Finally, it arrived – a bottle of clear, ruby liquid... clairet.
If you’ll remember from a couple weeks ago, clairet is a type of Bordeaux, the last vestige of the original Bordeaux style. In the Middle Ages, Bordeaux was a light, quaffable wine somewhere between a rosé and a red. The English named it claret, presumably from the French word “claire” (meaning “clear”), which became a general synonym for Bordeaux. Today the name has all but disappeared, as has the light Bordeaux style, now produced under the general Bordeaux AOC and spelled “clairet.”
We had some difficulty finding a bottle to try (they say that the most famous clairet, from Saint-Emilion, is nearly impossible to buy on the aftermarket). A few days ago, we were able to get our hands on a bottle. Here’s how it went...
More on that in a moment. But first… How much do you really know about wine?
This week with Julien Miquel, we take a step back to look at the 5 most important things to understand about any wine… from grape varieties to cellaring time (and everything in between)…
The Verdict on Clairet (Continued)
Clairet does not denote a particular part of Bordeaux. Like rosé, it is a style that can come from anywhere in the region (though, because Bordeaux AOCs tend to impose strict standards on how wines are made within their borders, clairets usually get the general Bordeaux AOC rather than, say, a more prestigious or, at least, geographically specific, AOC label).
In contrast to the “classic” Bordeaux winemaking style – with its lengthy maceration time during which the wine soaks up tannin from the grape skins – making clairet is a relatively quick affair, often involving a saignée in which the vigneron bleeds a bit of juice from his maceration must early.
The clairet that arrived was from a smaller producer, run by husband and wife Véronique and Franck, and located in the Entre-Deux-Mers region to the east of Saint-Emilion (Entre-Deux-Mers translates to “between two waters,” the waters being the Bordelais rivers of the Dordogne and the Garonne).
Not quite a rosé, not quite a red
Once in glass, the wine took a while to open up (in fairness, we may have slightly overchilled it). The nose had little but alcohol to offer. After a while, we began to get a bit of summer fruit – pleasant for a warm May day.
On the palate, the clairet hopped with a bright acidity, almost tricking the tongue into thinking there was effervescence to it. We tasted strawberry with a touch of tart apple.
To be frank, we struggled to find a real sense of identity in the bottle. There was nothing offensive about it. Tout à fait honorable, as the French would say.
“I’ll stick with the Chablis,” said C., passing back the glass. Admittedly, the Chablis had set the bar high – a bright but sturdy golden wine with a twist of lemon. We might have been tempted to give the clairet a handicap given the expense of a Chablis. But due to its rarity, and the added expense of shipping, the clairet was only slightly less expensive.
A fascinating taste of times gone by, perhaps, but the genre may need to shake off the dust before we can expect a full-scale revival.
Until next time,
The Wine Explorer