Claret A Misused Term That Calls Back To Past Eras

December 26, 2018 GMT

If you watch old James Bond movies or British period pieces capturing the magic of the Edwardian era, you may hear a now-unfamiliar wine word tossed around: claret.

The term evolved with the English. It came to be known as an all-purpose term for red blends from Bordeaux. Centuries ago, most Bordeaux wines looked more like rosés and were sold as vin clar — clear wine — which evolved into “clairet” and “claret,” and the name stuck. For a time, claret was used to refer to rough red wines.

In 2006, an international agreement included “claret” as a misused, semi-generic term, and the United States government semi-banned it.

Today, you will see some domestic wineries using the throwback term, grandfathered in since they used it prior to ban, trying to make some point or doing it because they can.

Originally, Francis Ford Coppola’s claret was more of a Bordeaux blend. That changed. Francis Ford Coppola 2013 Black Label “Claret” California Cabernet Sauvignon actually is a blend but substantially cabernet sauvignon. The wine is juicy and herbal with taste of cassis character and is light-bodied but without tannins, making this better, maybe, as a sipper than a substantial food wine. $17. ★★★ 1/2

Ramey stretches the definition of claret a bit, with a wine on the other end of the spectrum from the Coppola one. This blend includes syrah, not part of the Bordeaux tradition.

Ramey 2016 Napa Valley Claret is herbal and has a jammy nose and smooth texture. It is ripe with considerable tannins that suggest it would benefit from aging. It makes for a very good steak wine. You can find the 2014 in some stores, but other vintages are special order in Pennsylvania. $44. ★★★★

Don’t buy a claret to get a Bordeaux-style blend. Buy a Bordeaux or a Meritage to know you are getting something authentic or faithful to the original.


GRADE: Exceptional ★★★★★, Above average ★★★★, Good ★★★, Below average ★★,

Poor ★.

DAVID FALCHEK, executive director of the American Wine Society, reviews wines each week.