Claret wine is a popular British term used by British wine lovers and the British wine trade. It refers to a Bordeaux-style blend of red wine from the Bordeaux region of France.
Claret Wine: When Did The People Start Using It?
For fun, let’s take a look at the definition of claret from the Oxford English Dictionary:
“A name originally given (like French vin clairet) to wines of yellowish or light red colour, as distinguished alike from ‘red wine’ and ‘white wine’; the contrast with the former ceased about 1600, and it was apparently then used for red wines generally, in which sense it is still, or was recently, dialect (cf. also 3). Now applied to the red wines imported from Bordeaux, generally mixed with Benicarlo or some full-bodied French wine.”
As a wine description, the term “claret wine” dates back to at least the 1500s. The definition above emphasizes two key qualities for claret wine: colour and geographic origin. This type of wine is typically imported from Bordeaux as a blend of red wines. Now you know the basics; you can keep up with your wine geek friends.
Claret Wine: How Does It Taste?
Describing the taste of an entire category of wine is one of the most challenging wine questions. Nonetheless, let’s look at some of the qualities of these flavourful wines.
- Fruit Flavor: Black currant, plums, and other dark fruit flavors are familiar.
- Secondary Flavors: Mineral qualities like wet gravel and lead are typical.
- Dominant Grape: The dominant grape variety in claret wine varies. It is typically Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Other French grapes common used in Bordeaux include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.
Note that expensive wines from the region will have a different taste, especially if they are older. The fruit notes are likely to be far less. Curious to learn more about the world’s most expensive wines (including one bottle that was sunk by a submarine)? Read this post: The Most Expensive Bottle of Wine.
Claret Wine: The Legacy of A Royal Marriage?
The blend of grape varieties we know as Claret is linked to a famous royal marriage. In 1151, King Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor brought one of the greatest dowries of all time. Much of modern France, including Bordeaux and La Rochelle, were now becoming English. As a result, the British wine trade now had much easier access to Bordeaux wines. Credit to Decanter for helping with the history.
Through many wars and political change, England eventually lost all claim to France. However, there are still strong cultural and social links across the Channel. A strong passion for Bordeaux-style red wines continues to be significant today. According to Statista, French wines were the top wines imported into the UK from 2017 to 2020 by value. In addition to France, Italy, New Zealand, and Spain are significant contributors to the British wine trade.
Is Claret Wine The Same As Bordeaux?
The short answer is that these ideas are related yet distinct. Claret refers specifically to a Bordeaux-style blend of wine imported from France to the UK. In contrast, Bordeaux is a vast wine region on the Atlantic coast of France. In addition to its famous blended wines, 21st-century wine lovers know many other excellent bottles of wine made in Bordeaux. For example, Bordeaux produces excellent white wines (e.g., Sauvignon Blanc) and the region’s white wines are well known. If you’ve never tried it, picking up a bottle of Bordeaux Blanc is well worth the experience. Since white grapes in Bordeaux are less well known, these white wines can be less expensive.
To summarize, all claret wine is from Bordeaux, but not all Bordeaux-style wine is claret. Notably, you are unlikely to see the phrase “claret wine” or something like that on the wine label with French wines. Instead, the wine label of French wines emphasizes geography. To learn more about French wine geography, read this short guide to French wine regions or French white wines. To learn about French wines in-depth, I recommend the audio course “The Everyday Guide To Wines of France” (read my full review).
Is Claret Wine Made Outside of France?
This is a bit of a tricky question to ask. The answer will depend on who you ask: people in the wine industry, a wine snob, or your wine geek friends. Historically, claret wine is particular to a region: the Bordeaux wine region. That said, the science of winemaking is an international industry. As a result, winemakers in other countries take inspiration and create their own Bordeaux-style blend.
Outside of France, some in the wine industry might use the term “Bordeaux style” to refer to a specific blend. By tradition, the Bordeaux style blend includes the following wine grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petite Verdot. Few bottles of wine have every single grape variety in every bottle. More commonly, France and other regions typically blend two or three grape varieties and blend them in the oak barrels.
American wine producers have started to use the term “claret wine” on the wine label. Francis Ford Coppola’s wine company makes the “Diamond Collection Claret,” (i.e., Coppola Claret) made from grapes grown in California and Oregon. With 13.9% alcohol content, the wine is based on the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. The 2015 and 2014 vintages have particular high reviews if you can track down a bottle. Usually, I’m not a big fan of the celebrity-owned winery trend. However, I have a few wines made from the Francis Ford Coppola winery, and they have been enjoyable.
Learn More About The Finest Vineyards
Planning a wine trip is a fun way to learn more about the family tradition and finest vineyards firsthand. For tips on how to plan your next wine trip, use these five steps to plan your wine tasting trip. If you’re not quite right to travel, there’s another option. You can travel in your mind by reading some classic wine fiction like “Sideways” or “A Gentleman in Moscow.”