Travel, Food & Drink Vineyards & Wine

The Big Five: Get to Know Bordeaux’s First Growth Wines

The maisons that produce Bordeaux’s rarest and most valuable wines, known as First Growth, are considered among the best in the world—and each has its own character, explains Christie’s wine expert Chris Munro

The First Growth classification originated in 1855 when Napoleon III requested a categorization of the wines of Bordeaux, and now features five well-known wines. Today, these First Growth wines are widely considered to be among the very best in the world, with prices to match.

Château Mouton Rothschild 1949
Five bottles of Château Mouton Rothschild 1949 sold for £13,800/$22,246 at Christie’s in 2012. Banner image: Château Lafite Rothschild.

Château Mouton Rothschild
One of three Pauillacs, and only elevated to the status of a First Growth in 1973, Château Mouton Rothschild produces wines often described as sumptuous, with intense fruit and classic Cabernet Sauvignon richness. They officially started producing wine here in 1853, when Nathaniel de Rothschild purchased Brane Mouton. Surrounded by well-manicured lawns and topiary, the château is currently under the ownership of Philippe Sereys de Rothschild.

Château Lafite Rothschild
In 2008, 12 bottles produced by Château Latour in 2000 realized £9,200 ($16,689) at auction.

Château Latour
With a history dating back to the 14th century, Château Latour is situated close to the Gironde estuary. It produces a powerful, very long-lived wine often described as muscular. The dominant grape variety is Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up 80 percent of vines. Under the management of president Frédéric Engerer, this property has gone from strength to strength in recent vintages.

Château Lafite Rothschild
The pretty Bordeaux estate of Château Lafite Rothschild, where its valuable First Growth vintages are produced.

Château Lafite Rothschild
Having been in the business since the late 17th century, Château Lafite Rothschild produces wines that have slightly less Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, and are often described as graceful—quite delicate for a Pauillac. Now run by Saskia de Rothschild, this property produces a harmonious and balanced wine. Covering 276.758 acres (112 hectares), the vineyards are well-drained and well-exposed, with a mix of deep gravel, sand, and limestone soils.

Château Margaux
Situated closer to the town of Bordeaux, this is a softer, often silky, wine—more refined than its northern neighbors. Still predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, Château Margaux is an elegant, long-lived wine with a history dating back to the 13th century. Currently managed by Corinne Mentzelopoulos, the estate marked its bicentenary in 2015 with a new addition—a state-of-the-art tasting room designed by starchitect Norman Foster.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2001
First Growth bottles from Château Mouton Rothschild dating from 2001—a notable vintage.

Château Haut-Brion
Situated in the commune of Pessac-Léognan close to the city center of Bordeaux, Château Haut-Brion has an illustrious history predating its owners opening a tavern in England in 1666 in order to sell and promote its wines overseas. The property is planted with much less Cabernet and more Merlot on a gravel bank, similar to the arrangement at Château Latour. This estate produces lavish, generous wines that, although approachable from a younger age, will still age gracefully. It is now run by Prince Robert of Luxembourg.

All five in the First Growth classification are wines for the long haul and age for many decades, hence they all feature widely in Christie’s auction rooms across the globe.

On the Market with Vineyards-Bordeaux

Château Villepreux Bordeaux Vineyard
This well-appointed six-bedroom château, on the market with Vineyards-Bordeaux, an affiliate of Christie's International Real Estate in the region, is located close to Saint-Emilion has been carefully restored and comes with a small vineyard.
Clos de la Barbanne vineyard Bordeaux
This six-bedroom vineyard property, on the market with Vineyards-Bordeaux, an affiliate of Christie's International Real Estate in the region, consists of a well-established vineyard, with vines aged from 40 to 80 years old. The property itself has an indoor heated pool and a cellar for storing and aging the wines.