The country of France has a history of wine-making dating to the 6th century B.C. Among the many wine-producing regions of France, the Bordeaux region is particularly known for the production of red wines. In general, the term "claret" is used to refer to all red wines that originate from the Bordeaux region. However, depending on how it is used, the term claret has developed more specific significance over its history.
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The name claret is taken from the original French term clairet, which means pale. The slight change in spelling and pronunciation reflects the English influence on the label. Red wines from the Bordeaux region were a primary export for many of the local towns and monasteries and composed a large portion of the local economy. Interestingly, as several specific red wines from the region became very popular in England and within the English market, the term claret evolved to loosely translate to the dry red wines from Bordeaux, France. Though the term still generally applies to all red wines of the region, today most connoisseurs use the name claret as the English do.
Claret wines typically have a lower proportion of acid, alcohol and sugar than other red wines. This composition gives the wine its distinction of flavour and body compared to other red wines. Claret wines are typically described as light, delicate and dry, with a full, elegant bouquet. They are normally matured (aged) between 30 and 40 years after bottling, and are considered sensitive wines that will only keep between six and eight hours after you have opened the bottle.
As previously mentioned, clarets are dry, red wines. So they should be served with red meat dishes that have a robust flavour. For example, claret would complement a roast or fillet mignon, but would overpower a more delicate dish such as steak tartar. Any claret must be aged at least six months after bottling to be enjoyed and many connoisseurs would insist that a claret should be allowed to stand (literally placed upright) for at least a few hours before drinking at a temperature between 18.3 to 21.1 degrees Celsius (18 to 21 degrees Celsius).
Recently, many proponents of holistic medicine and producers of nutraceuticals (nutritional supplements) have produced research on the various health benefits of grapes and wine. In particular, the consumption of grape seed oil and the skin of the grape can contribute greatly to heart, skin and cellular health. Since clarets are made and bottled without a great deal of additives or straining of grape sediment, it is presumed that moderate consumption may impart some health benefits.
Within the European Union, the labelling of wines in regard to origin or type is a seriously regulated issue. Outside the E.U., however, many vintners and wine producers pay little attention to the legal restrictions particular to the E.U. As a result, you may encounter an Australian wine labelled as claret. This should be considered a description of the wine-making process and the character of the wine itself, not an indication of its origin. If you do encounter such a wine, you can be certain it is not distributed in Europe, since this type of labelling can cause confusion and has been banned throughout European markets.
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