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Wine information > French wine history > Bordeaux wine
Wines of the Bordeaux regionThe term Claret, as we use it in England, is generally understood as a description of a red wine from the Bordeaux district (department
of the Gironde), the finest wine-bearing group of vineyards in all France, and therefore in the world.
Actually it should embrace all wines, white and red, in this district; but Sauternes and Graves are not popularly known as white Clarets.
There is thus a certain lack of definiteness in the term, but certainly it cannot be honestly used as a trade description of the wine of any other district or country, and the qualification, Australian, Californian, Spanish, must be added, according to country of origin.
Claret is a relatively simple wine in its process of vinification, containing the least amount of sugar, alcohol, and acid these substances being, of course, present in all wines, the proportion giving the specific character. Claret is unfortified with any spirit and therefore will not keep sound for more than a few hours,
certainly not more than six or eight, after being opened. It is a sensitive wine, easily spoiled by bad treatment. When maturing in bottle it should be kept at an even temperature of 60° Fahr. ; never subject to vibration nor exposed to sunlight or strong daylight.
Fine Clarets will mature for thirty or even forty years in bottle.
The general character of fine Claret is a delicacy, lightness, softness, and elegance of taste and bouquet as compared with other
Descriptions of Claret may be otherwise confusing to the amateur, and need a little explanation. Vague territorial descriptions, as Medoc, St. Emilion, give no clue to specific quality except that the very vagueness of the descriptions suggests the fact that they may be inferior wines of a good district trying to claim some of the credit of the better wines from such districts. Similarly, well-known district names, Margaux, St. Julien, are thus vaguely used.
The name of the actual chateau not merely some vague place name will
appear on the bottle of wine that is produced by that particular chateau. The formal official classification of the various classed growths is usually a sound guide to the standard of the wines included.
The classifications are obviously not infallible nor absolutely exclusive. There is still room for the judgment of the merchant and the connoisseur to find good wines outside the lists, and perhaps occasionally less good wines within it, though it is fair to say that the standards are zealously maintained, as far as the vagaries of the weather year by year permit.
All Clarets need a full six months in bottle before they can be drunk with any pleasure. The classed growths, as also the lesser growths, are never bottled till they have been two years in wood, and they require a good time in bottle to come to perfection. Old Clarets will throw a deposit and, of course, with great age, lighten in colour. They should be brought from the cellar very carefully a few hours before consumption.
Some Claret connoisseurs prefer to bring them up the night before. T'he bottles should be stood up to allow the deposit to settle. An hour or two before drinking, the cork should be very gently drawn, and, to avoid splashing and frothing, the wine poured through a funnel with a curved end which directs the wine down the sides of the decanter, which must be thoroughly clean and should be slightly warmed. The bottle should be tipped very gently, so that the pouring may be stopped immediately any signs of deposit appear.
Claret should be drunk at the temperature of a comfortably-warmed room, say 65' to 70° Fahrenheit.
Claret, at a formal dinner where there are several wines, is served with the entrees or roast.
Besides the bottle (reputed quart, actually 0.76 litres) and the half-bottle (reputed pint, 0.37 itres), the Magnum or double bottle (1.5 litres), the Jeroboam (4 litres), and the Imperial (6 litres) are sometimes used for bottling the red wines of Bordeaux. Wine bottled in large bottles takes longer to come to perfection, but develops qualities through obscure reactions within the bulk that are not attained by the same wines aged in smaller bottles.
The Gironde is divided into six main districts: Medoc, Graves, Sauternes, Entre deux Mers, Cotes, Pa1us.
It may be said that the wines of the Medoc are the classical characteristic red Clarets of the finest general quality. They are lighter than those of the Cokes (St. Emilion and Pomerol districts) which are nearer to the fuller, heavier character of Burgundy.
It should be noted that the fourth wine in the first growths, Chateau Haut-Brion, is actually a wine from Pessac in the Graves district.
The classed growths of the Medoc
Malescot St. Exupery
Marquis de Terme