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Do You Chill Your Clairet or Rosė Wines?

We had a little experiment at home the other night as a debate had arisen amongst the family as to whether Bordeaux Clairets and Rosės tasted better at room temperature or chilled. Of course this is up to each individual as personal preferences come first no matter what the accepted “law” on the practice is. Some people even prefer their reds chilled in the summer and if they like it then good for them. I don’t – but that’s up to me. You are perfectly entitled to drink you wine any way you want to – out of the freezer or at boiling point.

You will be amazed how many people put ice in their wine. I did a little sleuthing on the web and found pages of people doing it – some sheepishly admitting it and some brazenly defending it. Personally the thought of putting ice cubes in wine worries me that it will dilute the wine. Even a single cube of ice in a glass of red will be enough to diminish its good fruit flavour, leaving behind an awkward blend of thin, austere acidity and tannins. I suppose you could always get those plastic ice cubes and plop them in the wine as they don’t melt – that way you could cool it down without losing any of the flavour. Someone suggested popping frozen grapes in the glass . . .

Anyway, getting back to the subject of chilled Clairets and Rosės we chose two bottles of our favourite Clairet, Chateau Ballan Larquette, opened one and let it breathe in the room and popped the other in fridge.

Now Clairet is not your usual pink wine – it’s something a little special. Clairet is not a Rosé. It is a very different creature indeed and has its own AOC: Bordeaux Clairet, to regulate its production. The word Clairet is the French for clear and this is where our word Claret comes from. A couple of centuries ago all clarets were Clairets and the English adored them.

The grape varieties used in Bordeaux Clairet are the same as those in Red Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Bordeaux Clairet is darker than Bordeaux Rosé and has more fruit, power and structure. It’s maceration (time spent on the grapes) can be up to 2 days and beyond – compared to the 4 or 5 hours that a Rosé spends. I spotted a quote recently that sums up Clairet if you haven’t come across it before: “Clairet is like Rosé on steroids.” They have great aromatic power and being fuller bodied are brilliant with food.

It seems to be the norm that Clairets and Rosės are treated in the same manner as White wines and that keeping them chilled is the best way to deal with them. However our experiment revealed that the ladies of the house thought that the wine was much better at room temperature. They thought the flavours came out better, that the wine was much smoother and had a lovely mouth feel – and that the aromas were stronger. The gentlemen of the house (including me) thought it didn’t make much difference – that on the palate the chilled wine was just a cold version of the warmer one. However we were outnumbered and the ladies insisted that Clairet should be treated as a Red wine in the future, ie opened to breathe and sitting on the sideboard rather than in the fridge.

We didn’t get as far as experimenting with the Rosės but I suspect that the reverse will be true. Their flavours are more subtle and I think they are better suited to being chilled. I would love to know what you think on the subject . . .

I just hope I haven’t opened Pandora’s Box!

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2 Responses to Do You Chill Your Clairet or Rosė Wines?

  1. Blue says:

    I have to put my hands up & say I have/do put ice cubes in my wine – sorry Nick!
    But in my defence, it's never ever in a Red or a quality White – it's usually Publand white wines on a warm summer day as think it's preferable to a Spritzer.

    Am a Clairet & Rose' fan and prefer both mine nicely chilled but not ice cold as that does kill the flavour.

  2. Nick says:

    Thanks Blue! You make a good point as wine that is too cold does tend to shut down. I remember that your favourite Clairet was the Domaine de Ricaud one!

    That's also a good idea re white wine with ice cubes in preference to a Spritzer . . . I will tell my daughters!