Bordeaux Clairet wines are distinctive, deeply colored rosé wines from Bordeaux. As might be expected, they are made using the classic Bordeaux red-wine varieties – predominantly Merlot with a little help from the more "serious" Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Despite their intense color and rich, fruity scent, the wines are always dry in style.
With their simple structure and lack of tannins (an essential ingredient in the wine maturation process), Bordeaux Clairet wines are not suitable for aging. They are approachable at a much younger age than regular Bordeaux reds, but they also begin to fade sooner, and should be consumed within one or two years of vintage. This is radically less than the 20 years of bottle age required by the most prestigious wines from the Medoc and Saint-Emilion.
Classic Bordeaux Clairet wines are so deep in color (more so even than those from Spanish Navarra) that they might almost be mistaken for a very lightly colored red wines. In fact, this is precisely what they once were. Many centuries ago, when Bordeaux was beginning its rise to fame, the region's red wines were significantly paler than they are today. They were fermented for just a couple of days, rather than a couple of weeks, as is now customary.
As a result of their short maceration, the juice (must) had less time to absorb color (and tannin) from the grape skins. The resulting wine was lighter and fruitier than the red Bordeaux style we know today – lighter, fruitier and less cellar-worthy. The key consumers of this early Bordeaux red were the English, who knew it as "claret" – a name still used in British English as an umbrella term for red Bordeaux wines. Today's Clairet is the closest modern-day equivalent to red Bordeaux as it was in the Middle Ages.
Today, only a tiny proportion of Bordeaux vineyards are given over to the production of Bordeaux Clairet. This is simply a matter of economics and fashion; modern wine consumers prefer rich, complex red wines with good color and body.
Some of the best-known Bordeaux Clairet wines are those from Chateau Garon La Tuiliere, Chateau de Parenchere, Chateau Thieuley and Chateau de Fontenille. One of the most respected, and most expensive, is the "Clara" Clairet from Trocard's Clos Dubreuil vineyard in Saint-Emilion. The aptly named Clara rosé is bled off (see saignée) from vats of the main Clos Dubreuil red, and then matured in new French oak barrels for up to eight months. Accessing a bottle of this low-production wine is not the easiest of tasks.