In 1855, at the express command of Napoleon III, the Bordeaux wine trade cobbled together a classification of the vineyards of the Medoc. This document, part of the region’s contribution to the Universal Exposition in Paris, has enjoyed surprising longevity: now, more than 150 years later, it still serves as the pricing guideline for the region’s major estates.

It’s safe to assume that none of the courtiers involved in this last-minute project could ever have imagined that well into the 21st century it would remain not merely the benchmark for Bordeaux but unsurpassed by any comparable effort anywhere else in the world. It’s not as if those who contributed to the project invested vast statistical acumen in the enterprise. To determine the respective merits of the various chateaux, they simply used as a metric what the trade was prepared to pay for the wines.

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