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What is claret wine? Ask Decanter

Claret is tied to Britain's long-standing love affair with the wines of Bordeaux...

Is claret wine the same as Bordeaux?

It may be relatively rare to see someone ordering a glass of ‘claret’ wine these days, but the term has for many centuries been linked with Bordeaux – particularly for British wine lovers.

You can still find it on some wine labels.

Claret is mostly used as an unofficial way to describe Bordeaux red wines, although it’s a protected name under EU law and there is reference to it in Bordeaux’s appellation rules.

The UK government has recognised claret’s status as a registered ‘traditional wine term’ within the Bordeaux PDO, as an ‘expression used to designate a pale red wine’.

Is claret good wine?

It’s impossible to generalise, given its use as an unofficial umbrella term.

The late, great wine writer Steven Spurrier once suggested that claret conveys a certain reassurance, as well as a stylistic hint.

‘What is claret?,’ asked Spurrier in a 2007 article on the ‘claret lover’s guide to New World Cabernets’.

He continued, ‘The red wine from Bordeaux, of course, but for the claret lover it is much more than this: an address book of well-known names, whose faces (or châteaux) are immediately recognisable, whose background and character, changeable with the years, is well known and well defined, on whom one can rely.’

Spurrier wrote that elegance, ‘fragrance of bouquet’ and ‘lift’ were among the central tenets of a good claret.

Wine writer Stacy Slinkard recently looked at great value Bordeaux claret on sale in the US, while Andy Howard MW looked at claret under £20-a-bottle worth seeking out in the UK.

Why is claret used to describe Bordeaux red wine? 

It’s believed to be linked to the French term ‘clairet’, and originally referred to very light red wines from Bordeaux.

Award-winning wine expert Oz Clarke noted in his History of Wine in 100 Bottles that claret wine came to the attention of thirsty drinkers across the English Channel after the marriage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1151.

This influenced a trade relationship, culminating in great convoys of ships transporting Bordeaux ‘claret’ wine into English and Scottish ports.

Today, claret might be used to describe heavier Bordeaux red wines than the style being quaffed by high society in medieval England.

Some have questioned claret’s staying power in the vocabulary of 21st century wine lovers.

‘Claret has slipped from unfashionable to almost irrelevant for most drinkers now,’ said Jane Anson in 2017, during her time as Bordeaux correspondent for Decanter. ‘Very few will even associate it with red Bordeaux. So perhaps it is ready for a revival?’

Claret has occasionally been used to to reference red wines made elsewhere with a classic Bordeaux blend of grape varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. As mentioned above, though, it’s a protected name under EU law.

A wine agreement between the US and EU in 2006 covered certain labelling terms. It prevented US wineries from using several names, including Champagne, Chianti and Claret, unless the bottle label was registered before the deal was signed.


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