Why are Bordeaux wines called "claret"?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the origin of the Brits’ traditional nickname for Bordeaux wines as “claret”? There is a French white grape named Clairette, a Rhône varietal. Is that a coincidence, or is there a connection there?

—Doug B., Clifton, Va.

Dear Doug,

Before “claret” was the nickname for Bordeaux wines, it meant “clear,” “pale” or “light-colored” wine (“claret” being derived from the Latin word for “clear”). This is back in the 14th and 15th centuries, when wines from Bordeaux were actually paler, almost like rosés. In the late Middle Ages, “claret” also referred to a heated wine poured over a bag of spices.

The first known references to “claret” as dark red Bordeaux wines were in the 1700s by the British trade. History buffs will recall that France and England were at war during this period, and it was right around then that the English started seeking out Portuguese wines to satisfy their thirst.

These days “claret” is used as a generic way to refer to Bordeaux wines (or wines styled after Bordeaux) and the associated dark red color that’s also used to describe anything from nail polish to yarn.

I couldn’t find a direct connection between “claret” and the Clairette grape, but perhaps Clairette—a white wine grape—is also related to the Middle French and Latin variations of “clear” or “light-colored” wine.

—Dr. Vinny

France Bordeaux Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Can a wine stored in ideal conditions outlast its recommended drink window?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains recommended drinking windows for aging wine.

Feb 15, 2021

Are new oak barrels toasted and filled with wine before they’re sold?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why barrels are toasted, and how a wine barrel's …

Feb 8, 2021

How do you open a bottle of wine that has a wax capsule?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how to deal with wax-topped wine bottles, …

Feb 1, 2021

Where do wine club wines come from?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where private label wines come from, and what …

Jan 25, 2021

What’s the difference between Brix, Baumé, Oechsle and residual sugar?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why measuring sugar content in grapes is so …

Jan 18, 2021

Will my wines get too cold in the garage?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny covers the pitfalls of storing wine in the garage, …

Jan 11, 2021