A Bordeaux wine is one that that has been produced in the Bordeaux region of France. Over the years, wine producers have perfected the complex art of blending individual grapes to get the best color, scent and taste for Bordeaux wine. Every year the massive Bordeaux area, about 120,000 hectares, turns out vast quantities of wine - mostly red wine; the magical blends that have made the region one of the most respected in the wine business.

The History of Claret

For wine connoisseurs, writers and those in the wine business, claret refers to red wine from Bordeaux.

The British were the first to use the word claret; it comes from the French word clair which means "clear." Today, French winemakers make claret mostly for export and do not describe their wine as claret. However, if you visit France’s largest wine-growing region, you will discover their specialty, a light, fruity wine called Clairet. Claret and Clairet sound very similar, they are made from the same Bordeaux grapes, they share the same past, but they are very different wines.

The English love for Bordeaux wine started as far back as the 12th century when King Henry II of England married Eleanor of Aquitaine. The heiress introduced wines from Bordeaux into the country, not the deep red claret wines on the market today, but a much paler and clearer type of wine. At that time, the skins were not left for too long in contact with the juice, and as soon as the wine was fermented, large shipments crossed the channel to England.

Claret from Bordeaux at this time was a light red wine produced with a little fermentation and a short maceration time. (Learn more in "Red, White and Rosé - What Gives Wine its Color?")

Claret wine developed over the years, and today, the British (especially the upper-class) appreciate the modern Claret, red Bordeaux wine (or wine styled after Bordeaux) made from a blend of two or more grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and some Carménère. Claret continues to be a generic term for Bordeaux red wine.

Modern Bordeaux Clairet

Modern Bordeaux Clairet, however, is a different story; it comes with the respected Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status.

This style of wine is best described as the intermediary between a Rosé and a light red wine. The grape varieties are the same as for the classic Bordeaux, but they require a lot of skill to get the required characteristics: a late harvest, for example, will not give the right freshness for Clairet. (Read on in "What is a Rosé Wine?")

Equally important, following strict AOC guidelines, vignerons have to get the right intensity for the color of the wine; this depends mainly on how long the grapes are left to macerate in the juice (the must). The longer the producer allows the skin to stay in contact with the juice, the darker the resulting wine is.

Regis Chaigne, vigneron from Château Ballan-Larquette is enthusiastic about the future of Clairet. Their Château Ballan-Larquette Bordeaux Clairet AOC, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot has been winning silver and gold awards in France and the United States.

Chateau Ballan-Larquette Clairet is “a versatile wine that you can pair equally well with a smoked salmon starter and a grilled meat main, a selection of tapas, chicken vindaloo and even fruit-based desserts.”

The Difference Between Bordeaux and Clairet

So what’s the difference between the Bordeaux Rosé and the Bordeaux Clairet?

Basically, it’s the color. Regis Chaigne explained that although both are made from the same grape varieties, AOC regulations apply strict rules for color intensity. Known in French as la mesure de l'intensité colorante (ICM), this is what determines a Bordeaux Rosé and a Bordeaux Clairet.

For their Rosé wine, maceration time is between 2 to 3 hours and around 3 to 4 days for Clairet. He describes his Clairet wine “as a deeply colored Rosé; plump, fresh and full of fruit aimed at the young.”

Clairet Bordeaux is too light for a red wine, and it isn’t a Rosé wine either. For those not looking for a rich complex red wine, the Bordelaise Clairet seems to be the answer – light, fresh, affordable and great for the summer. (Read more in "How to Choose a Red Wine.")