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Pass the claret, Jeeves!

Today we consider wine-speak associated with claret (red Bordeaux). In fact, many of the terms could be applied equally to other reds from around the world because there are common denominators, not least the aging process. For example: “Legs”. For some reason these fascinate people. They are the rivulets or tears which run down the glass after swirling. They really don`t mean much, an indicator of alcohol or sugar content, is all, but they also denote substance with the implication of viscosity and richness. As such they may be observed most readily in high-extract monster clarets, even more so in the high-glycerine sweet wines of Bordeaux.  “Cigar box”, “tobacco leaf” and “smoke” make good claret tasting notes, but these again can be applied elsewhere. Similar aromas appear in Italy`s Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo. They have much to do with the oak barrels they are matured in. Strangely, the woodsy aromas in themselves tend to emerge as “cedar” in claret, “leather” in Barolo and “vanilla” in Brunello, broad strokes but the tendency is there.   These first-rate heavyweights have something else in common: in their youth they share the descriptors “powerful” and “structured”. They are therefore typically rich, full-bodied and tannic, to the point of being chewy. What separates them entirely, aside from their unique terroirs, is their grape varieties: Brunello, 100% Sangiovese, Barolo 100% Nebbiolo. Claret is almost always a blend of grape varieties, the two most significant, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with also rans Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It`s helpful to understand that Cabernet Sauvignon grown on gravel is dominant on the “left bank” (Medoc), while Merlot on clay is King on the “right bank” (Pomerol, Saint-Émilion). Left bank more than right bank claret is notable for its cigar box and cedar characteristics, but also the distinctive “cassis” fruit quality of Cabernet Sauvignon which is liqueur-like (blackcurrants), with typical mineral notes of graphite, chocolate and soy. Right bank claret is plummy with creamy fruits and spices.  Both can turn to velvet with age. Two beasts we call claret.


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