The classification of French wine is never an easy subject to understand. Just by looking at the labels on wine bottles, there are many different jargons such as Grand Cru, Premier Cru, year (vintage), brut and more.
The term Grand Cru and Premier Cru has caused a lot of confusion, especially to new wine drinkers. You are in the right place as we explain all you need to know about Premier Cru.
What is Premier Cru?
To explain it properly, you will first have to know that there are a total of five cru classification levels:
- Premier Cru
- Deuxiemes Cru (Second Growth)
- Troisiemes Crus (Third Growth)
- Quatriemes Crus (Fourth Growth)
- Cinquiemes Crus (Fifth Growth)
Essentially, Premier Cru is the first growth. Under the Wine Official Classification of 1855, by order of Emperor Napoleon III, the wines were differentiated by certain aspects. They were ranked according to the wine producer’s reputation and price mainly.
Originally, the classification began in Bordeaux but other wine regions in France eventually adopted it.
Under the Wine Official Classification of 1855, it has classified the Premier Cru wines as the best of the best. It was decided that a few selected estates have built such a reputation for producing quality wines and champagnes that the wine grapes from these vineyards were wanted internationally at high market prices.
At the time, only red wines were classified as it was deemed more important. Only the white wines of Sauternes and Barsac were among the ranking.
The top ranked wines were named the Grand Crus Classes and for over a hundred years, under the Wine Official Classification of 1855, it remained unchanged until finally, in 1973, the Mouton Rothschild was promoted to Premier Cru status. The owner of Mouton Rothschild, Baron Philippe de Rothschild lobbied for the status unrelentingly. Learn more about the Grand Cru Classes here.
As we stated above, the classifications began in Bordeaux but other wine regions in France eventually took on the same manner of classification as well. Other premier cru wines that eventually adopted the same system include:
Bordeaux sweet wine
Twenty one of the best sweet wines from Bordeaux were classified as Grand Crus Classes but in a separate list in 1855. Originally, nine wines from the Sauternes and Barsac regions were under Premier Cru.
The others were assigned to the rank of Deuxiemes Cru (Second Growth) though it is still quite prestigious.
One wine, the Château d’Yquem, though a Bordeaux sweet wine, was considered so great that it was granted a special classification of its own – the Premier Cru Superieur.
Burgundy remains as its own classification scheme and it is based on specific appellations. The classification in Burgundy is attached to the vineyards themselves. The highly rated vineyards are called the Grand Cru.
Champagne Premier Cru
Across the Champagne region, there are 43 villages located across the region with Premier Cru vineyards. To further break it down, out of the 43 villages, two villages – Chouilly and Tours-sur-Marne – are actually Grand Cru vineyards but only for one specific grape variety and the other varieties are Premier Cru. Two villages – Etrechy and Grauves – are classified as Premier Crus but just for one grape variety only.
In total, there are 7,500 acres of Premier Cru Champagne. This amounts to almost 22 percent of Champagne. In this classification, it ranges from 90 to 99 percent, depending on the village, vineyard and quality of grapes.
Premier crus villages or communes are:
- 99% – Mareuil-sur-Ay, Tauxieres
- 95% – Bergeres-les-Vertus, Billy-le-Grand, Bisseuil, Chouilly (black grapes only), Cuis (white grapes only), Dizy, Grauves (white grapes only), Trepail, Vaudemanges, Vertus, Villeneuve-Renneville, Villers-Marmery, Voipreux
- 94% – Chigny-les-Roses, Cormontreuil, Ludes, Montbre, Rilly-la-Montagne, Taissy, Trois-Puits
- 93% – Avenay, Champillon, Cumieres, Hautvillers, Mutigny
- 90% Bezannes, Chamery, Coligny (white grapes only), Cuis (red grapes only), Ecueil, Etrechy (white grapes only), Grauves (red grapes only), Jouy-les-Reims, Le Mesneux, Pargny-les-Reims, Pierry, Sacy, Tours-sur-Marne (white grapes only), Villedommange, Villers-Allerand, Villers-aux-Noeuds
Premier Crus Today
In modern times, the premier cru classification is generally split into two – Bordeaux reds and Bordeaux sweet wines
Bordeaux reds are the original Premier Cru from the 1855 Classification called the Premier Grand Cru.
Premier Grand Cru
Under the Premier Grand Cru, there are 5 chateaus, which are:-
Château Lafite Rothschild
This is a wine estate owned by members of the Rothschild family. It was awarded the First Growth status in the 1855 Classification, based on the prices and wine quality of that time and ever since then, has been a consistent producer of one of the world’s most expensive red wines.
The vineyard is one of the largest in the Medoc at 107 hectares.
The estate’s best wines are very expensive. Located in the commune of Margaux, in the Medoc region, it achieved Premier cru status in the 1855 Classification. The estate extends to 262 hectares with 12 of these hectares cultivated for Savignon blanc to make the dry white Pavillon Blanc.
Rated as a first growth (Primer Cru) under the 1855 Classification, this wine estate is owned by Groupe Artemis. The estate produces three red wines only – The Grand vin, Les Forts de Latour and Pauillac de Latour.
The estate has 78 hectares.
Just outside the city of Bordeaux, this wine estate is in the region of Graves. It is the only wine with the Pessac-Leognan appellation. The estate devotes 48.35 hectare of land to the red grape varieties.
Originally, it was known as the Château Brane-Mouton but in 1753, it was renamed to Château Mouton Rothschild. Mainly producing grapes of the Cabernet Sauvignon variety, the estate has 90 hectares of grape vines.
Bordeaux sweet wines
There are two classifications of Bordeaux sweet wines, which are, Premier Cru Superieur and simply Premier Cru.
Premier Cru Supérieur
This category was created specifically for the Château d’Yquem as it was considered so great it had to have a category of its own.
This estate is the only Sauternes given this rating for its perceived superiority and higher prices over other wines of its type. Premier cru wines from this estate are categorized by their complexity, concentration and sweetness, balanced by high acidity. A bottle from Château d’Yquem can last for a century or more but only if kept properly.
The vineyard has 126 hectares in the Sauternes appellation though only 100 hectares are in production at any time.
The Premier Cru are mainly from Sauternes and Barsac. The communes of Bommes, Fargues and Preignac were once separate communes but now fall under Sauternes.
Château La Tour Blanche
The Château La Tour Blanche is a sweet white wine ranked in the original 1855 Classification. The winery is located in the Bommes commune, containing 65 hectares.
This winery is located in the southern part of France in the Graves commune in Bommes. The vineyard extends 37 hectares and grapes planted here are of the Semillon, Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle varieties.
Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey
Also belonging to the Sauternes appellation in Graves, this winery was purchased by French wine tycoon Bernard Magrez in 2012.
Château de Rayne-Vigneau
This is a sweet white wine estate ranked as a Premier Cru under the original 1855 Classification. In 2004, the estate was owned by Credit Agricole until in 2015, the estate was bought by the group Tresor du Patrimoine.
Also a sweet white wine estate ranked in the original 1855 Classification, Château Suduiraut was formerly Cru du Roy and Château de Suduiraut.
This château is one of the oldest Sauternes producing vineyards. Located between the Garonne and Ciron rivers, the vineyard extends 38 hectares with grape varieties of Semillon, Sauvignon blanc and Muscadelle.
From the Barsac appellation, the estate produces 100% Semillon grape variety and extends 29 hectares.
Belonging to the Sauternes appellation, the vines on this vineyard are, on average, 35 to 40 years old.
The Château Rieussec is a sweet white wine in the original 1855 Classification in the Sauternes appellation. This winery is located in the commune of Gargues. Vineyards here cover 93 hectares and borders those of Château d’Yquem in the west.
The wine estate is located in the Sauternes. It was once joined with Château Sigalas-Rabaud in the estate named Château Rabaud.
Previously named Château Rabaud-Sigalas, is in the original 1855 Classification and located in the Sauternes appellation. With only 14 hectares, this is the smallest of all the crus classes of the 1855 Classification.
When you come across a bottle of wine or champagne with the words Premier Cru or just Premier on the label, you are guaranteed to be tasting quality wine. Referring to the first growth, Premier Cru champagne or Premier Cru wine are made from exceptional grapes, proven throughout history.