Are Claret and Bordeaux the same wine style?

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Are Claret and Bordeaux the same wine style?

A:

Depending on where you are in the world, it is probable that you will have heard of red wine from Bordeaux, France being referred to as claret. In the USA and the UK, the two names are often used synonymously, however, doing so is technically inaccurate.

The name claret was first coined by the British, though is derived from the French word clairet - meaning ‘light’ and referring to a dark rosé or light red wine. This particular style of wine was produced in Bordeaux between the 12th and 15th centuries and had gained immense popularity in Britain. (Learn more in "Are Claret and Bordeaux the Same?")

Over time, the grape varieties grown in Bordeaux changed, and the style of wines became much darker in color and more full-bodied. By the late 17th century, the style of wine produced in Bordeaux was more akin to what we know now as the Bordeaux Red Blend - a dark red-hued blend comprising predominantly of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

While this style of wine is very different to what the British originally referred to as claret, after 300-years of use, the name had stuck as a reference to wines being made in Bordeaux. Rather than describing the style of wine, claret was instead being used to indicate origin as well as quality.

Nowadays, use of the term claret has returned to being a reference to color. However, instead of referring to dark rosé or light red wine, claret is used to describe red-hued wines. While wines of this color usually contain a mixture of the Bordeaux blend of grapes, that is not to say that the wine is always made in Bordeaux, as it is a style that has been copied and adapted throughout the world.

It should be noted that claret is a name that has never been used within Bordeaux or any other region of France. Occasionally, wines made for exportation (usually those where production favors quantity rather than quality) contain the word on the label. This is purely for marketing purposes, as claret continues to be thought of as a reference to a high-quality product within parts of the USA and the UK.

In summation, claret refers to a red-hued Bordeaux style of wine, though its use is not restricted to wines made only in the Bordeaux region. The name originally referred to a completely different, lighter style of wine that is no longer produced.

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Written by Tim McKirdy
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Tim McKirdy is a former professional chef, with experience in award-winning kitchens in London and Buenos Aires. He has since moved to Queens, New York, where he runs his local food blog, A Hard Day's Bite. Besides WineFrog, his writing has been featured in a number of publications, including Munchies, VinePair, New Worlder, and Latin Kitchen. Follow him on Instagram @timmckirdy and Twitter @timmckirdy.

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