The 1855 Classification of the Médoc
The 1855 classification of the Médoc was drawn up for the Exposition Universelle de Paris of 1855. This grand exhibition, the brainchild of Emperor Napoleon III (1808 – 1873), was intended to showcase the best of all that was France, to rival the great exhibitions previously held in England, such as that at Crystal Palace in 1851. The exhibition was an elaborate vehicle for boosting trade. Agriculture was a strong component of the exhibition, from displays of the latest agricultural machinery to the new and emerging breeds of sheep, cattle and other livestock. There was also an industrial component, as well as a section devoted to the Beaux Arts of France.
Alongside it all, there was a corner devoted to the wines of France, and in particular Bordeaux.
Having taken the decision to feature Bordeaux, Napoleon III (pictured above in a painting by Alexandre Cabanel) asked the brokers of the region to draw up a list of properties, ranked into five groups according to quality. But quality is perhaps rather nebulous, and the pragmatic businessmen decided to rank the wines according to price, a reasonable surrogate. Although intended as a listing for the show, and nothing more than that, the classification stuck fast and now appears to be with us for the rest of eternity.