Wine Talk

Snooth User: dmcker

Claret, other historical wine names, and their current use

Posted by dmcker, Jan 16, 2016.

Spinning this discussion out from another thread.

To start with, here is a report, with queries, from one of our regulars:

 

Reply by EMark, 2 hours ago.

OK, here's an everything-but-the-kitchen sink wine:

Get a load of this (from the back label)

  • 76% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 8% Syrah
  • 5% Petit Verdot
  • 3% Cabernet Franc
  • 3% Malbec
  • 3% Merlot
  • 2% Petite Sirah

Also, the front label indicates "Claret," which, to me indicates a blended wine, and "Cabernet Sauvignon," which implies a varietal bottling.  I guess the marketing boys did not want to take any chances.  Clearly, it is a made from a blend of grape varieties, and, since the Cabernet Sauvignon content exceeds the California legal lower bound of 75%, it is, in fact, a varietal bottling.

However, to me a "Claret" is a red wine from Bordeaux.  I guess France has no claim to that name.  So, usage of that nomenclature on the front label must be OK.  However, by implication, I would expect a claret to be a blend of tradition Bordeaux grapes.  Are Syrah and Petite Sirah traditional Bordeaux grapes?

You know that I have a pretty good life when you see that these are the kinds of things that I have to obssess over.

I don't think I've ever had a Bell wine before, but it seems to me they have a pretty good reputation.  It's not hard to find the 24 months of oak (again, from the back label) in this one.  Black fruit on entry,  Fairly sedate tannin and acid.  It's hard to taste the Cabernet Sauvignon in this one--no surprise there.  Some may think that this wine has no distictiveness, but, I have to say, it is darned easy to drink--even before I start on dinner.  Darned good for about $25.

:-)

 

 

And here was my response over there:

Reply by dmcker, 25 minutes ago. Edit

A lot more 'hermitage' (syrah) from the Rhone was dumped into CS barrels in Bordeaux in past centuries than ever got bottled and shipped overseas from eastern France. The Brits built the French wine industry, since Bordeaux, Aquitaine and surrounding areas were long part of its King's demesne and thus English merchant's bailiwicks. Send those barrels of clairette (and when the color was too pale or the taste too anaemic, especially during bad vintages, throw in more dark syrah) up to London in English bottoms, for bottling by merchants there. Publicize the value of that wine in London society so even those upstart Americans like Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson jump on the bandwagon and pull in a whole new continent of consumers. They did similar things with Port, with Brit operations shipping barrels from bodegas and vineyards they owned or controlled in Portugal (especially after the Napoleonic wars) up to London. Which is why it was always fun for me in the '80s and '90s to hunt for bottles of Port in places like Harrod's that I wouldn't find out on the open market.

Claret is not a registered, nor even clearly defined term, so most anyone can use it. It has a fairly long history in California. Of course it has a longer history in Bordeaux, but the French branders left it open for hijack, since it didn't carry on within the French tradition as long or as importantly to a region as, for example, the term 'Champagne' did elsewhere in France. Other classical wine terms used by British merchants in introducing wine to the greater world included hock for German riesling (from Hochheimer), and the aforementioned hermitage, which I've seen historically used for any red from the Rhone, so I assume in those days it include grenache as well as syrah.

This subject warrants further discussion, so I'm going to spin it out into another thread.

 

 

Opening the floor to further discussion!

P.S., Mark, all those grape varietals have been used historically in Bordeaux, and in many cases either originated or came to prominence there.

Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 16, 2016.

A lot more 'hermitage' (syrah) from the Rhone was dumped into CS barrels in Bordeaux in past centuries than ever got bottled and shipped overseas from eastern France. The Brits built the French wine industry, since Bordeaux, Aquitaine and surrounding areas were long part of its King's demesne and thus English merchants' bailiwicks. Send those barrels of clairette (and when the color was too pale or the taste too anaemic, especially during bad vintages, throw in more dark syrah) up to London in English bottoms, for bottling by merchants there. Publicize the value of that wine in London society so even those upstart Americans like Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson jump on the bandwagon and pull in a whole new continent of consumers. They did similar things with Port, with Brit operations shipping barrels from bodegas and vineyards they owned or controlled in Portugal (especially after the Napoleonic wars) up to London. Which is why it was always fun for me in the '80s and '90s to hunt for bottles of Port in places like Harrod's that I wouldn't find out on the open market.

Claret is not a registered term, so anyone can use it. It has a fairly long history in California. Of course it has a longer history in Bordeaux, but the French branders left it open for hijack, since it didn't carry on within the French tradition as long or as importantly to a region as, for example, the term 'Champagne' did elsewhere in France. Other classical wine terms used by British merchants in introducing wine to the greater world included hock for German riesling (from Hochheimer), and the aforementioned hermitage, which I've seen historically used for any red from the Rhone, so I assume in those days it include grenache as well as syrah.

This subject warrants further discussion, so I'm going to spin it out into another thread.

 

EDIT: Having real trouble starting new thread at moment. FAIL with both Safari and Firefox just now. Methinks Snooth dev staff needs to do some optimization maintenance. Have no idea how frequently they are currently doing that...

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Reply by EMark, Jan 17, 2016.

Very interesting, DM.  I was always of the opinion, and, of course, opinions are, pretty much, worthless, that "Claret" was a Britiish nomencature for just about any red Bordeaux wine.  My definitive source is no less an expert than the well-traveled agent from Universal Exports (starting at roughly 00:58 of this clip).  Maybe Duncan should jump in here and straighten me out.

I am wondering, though, if "claret" is just one of those words that have an ambiguous definition.  As you state, it is not registered in any way.  So, who's to be concerned if it's misused.

Again, though, my fascination with the Bell label was the fact that both "Claret" and "Cabernet Sauvignon" were prominent. I just had the impression that the marketing guys were trying to cover all the bases.

I am not surprised at all that grape varieties like Syrah and Petite Sirah are grown in Bordeaux.  French winemaking laws being what they are, is it legal to  use them in Bordeaux AOC wines?

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 17, 2016.

Maybe they had wanted to use Meritage (also OK in this instance as a generic term) but were afraid of that shortsighted Napa-ish consortium that tried to control the term and its use a decade or two ago. I think your guess about two-is-better-than-one marketing terminology coverage is very likely.

Claret was generally the term used from hundreds of years ago to describe the Bordeaux products dumped on London and other English wharves. It came from the color, and "clairet" is sometimes used now in France to describe a lighter color between most reds and rose. Likely the typical Bordeaux in those days was lighter than what comes from the better chateaux now, which is one reason why they spiked it with cheap (in those days) syrah from the Rhone. Now in English nomenclature and particularly CA (and perhaps Oz and SA, too) use, it tends to mean a Bordeaux blend. Interesting that this term has hung on, even peripherally, while hock and hermitage have died on the vine, as it were.

And Diamonds Are Forever was the absolutely worst of the Connery Bond flicks. He'd wanted to leave the series before it but was pressured into making that last installment. By its end there was no chance he'd be pressured by the same producers for anything subsequent. The scripts and role itself had degenerated to something that Moore later tried to run with but ended up only parodying, to the extent that his best were worse than even the least of Connery's.  Watching Moore play James Bond was like watching someone try to stay upright while traversing patches of black ice.  ;-(   Good contextual example, though!

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 17, 2016.

Clarets were typically a little lighter than "serious" Bordeaux, and that's a little of what Anthony Bell is getting at.  The Wiki for "Bordeaux Wine" discusses it a bit. According to Wine Folly, it's the second wine every wine lover should know. Berry Brothers and Rudd make something under their own label they call "Good Ordinary Claret. "  And it makes an appearance at the end of "Diamonds are Forever" Yeah, watch that clip over and over, but it's not for the mention of the Mouton Rothschild. One might dispute whether M-R is a claret, but not over how stunning Jill St. John is in that scene. But there's no accepted definition for claret, James Bond be damned.

Anthony Bell's father was a long-time distributor of wine in S. Africa.  He would have been aware of the English nomenclature.  Other than  the PS, all of those grapes appeared in Bordeaux wines back in the day--the Syrah was indeed imported from the Rhone as an improver, especially in underripe vintages, although it was not prized on its own in the days of Jefferson. (Note that claret was the wine before blending with darker wines, like Syrah.)  Anthony uses a little Syrah even in the Napa CS (which is made from very prized fruit).  And his website has one of the best and most concise histories of "clairet," as it was also called. 

But no one every trademarked it.  And since the French don't really use it, they have taken no trouble to protect it.  Now, Hermitage, that's a different story:  Grange had to stop using it.  But that hasn't kept Roederer Estate from using something awfully close.

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Reply by duncan 906, Jan 17, 2016.

Claret is indeed a term that has been used in this country to describe red Bordeaux wine for hundreds of years ever since large swathes of what is now France came under the English crown. It is interesting that Richard mentions Berry Brothers and Rudd because,although they are one of the world's oldest wine merchants I do not think they coined the word 'claret 'I have actually visited their beautiful old shop behind St James's Palace in London. I must disagree with Dmcker about the James Bond films.I have always considered Roger Moore to be the best James Bond as he played the role in an almost tongue in cheek way because,after all ,the plots are always more than a little far-fetched. I think the Daniel Craig films are just a bit too hard-edged and violent.

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Reply by dvogler, Jan 17, 2016.

I'm staying out of the James Bond thing! 

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Reply by GregT, Jan 17, 2016.

Don't forget that history also applies to farming practices. You grow grapes to get juice that you can ferment into wine. You can ferment the red grapes once they're at a certain point of ripeness, meaning that they have at least enough sugar to ferment to 11-12 percent alcohol. Then you pick because if you don't and if you live in an Atlantic region like Bordeaux, you may get rain, frost, snow, hail, birds, deer, mold or something else. So you pick and ferment. You squeeze the grapes to extract the juice and let it do its thing.

There was no thought of gentle handling, of waiting for "optimum" ripeness which was pretty much identical with "sufficient" ripeness, and there were no sorting tables, cold soaks, temperature controlled fermentations, etc.

The Italians, down in the south especially, had grapes like Aglianico and Sagrantino that could produce dark wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, from France, didn't appear until sometime in the 17th century. Merlot is older and it was useful because it ripened before the winter rains and snow showed up.

But the wine that was shipped over to Britain from France during the Roman times and middle ages was not from either of those and it was not grown in what we consider Bordeaux either. It came from farther inland and a lot of it was called Hermitage. Today we'd call that Syrah. Growing conditions were better there but the philosophy was the same. So they'd ship that over and the Romans called it Vinum Clarum. It was probably close to what we'd consider a rather dark rosado these days, and that was red wine, whether it be from Burgundy or what we now call the Rhone. That name became Frenchified to "clairette" which became Anglicized to claret.

Remember that the most prized wines for centuries were white wines, not red wines. Red wines were to be consumed pretty much like Bud Lite - it's what you drank, not what you prized and cellared. Sugar was dear and once people figured out how to make sweet wines, those were the wines popes and kings wanted. Things like Amarone and Barolo were sweet. In France they made straw wines that were highly prized.

The other thing to remember is that the obsession with monovarietal wines is VERY recent. Farmers wanted to be sure of a crop so they planted a few different things. The idea that vineyards were carefully matched to one or two varieties is mostly modern BS. Certain vineyards were in fact highly prized, but they were most often planted with multiple varieties. The grapes that did best were propagated, the others were replaced. In that way people accidentally stumbled onto a few that worked best in their region, but their choices were constrained by what they had locally, not what was available world-wide, which by the way, was only as far as the forest on the hill because after that were the seas and the monsters.

In the late 1600s the Dutch drained the swamps around Bordeaux and the new land became farmland, planted to maize, wheat, grapes, etc. The grapes were most likely Merlot and Malbec, with a few of the other current varieties here and there. Sometime around that time we hear of a grape called Vigne Dure, or Vidure. It means "hardy grape" and was probably a natural crossing of the existing Sauvignon Blanc, or wild white, and Cabernet Franc, or the cabernet of the Franks. It didn't get the same mildew and mold that Malbec got and it had smaller berries than Merlot, although it ripened later.

In the 1800s, when a lot of grapes had to be replaced because of Phylloxera, the Vidure had proven itself and in the replanting, it replaced most of the Malbec on the left bank. Merlot remained and is still the most widely-planted red grape in Bordeaux.

Most of the wine was still much lighter than we'd be familiar with today. It was only in rare vintages where the weather was really warm and sunny that you'd get rich, dark wines. And it was in the 1970s that Emile Peynaud insisted that producers wait longer to pick, treat the berries gently, and sort carefully. People responded positively to those changes, new critics like Parker championed them, and new consultants like Rolland implemented them. So today there's no more "claret". It's just used to mean red wine.

In CA, depending on the producer, it even includes grapes like Petite Sirah or Zinfandel.

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Reply by dvogler, Jan 17, 2016.

What would we do without Greg?

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Reply by EMark, Jan 17, 2016.

While Diamonds are Forever is certainly not one of my favorite Bond movies, I like it better than most of the Pierce Brosnan realizations.

 

As usual, Greg, another interesting and well-written post.  Thanks.

Also, long time readers may recall the "Probably Best as Drain Cleaner" conversation.  I suspect that few recall that one of the wines discussed there was a Cune Rioja Clarete, which GregT described as a Rosado.

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Reply by GregT, Jan 17, 2016.

Yeah but maybe we should revisit that. Names were fluid until quite recently.

That wine was lighter than say, a Gran Reserva, but not exactly the same as a rosado. They only trademarked the name in 1990 and they made it at least till 2001, but the idea was to make a lighter wine, akin to a "claret", that would be an every-day drinking wine. It was released in the third year after spending at least a year in barrel (in most of Spain it's only six months). Today they call it crianza. 

Whether that's identical with what was once "clarete" I can't say for sure. I don't think it is. I guess I should ask CVNE and I will eventually.

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Reply by JonDerry, Jan 17, 2016.

I've always enjoyed the term "Claret", though I like hearing english people use it, not really feeling comfortable using it myself. Nice to have some background on how Syrah was the original, or pre-qual to the Bordeaux exported Claret we know of today. 

You guys have got me thirsty for some old Rioja, but will have to settle for another young Chambolle Musigny.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 17, 2016.

Apropos of the comment above that "claret" was used for just about anything at one time or another, I happened to mention the Langtry Road Claret that Ridge made back in the day while I was up at Ridge Friday.  If you look at the fourth photo down in the original post for OT's first Old Vine offline, you'll see a bottle of same.  Because OT oriented the photo right and is a good and patient photographer, you can see that it contains Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignane.  No Bordeaux varietals at all.

Roger Moore had no choice but to play the part of Bond with a wink and a nod to its ridiculousness as the franchise had well overstayed its time.  The movies have always been faintly ridiculous, the books less so, although the appeal is pretty much the sex scenes mixed in with the spy work.  Which is why I read every one of them when I was in my early post-puberty years... all in one summer, I think.  The current bunch with Daniel Craig are so bloated and take themselves so seriously that I cannot understand why critics seem to think it's a successful reboot.  Of the actors who played Bond (regardless of who you like best as Bond), only Connery had a successful career post-franchise.  I can't say that DAF was the worst of the Connery pix only because I just can't care about anything but the visual aspects.  Of the books, OHMSS and Casino Royale were easily the best, and most believable. Casino Royale was first made into a spoof with David Niven and Woody Allen, so it wasn't made into a movie at all until Daniel Craig.  Had it been first, as it should have been, the entire franchise would have been different, since it was a far more plausible spy film than Dr. No.  OHMSS had the not-easily-enough forgotten George Lazenby, who wasn't any worse than Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan, but was savaged for not being Connery.  And it lacked the over-the-top sensibilities of the others, although it uses the European scenery beautifully.

GregT, why no mention of the lost grape of Bordeaux, the "grand vidure?"

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Reply by GregT, Jan 18, 2016.

 

But Daniel Craig is a horrible Bond any way you cut it. Inarticulate, jug eared, plodding. He can't mix Connery's blend of street mixed with sophistication. Only guy who could do it today is Jason Statham.

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Reply by duncan 906, Jan 18, 2016.

The interesting thing about the books is how much of Ian Fleming himself is incorporated into the character of Bond. Like Bond he was an upper class Englishman. He stole the name 'James Bond ' from a book entitled 'Bird Life of the West Indies' by a writer of that name because he wanted a very English sounding name. . Goldeneye is the name of Ian Fleming's holiday home on Jamaica. Ian Fleming worked for British Intelligence during World War Two.Ian Fleming's girlfriend was killed during the London blitz hence the sad ending to the George Lazenby film.Ian Fleming was a car enthusiast [he also wrote 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ] although he was into American cars rather than Aston Martins;,that was product placement in the films. Some writers have suggested that Bond and Fleming share the same attitude to sex and women. Ian Fleming died in the early 60's and I wonder what he would make of the Bond franchise today.

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Reply by GregT, Jan 18, 2016.

Awesome bit of information I didn't know! He wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

Best thread drift EVAH!

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 19, 2016.

GregT and I totally agree on something again!  Daniel Craig has a purpose, and that's to put us back in sync for one small moment! ;-) 

But you didn't know about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?  It's got all these cute little spy things in it, the message punched in the paper with a knife and the kids in peril.  The movie was awful Disney junk, but the book was droll and British. 

I dare say Fleming did not get laid as much as Bond.  No non-fictive human ever could. 


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