The Classification explained
The 'Honour Roll' of fine Australian wine
Langton’s Classification of Australian wine is the paramount form guide to Australia’s finest wines. Entry into the Classification is based on a wine’s reputation and track record at auction.
The inaugural Classification, in 1990, included just 34 wines. Classifications II, III and IV followed at approximately five-year intervals, tracking the leading wines, and documenting the dramatic growth and increasing maturity of the Australian fine wine scene.
By 2010, when the fifth edition appeared, the Classification had evolved to include 123 wines and its authority was universally recognised.
The sixth edition – Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine VI – unveiled on 1 May 2014 – includes 139 wines and incorporates a number of important changes and additions.
In its early years the Classification successfully strengthened the fledgling market for fine Australian wine. Twenty-five years later it is arguably the most famous and widely-respected wine Classification outside Europe.
The formula for success
The two basic requirements for inclusion in the Classification are that a wine has been made for a minimum of 10 vintages and that it has a track record in the secondary market.
Eligibility rests on how well a wine performs in an open market – the volume of demand it attracts and the prices it realises. Ultimately, the reputation of a wine is based on its auction pedigree – the record it builds up, over time.
Charting an evolution
Revised every five years, the Classification documents an evolving Australian winemaking culture at the forefront of innovation and excellence in the world of fine wine. It also reflects a continuing momentum towards single vineyard wines and regional identity. It maintains a strong emphasis on red wines, particularly labels renowned for cellaring potential.
The Classification is market-driven, and the market shifts and changes over time. While a number of wines have moved within categories, all wines from Classification V have been retained in Classification VI, underlining the maturity and stability of the market.
See previous Classifications:
- Classification I. 199034 Wines
- Classification II. 1996 64 Wines
- Classification III. 2000 89 Wines
- Classification IV. 2005 101 Wines
- Classification V. 2010123 Wines
Understanding the Classification
The Classification is aimed at anyone with an interest in fine wine. Many will be connoisseurs and collectors, and the Classification inevitably includes wines that are popular with investors. While some classified wines have increased in value over time, Langton’s advice is to beware of investing in wine for financial profit without a full understanding of the pitfalls.
As a reflection of market sentiment captured on a regular, moving basis, the Classification does not and cannot aim to be absolute or definitive; the market is always in flux.
The authority of the Classification derives from its independence; the fundamental criteria for inclusion are objective and market-driven.
The Classification is a market barometer. It is not meant to entrench an order of things.
The number of levels or categories in the Classification has been reduced from four to three: Exceptional, Outstanding and Excellent. This decision was made because the margin of difference between Excellent and Distinguished was increasingly difficult to define. A three-level ranking is simple and easy to understand.
Only 16 wines have been added, reflecting the difficulty of achieving prestige and traction on the secondary market. The total number of Classified wines is now 139, up from 123 in Classification V.
The iconic Penfolds Grange Shiraz remains at the head of the Classification. It is a cornerstone of the Australian secondary market and enjoys a unique place in the Australian fine wine narrative.
Classification VI recognises Australia's classic wine regions: Margaret River, the Barossa (Barossa Valley and Eden Valley), Clare Valley, Coonawarra, McLaren Vale, Yarra Valley and Hunter Valley.
Also represented are: Beechworth, Geelong, Grampians, Heathcote, Mornington Peninsula, Pyrenees, Rutherglen, South Gippsland, Canberra District, Tasmania and others.
Making the grade
South Australia continues to dominate the Classification with 79 wines. Victoria follows, with 36 wines, then Western Australia with 12, NSW with nine and Tasmania with two. One wine (Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay) is typically a multi-state blend.
The ascendancy of the Barossa continues. Thirty Classified wines come from this region, which includes both the Barossa Valley and the Eden Valley. Next is Coonawarra, with 15 wines, and the Clare Valley, with 12. Eleven multi-region South Australian wines are also included.
The 36 Classified Victorian wines (eight from the Yarra Valley) are spread across 13 regions.
Of Western Australia’s 12 Classified wines, 10 are from Margaret River, and in NSW seven of nine Classified wines are from the Hunter Valley with one each from Canberra and the Riverina.
Four wines join the Classification’s highest, Exceptional category for the first time: Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz, Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz, Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon and Seppeltsfield 100 Year Old Para Vintage Tawny.
A fortified position
Fortified wines return to the Classification after a long absence. Chambers Rare Muscat and Rare Muscadelle are ranked Outstanding and a second Seppeltsfield wine, the famous Para Liqueur Tawny, is ranked Excellent. This reflects the improved level of support for fortified wines in the secondary market after many years in the doldrums.
A sparkling debut
The Classification has its first sparkling wine in the form of Rockford Black Shiraz, which is ranked Outstanding, and might now be considered our leading sparkling red – a distinctive, historic and uniquely Australian wine style.
A cool trend
Worth noting is the entry into the Classification of Grosset Gaia and By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir, reflecting growing momentum for cool-climate, single-vineyard wines.
Two wines rejoin the Classification after an absence: Lake’s Folly Chardonnay and the Amarone-style Joseph Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot from Primo Estate.
While Australian wine traditions remain strong, the styles of old have largely been refined over the decades documented by the Langton’s Classification. It is now becoming ever more clear that the fine wine scene of the future will be defined by single vineyards and regional expression.