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In 1855, in response to a request from Emperor Napoleon III to come up with something of regional significance for the Exposition Universelle, the Gironde Chamber of Commerce briefed the local courtiers (wine brokers) to create a classification of the local vineyards. The document they produced became what is now known as the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. The top 58 properties were divided into five tiers, the highest rank of which is “First Growth”.

Controversy was inevitable, with many attempts over the years to amend it. In addition, most of the other Bordeaux appellations that were excluded from it have since attempted to create their own. The much younger St Emilion classification has yielded a stream of litigation, and now three of the four top estates have exited from it entirely. It seems that to be unassailable, this kind of rating system should have the authority of stone tablets carried down from Mount Sinai...

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