What is the difference between claret, Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the difference between claret, Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon?

—Allen, Armadale, Scotland

Dear Allen,

These terms all overlap slightly, so let me take them one at a time.

Cabernet Sauvignon is both the name of a grape and the name of a red wine made from that grape. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted wine grape in the world.

One of the places that Cabernet does well is the Bordeaux region of France, another one of the terms that you asked about. In Bordeaux, red wines are blended from the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes, along with smaller amounts of Malbec and Petit Verdot. (Bordeaux-style whites are blended from Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle.) Similar types of wines made outside of Bordeaux are sometimes referred to as "Bordeaux-style," since technically Bordeaux can only come from Bordeaux.

That leaves claret, which always surprises me when it comes up. It’s a nickname British wine lovers gave to the wines of Bordeaux (which include Cabernet Sauvignon), dating back to the 1700s. These days it doesn’t necessarily refer to Bordeaux (or Bordeaux-style) wines, but it’s more of a generic term for red wines or the color of red wine. I’ve speculated its revival might be related to the recent popularity of Downton Abbey—there was even a claret named after the show.

—Dr. Vinny

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