A customer recently contacted me after receiving his Claret and Cheese Gift Box querying that there was no mention of Claret on any of the bottle labels. The wines were Clarets so why don’t the French label them that? The reason is a simple one. Claret is the British name for Bordeaux Red Wine.
The only time you will see the word Claret on a label is when it has been specifically asked for by a British retailer as the French don’t refer to a Bordeaux Red Wine as Claret. Only the British do!
The name Claret is derived from the word ‘Clairet’ which is what Bordeaux Reds were called back in the 13th century. We acquired a taste for them when Eleanor of Aquitaine married our Henry Plantagenet and they soon became our nation’s tipple of choice. Over time the British (who couldn’t get their tongue around the word ‘Clairet’) referred to them as Claret . . . which has now become the acceptable generic term for Bordeaux Red Wine.
You might be wondering why Bordeaux Reds were called Clairet way back then. Clairet means ‘clear’ in French and in those days Bordeaux Reds were much paler in colour than they are nowadays. Wine making techniques were fairly rudimentary in the past and wines were made quickly to avoid spoiling. During fermenting the grape skins (which contain the colour and tannins) were left only a short time in contact with the juice. These wines didn’t last long, and were usually drunk VERY quickly.
Jump forward a few hundred years to the 17th century and Bordeaux Reds started to get darker thanks to improved wine making techniques and barrel ageing. As time progressed Clarets became the deep red that we recognise today!
So, if you spot a Red Wine with AOC Bordeaux anywhere on the label, it’s a Claret!