Choosing Clarets

The previous post reminds me of my problems in choosing clarets. The French just say ‘there are 3,500 of them, so you are bound to find one you like’. Yes but that’s 10 years of tasting at a bottle a day, which is the way we amateurs have to do it. I would rather get some indication from the descriptions that would narrow my search.

Looking back at the Ch. Franc Couplet, the Bordeaux Supérieur that we liked so much and cost only £7.25, it is in fact Cabernet (Sauvignon)-led, which is also true of the biggest, roundest clarets, yet it is classed by the Wine Society as ‘light-bodied’ and described as retaining ‘youthful grip’ and having ‘spicy’ flavours. It has a tannic edge to it, faintly reminiscent of what attracts us in Fino sherry, and somewhat similar to the pure Cabernet Franc wines of Bourgeuil. So it’s not just the grape variety, it is also when it is picked and how the wine is made. I knew that already, but I need someone to tell me in the description what the winemaker was aiming at. If Cabernet Sauvignon can produce anything from a huge, fruity, velvety, winter armchair of a wine to a light, tangy summer luncheon wine, then telling me that it has ‘ripe fruit’ or is ‘perfectly  balanced’ or ‘concentrated’ does nothing to distinguish one from the other.

On the Wine Society’s web page for Franc Couplet they list Ch. de Camarsac as an ‘if you liked …’ describing it as ‘light-bodied’ and again Cabernet first, Merlot second. It too is Bordeaux Supérieur, actually from Entre deux Mers.

Similarly Ch. de Pitray, Cotes de Castillon, again light-bodied Cabernet/Merlot but described as ‘merlot-rich’ and ‘Sunday lunch’. They recommend beef rib and decanting before serving.

Key words for us in descriptions of clarets seem therefore to be ‘light-bodied’ and ‘lunch’. Yet the Wine Society’s latest offer of clarets in bond, which lists and describes 71 affordable clarets (but not Franc Couplet), uses neither. We are always being told about fruit, never about lightness/heaviness nor about what to eat with it – which is remarkable given the range of claret. I know to steer clear of ‘rich and sumptuous’, but in ‘ripe and spicy’ should I pay attention to the ‘ripe’ which suggests richness, or the ‘spicy’ which suggests edge? Wine writers please help.

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