Often confused with the term Claret, a term that has come to mean any red wine from Bordeaux, Clairet is a halfway house between rose’ and red which is quite rightly belongs to a different category.
With longer maceration on the grape skins (2 days rather than a few hours) these wines have more colour, robust structure and usually juicier fruity aromas than the paler roses yet less tannins and complexity than the region’s powerful reds.
This is the type of wine Bordeaux producers were making in the Middle Ages when England’s thirst for something stronger than the local ale filled the pockets of the Aquitaine wine-makers. Back then, palates weren’t ready for the heavier, tannic and drier wines that would later be produced so came about the “clairet” from the French word claire meaning clear.
Nowadays, wine drinkers are hampering after lighter and lighter rose’s and as the contents of those bottles are fading under the spotlight of their recent popularity, so are the sales for their bolder brothers. Shunned for their vibrant colour, clairet suffers from an identification issue with few wine drinkers recognizing the fresh, fruity attributes of these wines.
Having discovered clairet on a recent trip to Bordeaux, I can’t understand why the trend is for lighter and lighter roses when these wines pack so much fruitness and character into the bottle. Though perfect for summer dining on the terrace with grilled goat’s cheese salad, pasta, home-made pizza and fruity deserts, they are also sure to match lightly spiced Asian foods even on a cold frosty night.
On a recent trip to Bordeaux to visit Bordeaux and Bordeaux Sup producers, I had chance to sample of few clairets – especially those available in Belgium which is one of the main market for producers of this type of wine. Here are a few of my favourites:
Chateau Penin – I love the wine-maker’s approach to making wines: “I think of a situation and then I make a wine to fit this”. I’m not sure what he had in mind with this but his clairet fits a whole host of situations. Fresh, fruity, and very expressive. In blind tastings with other wine makers regularly comes out on top and he’s known as one of contributors for having put clairet back on the map.
Chateau Fayau Clairet- Brambles, strawberries and green pepper. This clairet has more vegetal notes than others tasted on the trip but still nice and very pleasant. Light tannins, fresh, fruity with good acidity.
Chateau Lauduc Clairet- lovely vibrant raspberry colour. Bouquet full of red fruits, slightly bitter on the finish.
Chateau de Parenchere Clairet- delicious. A blockbuster at Delhaize and I can understand why..
So now my clairet shopping list is sorted for the summer, where’s the sun?..