1855: A History of the Bordeaux Classification / Edition 1

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The First Complete Guide to the 1855 Bordeaux Classification—A Fascinating Account for Wine Lovers and an Authoritative Reference for Wine Industry Professionals The 1855 Bordeaux Classification has been a fixture of the wine world for almost 150 years, yet the origin of the system and the thinking behind it have never been thoroughly researched and presented in detail—until now. How was the 1855 classification drafted? Who was responsible? What was the rationale for the cru classe rating, and what criteria were used to determine inclusion and ranking? 1855: A History of the Bordeaux Classification answers these central questions and more. Drawing on primary source material gleaned through professional organizations, municipal archives, and author visits to each Medoc, Graves, and Sauternes property listed in the 1855 classification, this immaculately researched book demystifies every key aspect of the subject. Appendices give readers direct access to documents from the archives of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, selected Bordeaux wine price quotations, and other valuable information. With thoughtful conclusions on the continued viability of the 1855 classification today, this book is essential reading for informed wine industry professionals and wine lovers alike.

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Editorial Reviews

An exposition of the circumstances under which the 1855 classification of the wines of the Bordeaux region was drafted, the people who drafted it, and why they made the decisions they did regarding inclusion, ranking, the cru class<'e> rating, etc. Over half of the book is dedicated to four appendixes detailing Bordeaux classifications before and after 1855, the price tables of numerous wines, selected price quotations for the Bordeaux classed growths, and documents from the archives of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471194217
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
  • Publication date: 12/29/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 556
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

DEWEY MARKHAM, JR., has sold, taught, and written about wine in both the United States and France. He lives and works in Bordeaux, and is the author of Wine Basics.

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Table of Contents

The Universal Exposition of 1855.

The Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce Steps In.

The Classifications Before "The Classification".

The Classification of 1855.

Monplaisir Goudel Steps In.

"...A Source of Embarrassment and a Regrettable Waste of Time...".

"...A Question of Justice, of Good Faith, and of Appearances...".

1856, 1857, 1858...






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First Chapter


It was good to be French in 1855. The three generations of domestic unrest and foreign estrangement that began with the Revolution in 1789 seemed to have reached a conclusion with the ascension of Napoleon III; since his establishment of the Second Empire in 1852, stability and prosperity had returned to a nation feared by many to be on the verge of anarchy.

It had been a tough six decades for France, as much for its successes as for its defeats. The Revolution that promised social reform with the creation of a Republic evolved into the Terror and the reign of the guillotine. Such a state could not continue indefinitely, and with its resolution came the rise of the Corsican general, Napoleon Bonaparte. His Empire fell victim to overreaching ambition with the doomed invasion of Russia in 1812, and Napoleon's hundred-day return from exile in Elba effectively cut short the First Restoration of France's monarchy before giving way to the Second. The nation was internationally isolated after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, and domestically hobbled by the return of an aristocracy that, it has been said, had learned nothing and forgot nothing: intent on settling old scores and recovering property lost in the revolution, they did little to help stabilize a country struggling to resolve the problems of its recent, turbulent, past.

In 1848, as revolutions swept through Europe, the monarchy was driven again from France and replaced with a Second Republic. Once more, conflict among contentious factions prevented any effective progress in bringing stability to the nation; it seemed that France's destiny was to hurtle from one insupportable political condition to another. The country was exhausted, emotionally and economically, and the consequence, feared by all, was anarchy.

France did not lack for saviors, but no one during these years felt himself better suited by nature or fortune to restore the nation to its former grandeur than Louis Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1808, four years after the proclamation of the French Empire. Napoleon Bonaparte was not only his uncle, but his godfather as well, further reinforcing the infant's imperial connections. From his earliest years, Louis Napoleon was instilled with an appreciation for the power his family name possessed as well as the destiny that name imposed upon him; although the Bonapartes were forced into exile after the Empire's collapse in 1814, Louis Napoleon never lost his sense of vocation as heir to the Bonaparte legacy. He profoundly believed that his name obligated him to restore France to greatness, and that France could never be great without a Bonaparte to lead the way. Such sentiments would lead him to two abortive attempts at a coup d'état aimed at overturning the monarchist form of government reestablished in the wake of the Empire. As he grew older, his conception of Bonapartism came to encompass an active social consciousness dedicated to achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of French citizens. "I will strive without end to govern in the interest of the masses," he wrote to a relative. "It's the mission attached to the great name we bear." Authorship of a work entitled The Extinction of Pauperism, a manifesto of social and economic philosophy, further indicated the direction in which his interests lay: "The working class has nothing; it is necessary to give it ownership. Its only wealth is its labor; that labor must be given useful employment for all.... [The working class] must be given a place in society and its interests connected to those of the land. Finally, it is without organization and without attachments, without rights and without a future: it must be given rights and a future and self-esteem through partnership, education, discipline."

As popular dissatisfaction with France's leaders grew in the aftermath of 1848's revolutionary events, it appeared that the long years as guardian of the family legacy were finally going to pay off. The ever-increasing nostalgia for the glory of Bonaparte and the greatness of the French Empire made Louis Napoleon appear as the leader most likely to divide France least, resulting in his election as president of the Second Republic. This positioned him to take matters a step further: on December 2, 1852, Louis Napoleon staged a third--and finally successful--coup d'état. He abolished the Republic and replaced it with a Second Empire, giving himself the imperial powers necessary to ensure the nation's stability while (not coincidentally) fulfilling his own destiny. To underscore the connections with the reign of his uncle, he also assumed the title of Napoleon III. These actions were put to the French in a national plebiscite, and approved by an overwhelming majority. For the first time in decades, national confidence was strong, and France was once again ready to take its place among the world's great nations.

However, while France had been sorting out its domestic life through interminable cycles of civil insurrection, England, its traditional rival, had leapt ahead with a revolution of its own, in which industrial power was to fuel the creation of an empire that was the envy of nations. Especially France.

For centuries, France had been an agrarian society, but Louis Napoleon was intent on creating a great power with a strong industrial base and colonies to nourish it. Among his priorities were the encouragement of commerce and the development of projects to eliminate underemployment. In an address delivered in Bordeaux shortly before proclaiming the Empire, Louis Napoleon outlined his aims for the future of France: "We have immense uncultivated territories to clear, routes to open, ports to dig, rivers to make navigable, canals to finish, our network of railways to complete." Massive undertakings such as the extension of the nation's inadequate railway system not only served an immediate practical need for effective transportation, but also promoted secondary industries such as foundries, which would reduce the necessity of importing rail from England.

The French welcomed these initiatives, and enthusiastically put the nation's dormant reserves of capital to work. The strong performance of the nation's stock market gave solid testimony to domestic confidence in Louis Napoleon's economic policies.

Internationally, however, the appearance of a second French Empire, especially one with a Bonaparte at its head, brought back disturbing memories. Although Louis Napoleon did not intend to repeat the errors of his uncle's first Empire ("The Empire means peace," declared Louis Napoleon in the Bordeaux address of 1852), it would take time to establish Europe's confidence in a newly powerful France.

Other nations had to become accustomed to the idea of France as the French themselves saw it. What better way than to put France on display and invite the entire world to witness its grandeur? It was time for another exhibition of the glories of French industry and commerce.

The French had been staging what we today would call "world's fairs" since the end of the eighteenth century; indeed, they practically invented the modern industrial exhibition. These commercial displays were descended from the market festivals and trade fairs that had been common throughout Europe for centuries. Occasionally such a festival became an annual event, defined by the major commercial activity of a city. Bordeaux, for example, was accorded a royal patent to stage a wine fair beginning in 1212, and by the century's end the affair had enlarged its scope to encompass other goods produced throughout the region. Gradually, the idea of a multidisciplinary fair on a national scale took hold, and the first of these to be staged on a truly grand scale was planned for the year 1797.

This first French exposition was originally something of a distress sale: the continental blockade by the British navy, in response to Napoleon Bonaparte's conquest of mainland Europe, had contributed to a state of overproduction at the French national workshops. At the Gobelins tapestry works, warehouses were full of unsold goods that threatened prolonged unemployment among the workshop's craftsmen. The story was the same at the Savonneries carpet factory and the Sèvres porcelain works.

The solution devised by the commissioner responsible, the Marquis d'Avèze, was to stage a collective display of the workshops' production in the magnificent and, conveniently, unfurnished Château de Saint-Cloud on the outskirts of Paris. Its rooms were transformed into showcases for the hitherto unseen splendors that had been stockpiled in the warehouses, and it was made clear to all that the goods were most certainly available for purchase. To further stimulate interest in possessing these items, a lottery was organized offering a selection of the displays as prizes. Unfortunately, just as this exhibition was set to open its doors, Napoleon Bonaparte learned of plans for a reactionary uprising, and among his measures to head it off was the expulsion from Paris of all members of the aristocracy--including the Marquis d'Avèze. This effectively ended the exhibition before it ever began, but only temporarily. In a few months' time, the political crisis had passed, and the Marquis could return and begin where he had been forced to abandon his project. Now his plans were for an even grander exhibit, this time in Paris itself. The Hôtel d'Orsay was the site Avèze chose for an expanded display, which now included the products of workshops other than the three that were under his charge. Fine art, timepieces, furniture, and silks were among the items that now joined the list of goods to be displayed.

The exhibition not only met Avèze's hopes of financial success, but it also impressed his superior, François de Neufchâteau. As Minister of the Interior, Neufchâteau was responsible for the nation's police forces and the domestic tranquility they were supposed to guarantee. Public entertainments had been a traditional method of pacification ever since the circuses of the Roman Empire, and such exhibitions of French-made goods might be useful in this regard. In addition, another benefit suggested itself to the minister: a showcase for French industrial production could serve as a domestic complement to Napoleon's military success abroad. Deciding that a series of such displays could be very much in the public interest, he announced a new exhibition for September 1798, this time as an official undertaking of the French government.

The sale of goods was no longer a priority; no arrangements were made for public purchase of the items on display. The purpose of this exhibition was made clear by Neufchâteau in the report he wrote at its conclusion: "This is a first campaign against English industry." The exhibition was intended as the continuation of war by other means, which made it appropriate that the exhibition was held on the military parade grounds of the Champ de Mars. Another innovation was the jury established to award prizes for the finest products. Among its members was Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal, a distinguished chemist and member of government, whose experiments in increasing a wine's alcohol content by adding beet sugar to fermenting grape juice would be important in developing the process known as Chaptalization.

Participation in the exhibition was solicited throughout the country, and the 110 exhibitors who met the deadline for entries demonstrated the wide scope of French manufacturing ability: domestic goods such as furniture and ceramics vied for public attention with industrial products from type foundries and armament works. Chemical laboratories and scientific instrument makers also displayed their inventions, testifying to French progress in the physical sciences.

In all, it was an impressive display, and during its three-day existence suggested quite convincingly that French industry could successfully compete abroad with the best that British manufacture could produce. (French manufacturers were more secure in the domestic market, enjoying the protection of high import duties on British-made goods.) However, displaying the potential to vanquish Britain's commercial power was one thing, actual victory was another. Since the battle on the commercial front was far from over, it was decided that national exhibitions would be annual events, intended not only to present the finest that French manufacturers could produce, but to stimulate the industrial development necessary for the country's prosperity. Unfortunately, political uncertainties again exerted their influence and plans for the next exhibition had to be postponed; three years would pass before another would take place.

The French exhibition of 1801 built upon the experience of 1798, establishing an organizational structure that would serve for the future. The requirements for entry were more exacting than in the past, emphasizing some fundamental advance in the method of production or the benefit to be gained by the object on display. To determine whether these criteria were successfully met, committees were established in each of France's eighty-six administrative divisions, known as departments; their function was to pass initial judgment on the articles produced in their areas. Those items possessing sufficient merit would be sent to the exhibition in Paris, where they would compete for medals awarded by the jury of experts.

So it was that for six days in September 1801, 220 representatives of French industry displayed their goods in the courtyard of the Louvre, in an exposition whose date and duration were determined by Napoleon Bonaparte. The head of state himself had come to recognize the value of these events, establishing the close links that developed between France's rulers and these exhibitions.

National exhibitions continued to take place at irregular intervals, resulting in a total of eleven events through 1849. (For the exhibition of 1806, a Bordeaux resident named Quinton suggested that the Gironde's departmental jury include samples from the region's first-growth wine producers, but this idea was rejected.) This last edition had grown to include 4,785 exhibitors for a six-month run on the Champs Elysées, but although each new version tended to be larger, longer, and more ambitious than its predecessor, the fundamental theme remained the glorifi-cation of French industry.

Industrial exhibitions were now imitated in numerous cities throughout Europe with varying degrees of ambition and success, but across the Channel in England such displays were largely ignored. Great Britain was the world's preeminent manufacturing nation, and that was satisfaction enough for most British industrial-ists. Their general attitude was that these expositions were the sort of affairs that might be perfectly acceptable for the French, but British goods could sell themselves without such trumpery.

Still, the idea was in the air, and it was inevitable that someone would eventually attempt such a display. In 1828, a "National Repository for the Exhibition of New and Improved Productions of the Artisans and Manufacturers of the United Kingdom" was launched, only to be met with general apathy despite the patronage of King George IV. It was not until 1851 that an exhibition succeeded in attracting the attention not only of the British population, but of the entire world.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was a celebration of the Industrial Revolution and the advancements it had made possible. Although clearly modeled on the French example, with juries and awards as incentives to bring forth the best for display, this was but a point of departure. The organizers, principal among whom was Queen Victoria's consort Prince Albert, had the inspired idea to solicit participation not just from industry all over Great Britain, but from every nation across the world. This fundamentally changed the scale of the event from a parochial display of "local" talent, to an opportunity for people from every point on the globe to come together in London to see and compare national standards of production.

The tone for the exhibition was set by Prince Albert in his invocation, which was reprinted in the official catalog:

The progress of the human race,
Resulting from the common labour of all men,
Ought to be the final object of the exertion of each individual.
In promoting this end,
We are carrying out the will of the great and blessed God.

Gone was the belligerent tone of the original French exhibitions and the condescending attitude of previous British efforts. More significant, however, was the size and scope of this first international exhibition.

Housed in a monumental structure of glass and iron, which itself was hailed as chief among the wondrous objects on display, the "Crystal Palace" was erected in Hyde Park as a temporary structure to satisfy opposition to a permanent building, which would detract from one of London's principal green spaces. The materials used and their method of mass production made the hall truly representative of the industrial progress the exhibition was intended to celebrate: 300,000 panes of glass measuring 25 × 125 centimeters, cast-iron girders weighing no more than a ton, and 3,300 hollow iron columns were independently manufactured and transported to the building site where assembly was completed in just seventeen weeks.

The 94,000 square meters of the Crystal Palace could accommodate about 15,000 exhibitors, nearly one-half of whom were from Britain and its dominions; the remainder came from over forty nations across the globe. The structure itself was oriented on an east-west axis, with a high, arched transept intersecting the building at its middle. The western half of the display space was given over to the British exhibitors, the eastern portion to the international visitors. The organization among these latter was arranged according to their geographic location: countries in the warmer latitudes were placed near the center of the building, and those from colder areas were given space toward its ends.

French participation was important to the success of this exhibition. France had actively geared its industries to compete in foreign markets, and was the country most able to present a display to match the British. Prince Albert had hoped that British industrial design would be inspired to greater refinement upon being exposed to the finer example of French production; France's representative in London was invited to serve on the royal commission charged with organizing the exhibition. Still, the timing was less than ideal for the French, coming as it did between two political crises. "If France had been able to choose the moment," explained one of the organizers of its national display, "it would not have selected this time between 1850 and 1852; it would have preferred another time when not weakened by such harsh ordeals which have lessened its confidence in the future." The French, however, took up the challenge of showing the English on their own ground the superiority that France had claimed for so long, and mounted the largest display among the foreign contingents, sending 1,710 items, among which were a variety of mustards from M. Grey of Dijon, examples of preserved food from a company in Bordeaux, and an "apparatus for aerating and clarifying Champagne" from a wine merchant in Rheims. According to French explanations, wine itself was not admitted for display, owing to the fact that it was not a major part of British production. Other reasons were also put forth. "The whole range of alcohols and alcoholic drinks are very poorly represented," explained the London Illustrated News. "Regardless of their value in the arts, or as an article of food or medicine, they were not allowed to be exhibited, because they are sometimes turned to a bad purpose. For similar reasons, types might have been prevented, because bad books were sometimes printed; writings, because forgeries were committed; and electro-metallurgic specimens, because they might be serviceable to the false coiner." Among the items that came closest to an inclusion of wines at the Exhibition was a display of "six bottles of champagne wine manufactured in England from rhubarb stalk."

The French showed well at this exhibition, earning 1,043 awards, far more than any other foreign country (the German states were next with 493 awards for 1,402 exhibitors). However, this was small consolation for the unavoidable conclusion that the glory of France's national exhibitions had been hijacked by the British in making their event international in scope. The idea of opening up the French 1849 exhibition to foreign competition had been suggested by the minister of agriculture and commerce Louis-Joseph Buffet. However, the idea came up against one of the cornerstones of French trade policy: the unspoken fear that in a direct comparison with British goods French industry would simply be unable to compete. Although never openly acknowledged, this fear found its most eloquent expression in the decades-old prohibitive French tariffs against British goods. Inviting foreign participation in the 1849 exhibition would have meant opening the door to British competition, which ran counter to traditional protectionist philosophy, and therefore the idea was rejected; now the decision was deeply regretted. "I insist on claiming for France the original idea of a Universal Exposition," the president of the next French exposition would write.

As early as 1849, the suggestion was put to our legislative assembly. If England preceded us in its application, we must attribute this to political circumstances, to certain interests too easily frightened, and also to the difference in the genius of each of our two nations, one more ready to imagine, the other more ready to conceive. But the success of the Universal Exposition in London excited our emulation. Hardly had the doors of the Crystal Palace closed than from all parts came the demand for Paris to mount a comparable competition.

The next French national exhibition was scheduled to open three years later. In England, a correspondent for the London Illustrated News proved prescient when he wrote: "The French exhibition of 1854 will, no doubt, be on a grander and more liberal scale than any of its predecessors; and the example of England will, no doubt, lead the authorities of Paris to a different conclusion from that to which they came [in 1849], viz. not to admit the contributions of foreigners."

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