WINES OF HISTORY: CLARET
by Sarah Shotwell
What is Claret?
Traditionally made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and (occasionally) Carménère, “Claret” is a centuries-old British name for the red wine of Bordeaux. In France, this wine is known as simply “Bordeaux.” In America, it’s “Meritage.” All of these words describe the wine inspired by one of the world’s most fascinating historic regions.
The History of Claret
Wine grapes were first planted by Romans in Southwest Gaul (France) in the first century. Though the wine industry in the region collapsed along with the Roman Empire, it made a comeback during the early Middle Ages. It is rumored that Bordeaux produced a light, violet-hued rosé called Clareit. (In Latin, claritas means “clarity” or “brilliance.”) Some historians assert that Bordeaux wine originally became ubiquitous not for its quality, but because of Bordeaux’s unique trading position at the mouth of the Garonne River.
The destiny of the region took a famous turn in the 12th Century, when the soon-to-be English King, Henry II, took Eleanor as his bride, and with it, the entire Duchy of Aquitaine. When that happened, Bordeaux came under control of the English, ensuring access to Claret for a solid three centuries. With the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty came the end of English control in Bordeaux, but England’s love affair with Claret (which by the 18th Century had become the name for the region’s dark, bold, high-quality red wine) was here to stay. Now, it’s a protected name in the European Union. Whatever you choose to call them, beautiful, complex Bordeaux wines remain among the most beloved in the world.