Saint Emilion is considered by many as the most democratic of the Bordeaux classifications due to the fact that, unlike its 1855 counterpart in the Medoc, Graves and Sauternes it is up for grabs every 10 years (or thereabouts).
The first qualifier for candidates to this classification is that they must produce wines in the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Appellation rather than Appellation Saint Emilion, with the quality restrictions that accompany this higher quality appellation. However out of the 5 500ha and 770 properties concerned over two thirds is currently under this more prestigious Grand Cru appellation.
After the ’excitement’ of the 2006 Saint Emilion Classification, when the few properties that were not happy with their allocated spot in the hierarchy (despite having signed an application saying they would abide by the classifications findings) took the appellation to court and successfully had it annulled.
A wonderful sense of compromise was reached in 2008 allowing those properties that were justly recompensed for their efforts to keep their upgrade and those who were pushed down a level were allowed to stay at their status as per the previous 1996 classification, and this up to and including the 2011 vintage. Heaven forbid that there should be any losers (or loss of face). The classification therefore currently counts 72 properties and covers 16% of the surface area of the Saint Emilion Vineyard.
This dubious compromise is to be put to an end as of the 2012 vintage. The rules for the new classification were signed off earlier this month by the French Minister of Agriculture. The new classification will be managed from Paris by the government agency INAO (l’Insitut National des Appellations d’Origines) and will be piloted by wine professionals, none of whom will be from the Bordeaux region. Assessment will be controlled by an independent quality control organisation.
Inclusion in the running for this classification is not automatic, properties must apply and about 100 properties are expected to participate with the objective of winning either the ‘Grand Cru Classé’ status or the coveted ‘Premier Grand Cru Classé’, of which there are currently 15, 13 Bs and 2 As – Château Ausone and château Cheval Blanc. There has only ever been 2 As, however there is no rule saying there can only be 2. We will hopefully hear the results by June next year – watch this space.