Tannin glossary
Left Bank vs Right Bank
The Gironde is an estuary (think of it as a river) that cuts across Bordeaux. The left side of Gironde is referred as “Left Bank” (see green areas in map) and the right side is referred as “Right Bank” (see red areas in map). There are important and famous wine making regions in both left and right banks.
Over the last century, wines from the left bank were generally more famous mainly because of the establishment of the “1855 classification” and larger vineyard sizes. Most vineyards on the right are much smaller with a rough average yearly production of few hundred to few thousand cases, compared to over 20,000 cases annual production by many left bank vineyards. Few thousand cases sound like a very large figure for most end consumers; however, if you were to do a simple straight line math considering that there are approximately 200 countries in the world, each country will only have a share of 15 cases. This means that only very few end consumers in the world will be exposed to these products.
A lack of popularity makes a lot of right bank wines less famous but it does not mean that these wines are poorer or lower in quality. For example, wines like Petrus, Ausone and Cheval Blanc from the right bank are generally perceived as among the very best in the world, demanding prices sometimes way above many counterparts on the left bank. To certain extents, comparing brands between left and right banks is like comparing Ferrari and McLaren. Both companies make super sports car but the Ferrari brand is more famous and recognizable because the yearly production is a lot larger.


  1855 Classification:
In 1855, Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification (or grading) system for French Bordeaux wines with the goal of promoting image and popularity of French wine to visitors from around the world. Focusing on the Medoc region, 58 chateaus were picked out of thousands to be included in this classification system. The only exception, not from the Medoc region, is Haut Brion from Graves.
These 58 chateaus were categorized into five grades called first, second, third, fourth and fifth growths, with first growth being the best of the best. All chateaux in this classification system were called “Grands Crus Classes” or simply “classified wines” or “Grands Crus”. As expected, there were heated reactions once this classification was released. People argued that many chateaus from other regions should have been included and others argued that certain chateau should belong to either a higher or lower ranking. Despite all debates and differences in opinion (and very likely political and financial reasons at the time), the 1855 Classification became final and continued to be one of the most widely used references in the wine industry today.
Many wine critics have argued that the 1855 Classification became outdated and does not provide an accurate guide to the quality of wines being made from each chateau, especially considering changes in ownership of many chateaus and modifications of wine making techniques each adopted. In the end, the 1855 classification remained unchanged over a century due to many complicated reasons, with the only exception of Mouton Rothschild being elevated from second to first growth in 1973.
Despite all controversies over the last century, most classified chateaus continue to make outstanding and stunning wines to justify their claims as the bests in France or even the world. The consistency in achieving high qualities leaves the 1855 classification still a relevant  and powerful guide for many wine lovers today.
Cru Bourgeois
In 1932, a new classification system called Cru Bourgeois was introduced to include high quality Medoc wines from the left bank that did not make the list in the 1855 classification. Unlike the 1855 classification, this Cru Bourgeois list was updated regularly and included over 200 chateaus.
The inclusion of any particular chateau in the Cru Bourgeois classification should in theory offer consumer a certain level of trust in quality. However, one should be reminded that qualities still vary significantly among all these 200+ brands, with some demanding much higher prices compared to the others.  There are also a few exceptions where individual reputable chateaus chose not to be part of this classification.
Graves Classification
The 1855 classifications of the Médoc, Sauternes and Barsac ignored what are undoubtedly very important regions of Bordeaux, notably St Emilion, Pomerol and Graves. Determined to protect and promote the identity of the region, the Graves classification was first drawn up in 1953. A number of changes were made in the subsequent years and the 1959 version is considered final. Haut Brion is the only chateau that is included in both 1855 and Graves classifications. Unlike the 1855 classifications with multiple tiers (first growth to fifth growth), this classification only has one tier and contains 13 reds and 9 whites.   The most important region within Graves that produces most of the highest quality wines is Pessac-Leognan.
St Emilion Classification
Similar to the Graves classification, with the intention of promoting image and popularity of wines from St Emilion of the right bank, the initial classification was published in 1955. There were a number of changes in the classification with some new wines added and some others removed since the original publication. The 4 tiers in this system are:
  • Premier Grand Cru Class A
  • Premier Grand Cru Class B
  • Grand Cru Classe
  • Grand Crus
Only two very famous chateaus, Ausone and Cheval Blanc, were awarded Premier Grand Cru Class A.  There are 13 Premier Grand Cru Class B and 46 Grand Crus.
Pomerol is a relatively small region compared to Medoc and Graves from the left bank and its neighbor St Emilion  on the right bank. Production by individual vineyards is generally small. Unlike other wine regions, there is no classification system in Pomerol. Having that said, Pomerol produces some of the most reputable and stunning wines in the world. There are many famous names such as Petrus, Le Pin, Latour a Pomerol, La Conseillante, Hosanna, La Fleur Petrus and many others.
Ex-chateau Stocks vs Secondary Markets & Auctions
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of this section. We strongly encourage you to take some time to read through our information. We hope we can provide you easy to understand yet professional information such that you become a smarter consumer and make more informed decisions when it comes to wine purchasing.
The understanding of wine purchased from secondary markets and auctions compared to Ex-chateau stocks is an EXTREMELY important knowledge for consumers.   Unfortunately, due to many complicated business, legal and regulatory reasons, most consumers (or even wine importers) in the world today still do not fully understand the differences and risk associated.

Ex-chateau Stocks
Ex-chateau stock is defined as stocks that are directly purchased and shipped from Chateau’s designated distributors called Negociants. Almost all Bordeaux wines, new or old, available in the worldwide market today originated from Negociants. Chateaus rarely (almost never) sell and distribute their wines directly to end consumers around the world. French distributors (Negociants) have the worldwide network and business relationships with local distributors, who will further distribute the products to local retail outlets, supermarkets, restaurants and so on.
In terms or transportations and handlings, Negociants will carefully transport wines from various chateaus in France to their local warehouse before being shipped internationally. It will then be up to importers to determine how well the handling and transportation will be done when shipped from France to a local country. Important considerations include timing of transportation to avoid heat in the summer, how experienced the shipping company is, custom clearance and the correct judgment on whether to use refrigerated containers  which are more expensive. Many wines are very sensitive to heat and vibrations as a result of constant movements. A lack of attention to all these handling details will significantly increase the chance of spoilage. This is a serious matter since wine is supposed to be a product that will go into your stomach.
Secondary Markets
Secondary Market purchase is defined as purchases of wine NOT directly from the origin. There are many examples:
  1. Buying a bottle or case of wine from your friend who bought it from an unknown source or received it as a gift
  2. A private collector who purchased a large amount of wine many years ago and now want to sell you his/her collections
  3. Buying from a local wine shop who purchased their stock at a “cheaper than market” price but with questionable qualities and conditions
  4. A case of wine available on Ebay which may have travelled from France to Brazil to China to Australia over the last 10 years and now being sold by an American seller
On top of examples above, there are numerous other scenarios you can come up with. When considering purchases from the secondary market, the common challenge is that it is extremely difficult (and almost impossible) to guarantee the historical handling and storage. As a result, it is very difficult to assess the possibility of spoilage or deterioration of conditions.
To further complicate the issue, there are increasing volumes of fake/counterfeit wine produced across the world. This does not only happen to the most expensive wines; we have heard and tasted many fake wines even on mid price brands (e.g. HK$300). With the level of technology advancements today, making fake wines look real is a relatively easy task. This problem gives the wine industry and consumers big headaches since it is very difficult to judge by just looking at the bottle and you may (or may not) be able to tell whether it’s real until you open the bottle and try it. Industry insiders estimate that within a range of 5 – 15% of all premium wine available worldwide are fake, although it is almost impossible to validate this figure.
At Topsy, we DO NOT discourage consumers to purchase from the secondary market. We only hope that consumers are fully aware of all risks before purchasing from those companies. Buying from secondary markets is generally cheaper which is tempting but you better make sure that you are buying from trustable sources. It is your right to question more the ownership and transportation history of products your consider to purchase.
In topsy’s warehouse, NONE of our stock is bought from secondary market. Hence, we don’t BUY  BACK stock from customers too.
Auctioning of wine by large and small auction houses became popular since the 70’s in the UK. It gained popularity in the 80’s in the United States and has become increasingly popular in Asia since the mid 2000’s. Most of the auctioned items came from private collections so by definition should be classified as secondary market purchases. There are rare occasions where Chateaus or Negociants work directly with auction houses to sell ex-chateau stocks in large quantities.
Buying from auctions can be tempting because of good pricings but assessments on quality and genuineness can be very challenging. At Tannin, we DO NOT discourage consumers to purchase from auctions or secondary markets. We only wish to provide all insider professional knowledge to assist you in understanding all pros and cons. Again, in tannin’s warehouse, none of our stock are bought from auction.
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