Claret or Bordeaux? Branding for the British and How To Mess It Up

This week La Vigne Magazine reported that the CIVB (Interprofessional Committee of Bordeaux Wines), although pleased at the news that exports of Bordeaux wine were up, are concerned that some of their ‘future projects’ are still struggling to advance. One of these projects is the introduction of the term ‘Claret’ as a marketing / branding exercise.

This was announced last year and the plan is to use ‘Claret de Bordeaux’ for wines that are ‘light and fruity, easy to drink, in the same style as the original claret when it was prized by the English in former centuries’.

It’s thought that the term will be used as a commercial brand name mainly by AOC Bordeaux, AOC Bordeaux Superieur and AOC Cotes de Bordeaux, to allow them to create new brands with a clear taste profile for consumers.

A spokesperson for the CIVB told that the use of the term will be used from the 2012 vintage onwards and that it is not a new AOC ‘but a commercial brand aimed at re-invigorating the everyday drinking category of Bordeaux wines.’

 Georges Haushalter, President of the CIVB, has said that it’s important that the ODG Bordeaux (representative body of the Côtes de Bordeaux) and Bordeaux Supérieur take in hand the matter.

He also said that a core group of traders would be involved in the project and that legal and administrative barriers stood in the way, particularly those related to rewriting the specifications of AOC Clairet.

Being a fan of Bordeaux Clairet I intend to investigate this further but putting this to one side for a moment I want to look at the wisdom behind the CIVB’s decision to brand Claret. Claret is not the French name for Bordeaux wine and the French themselves do not generally use the term.

It was coined by us Brits before the 17th century as an anglicised version of the French word ‘Clairet’ – which was more of a deep rosé coloured wine than the red we recognise today. (For more detailed info on Clairet wines check out Bordeaux Clairet under the AOC section at Bordeaux-Undiscovered). So, if you like, ‘Claret’ was an early form of British branding.

Britain was a big market for French Claret and as styles developed the wine became redder. During the 17th century Claret from Bordeaux was given the ‘English Treatment’ whereby darker, beefier reds from Spain were added to the blend, probably made from teinturier grapes which produce a lot of colour (teinturier means to dye or stain). In 1815 Joseph Coppinger wrote that:

in order to strengthen the natural body of claret wine, and to render it capable of bearing the transition of the sea, the first and second growths are allowed from ten to fifteen gallons of good Alicant[e] wine to every hogshead, with one quart of stum. The casks are then filled up and bunged down.

The third, or inferior growth, is exactly treated in same way, with the single exception of having Benicarlo wine substituted for Alicant[e] in preparing them for their second fermentation, as cheaper and better suited to their quality; both these wines are of Spanish growth, and brought to Bordeaux by the canal of Languedoc: they are naturally of a much stronger body than native claret.”

So, Claret as we know it nowadays is dark red, and is very ‘British’. I can’t help wondering if Bordeaux’s intended reclamation of brand ‘Claret’ will have a negative impact on Clairet – which is a lovely wine in its own right and deserves more recognition.

Won’t these 2 terms add to the confusion if the ‘New French Clarets’ coming out of Bordeaux in 2012 are – to quote – ‘light and fruity, easy to drink, in the same style as the original claret when it was prized by the English in former centuries’? Our notion of Claret is not that of a ‘light’ wine.

Actually, the Sediment Blog has a wonderful summary of what our notion of Claret is in their blog Claret or Bordeaux? Chateau Tour de Barberau and point out that the word Claret rresonates with history, with class, with Englishness and encompasses our national love of time past.

Whether we like it or not Claret still denotes ‘class’ – not in sense of the English class system (although there are plenty of people out there who may disagree) – but in the sense that Claret stands for quality. Claret stands for good taste, style, even a certain panache. It’s a wine with a pedigree. That’s why we get so annoyed by cheap plonk with Claret slapped on the label.

The other problem the CIVB have is that brand Claret will only be recognised by the British. As Allan Sichel, MD of Sichel wine merchants and president of the Union des Maisons de Negoce de Bordeaux, told, “for the new brand to work, it needs it to have legitimacy not only in England, but in all export markets, and within France itself. We feel confident that it is simple and clear enough to work.”

I disagree with him – I don’t think the CIVB have got it quite right. In my eyes it’s no wonder the project is stalling. I think they are in danger of devaluing Claret, pushing Clairet into obscurity and confusing Bordeaux wine enthusiasts who are not British. What do you think?

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