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About Claret

Claret is a British term used, unofficially, in reference to red Bordeaux wine. The red wines of Bordeaux are blends, mostly based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The term “claret” is sometimes used—unofficially, of course—to refer to Bordeaux-style red wines produced elsewhere, such as the United States.

Referring to red Bordeaux as “claret” dates to 16th century England. The word itself is an Anglicization of a French word, clairet, which was used to describe a popular style of Bordeaux wine at the time, a rosé-like wine of a dark pink color. The clairet style was a popular export to England, where the name claret took hold. Even after the introduction of high-end, deep-colored red Bordeaux, like Châteaux Haut-Brion and Lafite, the name claret persisted in the English market. The pink style dipped in popularity and was overtaken by the higher-quality reds, which came to be known as claret.

It is important to draw a distinction between claret and clairet. Claret is used to describe red Bordeaux wine generally, though is not an official term and not used on wine labels. Clairet, however, is a distinct and separate style of Bordeaux wine, still made in small quantities today. Bordeaux Clairet is a dark pink wine produced from red grapes. When making the wine, the juice is kept in contact with the skins for only a short period, around 24 hours, giving it a lighter color that closer resembles a rosé than a red wine.

Today, the term is most often used by the British wine trade and wine media to reference Bordeaux wines. Bordeaux wine producers themselves do not use the term on their labels or in any other official capacity. Some American wine producers make red wines in the Bordeaux style, and use the word claret on their labels. The term is not legally protected and has no official meaning, however.

Somewhat related is the American term Meritage. Some American producers of Bordeaux-style wine choose to label their wines with this trademarked term, indicating that the winery has joined the Meritage Alliance and the blend consists exclusively of two or more Bordeaux grape varieties. Meritage wines can be red or white, whereas the unofficial term claret refers only to red wines.

Care to browse for more information on Bordeaux-style wines, or to read reviews from our staff of professional raters? We invite you to use Wine Enthusiast’s online Buying Guide to find ratings, articles, and more that span the subject of Bordeaux wine and related blends!

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