The 1855 classification was the first of its kind in the world (Bordeaux wines had been loosely ranked before this, but not in such an official format), and established the region undoubtedly as one of the most reliable sources of fine wine in Europe (long before, of course, there was any suggestion that there could be fine wine from elsewhere).
Its unchanging nature has often been a source on contention, with second growths who are said not to deserve their place, and fifths growths who regularly outdo them in price and quality. Attempts to rework it, though, have always been resisted (and who can blame them, when yoi look at Saint Emilion and the Cru Bourgeois). It is important to note that chateaux were accorded their place due to the price that they reached on the marketplace - and not just a price over the previous few years before 1855, but in some cases with records reaching back over a few hundred years.
Serena Sutcliffe, when asked on the 1855 classification’s longevity, commented, 'Largely because [the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce] got a lot of it right. It was based on the combined opinions of brokers and négociants. They based their decisions on price history. You might say it’s a bit crass, but over a very long period, certain châteaux have always fetched higher prices than other châteaux because their wines offered more consistent quality. Interestingly, the high prices did correspond to the best positions in Bordeaux. And that’s why the classification has held for so long. There are some [estates] that one might demote because they’ve diluted their holds, and others that were left out because of absentee owners. But when you look at the classification overall, it holds up. Not many institutions can claim that after 150 years.'
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (promoted from Second Growth in 1973)
Chateau Pichon-Baron de Longueville
Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
Chateau Léoville-Las Cases
Chateau Cos d'Estournel
Chateau Malescot St-Exupéry
Chateau Marquis d'Alesme Becker
Chateau La Lagune
Chateau St Pierre
Chateau Lafon Rochet
Chateau La Tour Carnet
Chateau du Tertre
Chateau Cantemerle (promoted in 1856)
At the time, the wines of Sauternes and Barsac were also classified, with Chateau Yquem being called Superieur First Growth, ranked above all the others in the region because it was sold far more expensively than the other wines, often ending up being supped by the Russian tsars.