Frequent official reassessment of regional wine quality, to maintain the relevance of quality indicators on the label – sounds like a good idea, but it all depends … here’s an explanation of what gives in St Emilion.
In St Emilion wine quality is organised into a 4-level ascending hierarchy, here is the situation in 2012:
- St Emilion basic AOC wines
- St Emilion Grand Cru (GC) wines – numbering many hundreds of chateaux, or producer
- St Emilion Grand Cru Classé (GCC) – numbering 63 chateaux
- St Emilion Premier Grand Cru Classé (PGCC) – numbering 18 chateaux, with 4 graded A, the top, and 14 graded B
St Emilion GC – what does it mean, in reality?
It means a step up from basic St Emilion, in terms of a more restricted yield, a higher must weight – read ripeness, another 0.5% alcohol, and a longer ageing period before release. BUT, whilst all undergo a tasting panel, there is no quality hierarchy – so consumers need to research the producer for value for money before spending.
The classification system for GCC and PGCC – what is it?
Installed in 1955, and revised every 10 years, with the latest in 2012. This would appear, in theory, to be an equitable system, where a producer can be promoted or demoted depending on measurable performance, as opposed to the pretty much static since 1855 Medoc, Graves and Sauternes-Barsac classifications, where, based on recent performance, some chateaux should rise and some should fall.
St Emilion GCC and PGCC – what do they mean, in reality?
The operation of the classification system acts as the bi-directional gateway to and from GC and GCC status and between GCC and top-level PGCC, that is a chateau may go up as well as down, at 10 year intervals. The validity and utility of the system depends on the criteria used in the evaluation of wines and ‘associated factors’, and the impartiality of the persons involved. This is liable to end in acrimony, or in court, as in the 2006 revision, widely regarded as a fiasco, necessitating a second attempt, published in 2012.
One producer complains that the effect of non-classification amounts to about 30% of a wine’s price, so it’s a very serious business.
In the 2012 revision, a chateau had to score at least 14 out of a maximum score of 20 to achieve GCC status, and for PGCC at least 16/20.
Factors used in accumulating scores, determined and supervised by 2 independent bodies, were:
- Blind tasting of 10 vintages, with 15 for a PGCC
- Chateau reputation – how this was enhanced, including marketing and wine tourism
- Terroir and pricing
- Methods of vineyard and cellar work
Weighting of the 4 factors, as percentages of the maximum score, was, according to the Wine Doctor:
- Blind tasting – GCC 50%, PGCC 30%
- Chateau reputation – GCC 20%, PGCC 35%
- Terroir and pricing – GCC 20%, PGCC 30%
- Methods of vineyard and cellar work – GCC 10%, PGCC 5%
So to become a PGCC, required a blind tasting score of just 6 out of 20 – remarkable. And what has marketing and looking after wine tourists to do with it? Hence my initial question about relevance, and so, except perhaps for the very top flight, who are renowned globally, consumers again ought to think about researching the producer, before parting with a lot of money.