We cannot go much further without a small explanation of the 1855 Classification. The original classification was based on reputation and trading price at the time and it defined 59 Chateaux in the Medoc and one in Graves as being worthy of a place in the ranking. The classification is now largely considered out of date, with some Chateaux now punching well above their classification weight and others not quite making the grade for their position. But the original positioning allowed producers to charge for their wines accordingly and invest in vineyards and wineries, further boosting quality. Certainly at the top level of the classification the positioning became self-fulfilling.
The 1855 Classification defined Pauillac as having two First Growths (Mouton was promoted much later in 1973, the only meaningful change in the history of the classification), three Second Growths (including Mouton), no Third Growths, one Fourth Growth and twelve Fifth Growths.
Château Lafite Rothschild is the northern-most First Growth, bordering Cos d’Estournel in St Estephe. Chateau Mouton Rothschild sits in the middle of the commune and Chateau Latour is on the southern boundary bordering St Julien and the vineyards of Leoville Las Cases. Towards the southern boundary and south of Pauillac town lie the two second growths. Directly opposite each other, Pichon Longueville Baron is on the west side of the road, and Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande is on the east side. Both are within spitting distance of Chateau Latour and also fifth growth and the highly regarded Lynch Bages, considered as a second growth by todays standards. The fourth growth is another favourite of mine – Chateau Duhart Milon, made by the Lafite side of the Rothschild family. Notable fifth growths include Clerc Milon and d’Armailhac, Batailley, Grand Puy Lacoste to name a few. Having looked down the list I think we have every fifth growth wine from Pauillac in the shop in one vintage form or another.
Pauillac is special because the vineyards largely lie on gravel beds deposited over millennia by the estuary. These pebble-rich soils allow for free drainage. The estuary itself helps moderate extreme temperature fluctuations and the sand dunes to the west on the Atlantic side protect the vines from excessive sea winds. Weather conditions are largely controlled by the easterly systems coming from the Atlantic but in the best years the commune can experience ideal growing conditions for its two principle grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In warmer years Cabernet Sauvignon is favoured as it has a longer ripening cycle, in cooler years Merlot tends to play a larger role.