Saint Emilion rankings 2022: Is Grand Cru Classé accurately reflected?

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

29 September 2022

Following up on my text on the latest ranking of Saint Emilion wines – as published in Club Oenologique earlier this month – I focus on the total of 71 Grand Cru Classés, which is just shy of record from the 1969 classification of 72 wines so ranked.

Certainly many deserved promotion. For example, I couldn’t be happier to join a Champagne-infused celebration at Vignobles K’s Château Tour Saint Christophe, one of the 16 Grand Cru estates promoted to Grand Cru Classé. The estate is so well situated, with excellent terroir – as you can read here – and the team has worked very hard to raise quality so that the wines are consistently good, vintage in and vintage out.

Director Jean-Christophe Meyrou took aim at classification naysayers: “We hear a lot of bullshit about this classification, and of course it is not perfect, but which one is?” he asked rhetorically. “Which one requires a 10-year revisit?” Meyrou stresses that 80% of the criteria to be promoted to Grand Cru Classé is determined by a blind tasting of the last 10 vintages (50%), terroir quality (20%) and winegrowing and oenology (10%).

Indeed, as I mentioned in the Club Oenologique article, terroir and winemaking (and tasting) count more for promotion to Grand Cru Classé than they do for promotion to Premier Grand Cru Classé.

“Our colleagues who work in wine tourism have tears of joy, as the 20% that remains is the cherry on the cake (media recognition, distribution and wine tourism),” Meyrou added. “I am just sick of hearing about parking lots, because if you do not have the 80%, you cannot be promoted.”

Then again, I understand frustration expressed by some Grand Cru Classés who had hoped to be promoted to Premier. Indeed, not a single Grand Cru Classé was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé in the 2022 ranking.

An insider explained that no candidates had “high enough pricing” to join the ranks of (often) triple-digit pricing from the likes of Canon, Clos Fourtet, Troplong Mondot or Valandraud.

Going places, but are prices too low? 🙄

More than ever, the classification pays a premium (pardon the pun) to estate pricing. But then again, one Grand Cru Classé can cost double the other. And some pricier ones reflect excellent quality and/or a consistent track record. Take Château Fleur Cardinale, for example. Or Château Corbin or Château Grand Mayne. All three have established excellent track records, within a certain style.

With Anabelle Cruse-Bardinet at Château Corbin: a consistently excellent Grand Cru Classé

As Jean-Antoine Nony of Château Grand Mayne remarked, “the classification has too many speeds”, and I understand what he means. Are all Grand Cru Classés equal? Nope! One could argue that that speaks well for “diversity”. But with over 70, one option could be to break down the Grand Cru Classé category into A and B, as it had been before among the Premiers Grands Crus Classés.

Tasting at Château Grand Mayne: The 2019 is especially superb. With Damien (left) and Jean-Antoine Nony (seated) with technical director Pierre-Yves Petit (right, standing).

I also sympathize with Nony’s concerns over price being too important. Take for example Château Angélus (an estate that had long championed – and benefitted from – the classification, only to leave it, strangely). When it had been promoted, Angélus prices went up significantly. Nothing would prevent a Grand Cru Classé from also being able to raise its prices, once promoted. Of course, the market would decide if a price increase is viable.

In the end, the focus should be on quality.

You could do a lot worse than buying this excellent wine…

Take another example in Château Rochebelle, which has long had exemplary terroir. The wines have been excellent, but never styled for the “Parker era” of the mid- to late-2000s. It remains a somewhat sleeping beauty. A beauty, nonetheless.

 

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