What is a “first growth”?
The term is an awkward literal translation of the French “premier cru,” though it usually specifically refers to the five famous premiers crus of Bordeaux. Just five châteaux, among thousands in the region, were originally designated first growths.
Back in 1855, top wineries in the region were classified according to bottle price and reputation, with five levels, from first growth to fifth growth. In the top echelon, four emerged supreme: Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Haut-Brion. A fifth, Mouton-Rothschild, was added in 1973.
That 19th-century classification, limited though it was in its scope, has had a huge impact on price and quality perception ever since. But many experts would quarrel with its relevance today. Wines such as Château Pétrus and Le Pin, both made in a commune called Pomerol that was not covered in the 1855 ranking, generally fetch higher prices than the Big Five. Château Pavie, located in St-Emilion – also overlooked in the 1855 classification – would undoubtedly rank in the company of the first growths today.
Beppi Crosariol is the co-author, with Lucy Waverman, of The Flavour Principle, a sumptuous new cookbook and drinks compendium, published by HarperCollins.