As in Médoc, the winemakers devised a system of ranking the vineyards. While that of Medoc was done in 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855 that of Saint-Émilion was first done in 1878.
The use of the word first is significant, as unlike the Médoc classification which has never been revised (except for the promotion of Château Mouton Rothschild from 2nd to 1st Grand Cru Classe), the Saint-Émilion classification is revised about every 10 years.
The most important wine of the St.Emilion is the 1er Grand Cru Classé Chateau Cheval Blanc. The Chateau Cheval Blanc from the vintage 1947 is noted as one of the best wines ever made.
Other famous wines from the region of St.Emilion are the 1er Grand Cru Classé Chateau Figeac, Chateau Angelus, Chateau Pavie, Chateau Gaffeliere and Chateau Canon.
St Emilion Soils
So terroir matters everywhere, so perhaps it is just that here in St Emilion it is so much more apparent to the eye. Whereas the Médoc is a land of gently rolling hills where an incline that climbs a mere 20 metres affords you a vantage point over much of the surrounding countryside, in the east of the St Emilion appellation, where the town lies, there is a more imposing escarpment, with vineyards on the slopes and plateau where the soils are rich in limestone, with some areas of clay on the slopes. This plateau, and the slopes or côtes as they are sometimes named, are two of the most important terroirs of the appellation. It is divided into two sections; to the west is the St Martin plateau, home to many of the leading estates of the appellation which are dotted around the town. To the east os the St Christophe plateau, extending eastwards towards the limit of the appellation; although the soils here are favourable the estates are not so prestigious. Then, at the very western end of the appellation, there is Graves-St-Emilion, the smallest of the four principal terroirs; here the vineyards are contiguous with those of Pomerol, and gravel soils predominate. The Gunzian graves de feu, the gravel after which this region of St Emilion is named, was borne to this place by the Isle and Dronne rivers and originates from the Quaternary period. It is gathered in five mounds, of which two bear the vines of Cheval Blanc, the remaining three being entirely Figeac. They have an altitude typically of 36 to 38 metres above sea level, and the gravelly soils are generally 7 to 8 metres deep; beneath this there is the clay that can be found throughout the region.
After limestone, clay and gravel comes sand, the fourth terroir that is typical of St Emilion. There are two main areas of sand; the first is stretched out across the plain to the west of the town of St Emilion and the limestone côtes. Here there are 1200 hectares of vineyards on aeolian (meaning eroded, transported and deposited by winds) sand, and it hosts a number of estates worthy of our attention, but none that yet - as far as the classification committee are concerned - challenge the upper echelons of the St Emilion ranking. Nevertheless, these are certainly not estates that can be ignored; there are many properties here on the up, turning out wines of either excellent quality, excellent value, or indeed both. The second main area of sand is to the south of the town; here there are about 2000 hectares available to the vine, again the terroir is sandy, but this time alluvial, having been deposited here over the years by the Dordogne, which runs just to the south.
Naturally even this subdivision into four terroirs is, in fact, a simplification; for example, the côtes are often thought of as a blending of limestone and clay, but in fact there are silty loam topsoils in places, sometimes sand, with a subsoil that may be more sandstone than limestone in places. Nevertheless, it is the terroirs where limestone, clay and gravel dominate that are of most interest. These regions play host to a collection of estates of superb repute, and indeed these soils might be regarded as sharing equal position at the very top of the St Emilion classification. There are two Class A Premier Grand Cru Classé estates that preside over the St Emilion listing; Cheval Blanc on the gravel, and Ausone on the limestone and clay, although predominately the former. The classification, unlike that of the properties of the Médoc which was set in stone (almost) in 1855, is open to regular review every ten years or so. Unfortunately this process does not run as smoothly as might be imagined, and the 2006 revision was subject to a legal challenge which seemingly put an end to the existence of any classification at all; only a court ruling in late 2007 saved it.