The Somm Set by Benchmark Wine Group






Liz Mitchell

Welcome to our newest series, The Somm Set. Each month we’ll be sitting down with a guest sommelier and uncovering their guilty pleasures, cellar staples, and everything in between! Follow as they hand-select their favorites from our warehouse, giving you the inside scoop on cellar must-haves!


This month on The Somm Set, we’re excited to feature Liz Dowty Mitchell, Advanced Sommelier. Join us as we explore everything from her passion for wine, favorite wine and food pairing, and her newest endeavors.


Summer of Riesling
The Somm Set Home
 

This week from Liz Dowty Mitchell:

Over the weekend, it was publicly announced that two of the top Châteaux in St. Émilion— Château Cheval-Blanc and Château Ausone did not submit their applications that were due on June 30th to be considered for the 2022 St. Émilion re-classification. As expected, this news caused a shockwave in the wine community and is creating much uncertainty for aspiring St. Émilion Châteaux seeking to upgrade their classification as well as the other two peers of Cheval Blanc and Ausone— Angélus and Pavie. But one thing is certain, Cheval Blanc and Ausone, the two OGs of the four having been rated the top two Châteaux since 1954, are not happy with the current status quo of the St. Émilion classification system and are not interested in participating until further notice.

It’s a classification system that has not been without its fair share of problems and controversy since its inception. On paper, the premise of the classification system seemed very fair and equitable, with every Châteaux in the region having to submit paperwork every ten years to be re-evaluated based on various criteria that appeared to be rooted in objectivity and quality. The current hierarchy is as follows: Premier Grand Cru Classé A (comprised of 4 Châteaux), Premier Grand Cru Classé B (comprised of 14 Châteaux), Grand Cru Classé and then Grand Cru. 

Following the initial classification in 1954, the list was updated in 1969, 1986, 1996 without much fanfare due to very little change. It wasn’t until 2006 when things started to get heated. The fifth classification of St.-Émilion, announced in September 2006 and comprising 15 Premier Grand Crus Classés and 46 Grand Cru Classés, was challenged by four dissatisfied producers that had been demoted. The legal dispute centered on the fact that several members of the panel involved in assessing the wines had vested interests (e.g., négociants with business dealings with some of the Châteaux), and thus could be suspected of not being impartial.

In short, the 2006 classification was declared invalid following a series of legal actions, and the 1996 version of the classification was reinstated for the 2006 to 2009 vintages. So then for the 2012 classification, it was conducted differently than previous efforts, with tastings and inspections outsourced by the INAO to independent groups with no involvement by the St.-Émilion Wine Syndicate and Bordeaux wine trade, but instead with wine professionals from Burgundy, Rhône Valley, Champagne, Loire Valley and Provence who made up a seven-person commission. Additionally, the rule that only allowed a fixed number of Châteaux to be classified was also thrown out. This year resulted in Château Pavie and Château Angélus being upgraded to Premiere Classé A, joining Cheval Blanc and Ausone. By far, the most significant change since the classification system was introduced. But this year was not without contention when three Châteaux unsuccessfully challenged their demotion in January 2013, claiming there were procedural errors in the selection process.

Since their promotion, Château Pavie and Château Angélus have enjoyed a considerable increase to their values and reputations, so it’s easy to see why the classification holds so much weight and why the rebuke of Cheval Blanc and Ausone is so devastating to everything the classification system was founded on. Until this weekend, the ultimate goal of the 14 Premier Grand Cru Classé B chateaux was to join the ranks of the 4 Premier Grand Cru Classé A Châteaux. But now, this has undoubtedly cast a shadow on these aspirations. The really interesting thing is to predict how this shakeup could play out. I don’t think that this will affect the values and reputation of Cheval Blanc or Ausone. At this point, they are too established and prestigious. If anything, this solidifies that they are comfortable enough with their stance to be able to afford to make such a bold move. This scenario is comparable to Sassicaia (arguably one of Italy’s greatest wines) pulling out of the Chianti Classico designation and being classified as Vino da Tavola until Italy created an entirely new classification region for them which is Bolgheri.

I think that this will force the INAO to review all of the issues that Cheval Blanc and Ausone have with the current classification system and re-evaluate them. This may, however, delay the 2022 classification, or if anything, I have no doubt that whatever re-classification does take place will get contested in court. I think that if any Châteaux do get upgraded to Premier Grand Cru Classé A while Cheval Blanc and Ausone are absent from the group, their values will be slightly stymied and most likely will not enjoy the rapid increase in price which has happened to their peers. But most importantly, I think that there is no better time to stock up on all of the Premiers Grand Cru Classé A Châteaux but especially Cheval Blanc and Ausone, because I have a strong feeling that the vintages that are labeled with this classification will strongly appreciate in value since as it appears now, they will be last. Not to mention, these wines are some of the most beautiful expressions of Merlot crafted in the world and are world-class representations of Bordeaux that can age beautifully for decades.


Check out all the wines mentioned below!


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Angelus
2003
12 In Stock
750ml
WA98–99
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2006
3 In Stock
750ml
WA95
WE95
D94
V93
WS93
JL93
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2008
11 In Stock
750ml
JD95
WE94
D94
V93
WA93
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Ausone
2000
3 In Stock
1.5L
WCI100
2000
5 In Stock
1.5L
OWC
WCI100

To request an OWC, please inquire.

2003
2 In Stock
750ml
WA100
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2005
5 In Stock
750ml
V100
WA100
WS100
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2005
1 In Stock
1.5L
V100
WA100
WS100
This product is a part of The Brian Devine Cellar
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Cheval Blanc
2002
16 In Stock
750ml
JK93
WS92
CT92
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2010
3 In Stock
750ml
WA100
JS100
WE100
JD100
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2011
4 In Stock
750ml
WA97
JD96
D95
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2015
1 In Stock
750ml
TL
WA100
WE100
WCI100
TWI100
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Pavie
2010
10 Pre-Arrival
750ml
WA100
JD100

Wines due to arrive June - July 2024

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