A couple of old Rhônes + a minor change to the Saint-Emilion Classification?

1980 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château de Beaucastel

Couple of old Roans

Part of my post this week continues last week’s theme of wine’s longevity and resilience with a couple of red Rhônes from the 1980s that were still enjoyable with one showing extremely well.

First up the above 1980 from Beaucastel. Before attempting to pull the cork I had my doubts as the level was a little down. Once I had got the cork out any doubts disappeared – the 1980 was delicious with lovely evolved sweet fruit and excellent with roast Scottish beef. Looking at Decanter’s 1980 vintage report they mention that Beaucastel stood out – spot on!! We would have bought this 1980 sometime in the 1980s when we used to spend the summer holidays camping in the Vaucluse.

1984 Gigondas Domaine de Longue-Toque

Along with Les Pallières Domaine de Longue-Toque was another of our favourite Gigondas’ producers. In those days it was owned by Serge Chapalain. Now ownership has passed to Gabriel Meffre. The level on this 1984 bottle was perfect but the wine reflected the more difficult 1984 vintage. Although still drinkable it was nowhere near the level of the 1980 Beaucastel – it didn’t have the concentration and the fruit was not as ripe – a little green. However, despite this our bottle of 1984 Gigondas had stood the test of time.


Minor change to the Saint-Emilion Classification?

It is being reported that when the new Saint-Emilion Classification is published new year it will not include either Ausone or Cheval Blanc. Not because the standard of wines from these two well known properties has declined dramatically – instead their owners have decided to leave the Saint-Emilion Classification, so did not return their application forms by the deadline of 30th June 2021. Below are a couple of reports on this apparent decision to leave the classification, which I understand is much appreciated by the legal fraternity.


Will Cheval Blanc and Ausone no longer be Grand Cru Classé ‘A’ as from the 2021 vintage? 

If so, it won’t be because of the Commission de Classement. The closing of the Saint-Emilion classification applications took place on June 30 and neither Cheval Blanc nor Ausone returned their copies.

Unlike the left bank classification system of 1855 that is pretty much immutable (with the exception of Mouton’s promotion to Premier Cru in 1973), the St Emilion classification is reviewed approximately once every 10 years, permitting a periodic revaluation of quality and performance. It’s not all been plain sailing; the 2006 reclassification was plagued by accusations of impropriety and was eventually annulled. Consequently, tastings conducted for the 2012 reclassification were outsourced to independent groups from across France to rehabilitate the process.

Cheval Blanc and Ausone, the first St Emilion producers to be awarded Classé A classification in 1954 when it was created, are effectively leaving the classification system.

The Classé A incumbents evidently concluded that the system is no longer sufficiently discriminating to reflect the ranking of their respective properties compared to their peers.

This bombshell threatens to undermine the kudos and financial benefits of promotion to Classé A, and in turn the market pricing potential of those that are elevated. Not to mention it raises questions of the credibility of the St Emilion classification system more broadly.  

So what does the two colossus’s departure say about the process of decennial review? How does this reflect on the composition and process of the Commission de Classement? 

Is Grand Cru Classé A about to lose its lustre; devalued by ambitious properties busy erecting glitzy edifices? Concrete and stone, some say, matter more than they ought to compared to the brilliance of the wines and their track record. 

Or, is Classé A promotion a reflection of the qualitative transformation we see taking place in St Emilion – given the strongly weighted preconditions of a sustained track record of exceptional results and market recognition – and therefore are not elevations thoroughly deserved? 

Let’s see what happens over the coming weeks. Can Cheval Blanc and Ausone be courted back into the fold, or is their departure (by omission of submission) a fait accompli? Assuming the latter, perhaps we’ll see more promotions next year than we might have otherwise. What effect this all has economically on those producers who attain Classé A classification is now more uncertain than ever.’

Chris Kissack, The Wine Doctor, also reports here.

I am very pleased to report that Ausone and Cheval Blanc leaving the Saint-Emilion Classification will not in any way affect my purchases – I still won’t be able to afford these wines…

A trance @Carn an Fhreiceadain



5 réflexions sur “A couple of old Rhônes + a minor change to the Saint-Emilion Classification?

  1. Mike Rijken

    Indeed 1980 was a very good vintage for Beau castel. When I worked there we were also very fond of the 1981 and 1979. But more over, for those that had a chance of a taste of the white 1980 in those days it was even more remarkable; It made my love for Rousanne growing as in 1980 Beaucastel had, but for the first time, put some Roussanne Veilles vignes aside. It is my strong conviction that what Chardonnay can be for Burgundy, and Riesling for Alsace, Roussanne can be for the Rhonevalley. Nothing wrong to say about old Marsanne , but I think that Roussanne has a twist more of complexity.

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  2. Per Karlsson, BKWine

    « Is Grand Cru Classé A about to lose its lustre »… Well, it all depends on what you think a classification is for.

    If you think it is as a consumer guide to wine quality it never really has had any lustre (which goes for all classifications).

    If you think the purpose of the classification is to let the proprietors extract rent, then, yes, maybe it will. A little bit.

    But that might just make it a more level playing field, might it no?

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      1. Per Karlsson, BKWine

        I would go further than that. Any classification is misleading. Full stop.

        If a classification purports to be a guide for the consumer for wine quality, then it is always misleading. There is no objective measure of wine quality. It is per force subjective, and thus a classification becomes misleading.

        But I suspect that for most classifications (there aren’t that many, fortunately) the raison d’etre is not to be a guide to consumers…

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