rankings of the best:


  • Producers
  • Vineyards
  • Villages or Viticultural Areas

For centuries consumers have used such tools to simplify their confidence in buying choices. New World wine critics attempt to bridge the gap between confidence in Old World wines and New in terms of overall wine quality, grape prices commanded, the solid and consistent nature of the producers, as well the exclusiveness of particular wines and thus their opportunities for investment and prestige. In next month’s article, I explore the New World region of California (yes, the State where I live and navigate the quality, prestige and price debate daily), in order to better bridge the gap between our Old World designations and California’s strongest producers, vineyards and villages.

For More Information Related on Such Topics:

http://www.yourwineiq.com Lists some of the most well know Grand Cru producers and describes


http://americangrandcrusociety.com Lists American vineyards nominated by wine professionals deemed worthy of top status

About Catherine Harbour

After a lifetime of international travel and luxury client service as a Yacht and Estate Chef worldwide, Catherine Harbour transitioned into a career as a Wine Advisor for the Wine Spectrum in Northern California...There she works as a concierge-style wine consultant for high net-worth individuals; shipping limited production and highly allocated wines to all 50 States and internationally. Situated in the heart of California Wine Country, Catherine enjoys exclusive access to not only the most highly sought after cult wines, but also their secondary labels, alternate projects and under-discovered treasures, Working diligently to increase her clients' quality of life, one glass at a time, Catherine focuses on their preferences for price and style, suggests food and wine pairings, assists in cellar management and wine education, as well as offers individualized gifting services to satisfy all of her clients' needs. When not visiting with winemakers, distributors and importers to taste her nearly 700 bottle inventory, you will find Catherine somewhere amongst the Redwood trees, grape vines and rolling hills of her Russian River Valley home.

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