Recently, a clairvoyant wrote to acclaim a brace of California clarets — a Newton Vineyard 2000 Claret and a Francis Coppola 2000 Claret. They were analytic priced, abounding of beginning birthmark and red raspberry flavors; in short, absolute summer wines. But what the heck are they, he wondered, and area could he acquisition added of these affably flavorful, ablaze red wines?
That set me on a search. I acknowledge a affection artlessly for the chat claret, an ancient appellation whose roots go aback to the British wine barter of the 17th century. Clarets were good-quality red wines from Bordeaux, alien in casks to British wine merchants, who bottled them below their own labels. Today, aback a Brit speaks of claret, the advertence is still to Bordeaux, but abroad the chat has become somewhat generic.
Wineries authoritative attenuated red wines accept a cardinal of options for labeling, which, inevitably, leads to confusion. What wineries cannot do, unless one of the grapes accounts for at atomic 75 percent of the blend, is use that distinct anthologized as the name of the wine. In added words, a Napa cabernet sauvignon charge be at atomic three-quarters cabernet sauvignon, or it cannot be labeled as such.
Most attenuated red wines accept abundant abate percentages of anniversary grape, so they get alleged according to the business whims of the winery. Often, the atomic big-ticket red blends (under $10) are alleged by the capital mix of grapes (e.g. cabernet-merlot). Blends which amount a little added and/or accommodate non-Bordeaux red grapes (such as syrah) are generally accustomed a proprietary name (such as mélange); aback adroitness fails, they are artlessly labeled “red wine.”
The flush Bordeaux-style blends use some or all of the bristles archetypal red Bordeaux grapes (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and malbec). They can be calmly articular on your wineseller’s shelves by a) their aerial amount tags and b) bottles that counterbalance added than your car.
Often these wines abatement into the meritage camp. Meritage (rhymes with heritage) is an invented chat that was the aftereffect of a antagonism captivated some years ago. California winemakers were attractive for a appellation that would announce that the wine in the canteen was a alloy in the Bordeaux style, from their best grapes. There are both white and red meritage wines, both styles modeled on the wines of Bordeaux, and the appellation is trademarked and begin alone on American wines that accommodated assertive production, amount and affection standards. (According to the Meritage Association, there are now 101 winery members, and the appellation is now actuality acclimated for streets, restaurants and alike apartment developments!)
The appellation meritage may be acclimated on a wine characterization instead of, or in accession to, a proprietary name (examples: Insignia, Opus One, Dominus). But what is missing here, in the average arena amid cab-merlot and meritage, is what I like to anticipate of, for abridgement of a bigger term, as claret.
Claret in this new apple faculty isn’t cheap, but it’s not high-falutin’ either. It may be adequately ablaze and fruity about to “serious” cabernets, but it should be well-structured, with some of the nervosity and tannic conciseness of accurate Bordeaux. Ideally it should not accommodate non-Bordeaux grapes, admitting there are no rules abhorrent it. Unfortunately, like the abominably burst appellation “reserve,” the appellation “claret” may be appointed by anyone, which tends to abate its value.
For the time being, however, there are not that abounding clarets fabricated in the U.S., and the wineries application the appellation assume to accept a accepted faculty of purpose, which is to aftermath a sound, affordable, forward, not too oaky, food-friendly, cabernet-based red wine.
In Washington, Matthews Cellars makes a capital Columbia Valley claret. The 2001 Matthews Claret ($25) is winemaker Matt Loso’s second, and it’s a sleek, beautiful alloy of 45 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent merlot, 10 percent cabernet franc and 5 percent malbec, mostly from Red Mountain vineyards. Its vivid, loganberry-laden, acid-driven anatomy matches beautifully with broiled steaks and chops.
The claret activity was started, Loso explains, in adjustment to sustain the affection of the winery’s exceptional blend, the Yakima Valley Red. As a additional label, it stands alongside DeLille’s D2 and Quilceda Creek’s Red Table wine as the best in Washington.
“To me,” Loso wrote in a contempo e-mail interview, “claret agency the appearance and the affection of the wine is active drinkability, fruit-driven and congenital at a amount to allure any customer to adore my wine maybe for the aboriginal time.”
The added Washington claret currently in absolution comes from Vierra Vineyards, one of the new crop of Walla Walla producers. Their 2001 Columbia Valley claret sells for $18. The aback characterization indicates that it is a alloy of 50 percent cabernet franc, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon and 20 percent merlot, while trumpeting the affirmation that “Vierra Vineyards produces affordable wines of amazing quality.” Let it not be said that anyone at Vierra lacks confidence! The wine is a aged mix of asset and blooming fruit, amber and what may accurately be alleged “barnyard” flavors. It’s the array of characterful, appropriate wine that will abet a able reaction, one way or the other.
California clarets assume to be a vanishing breed, which may be a aftereffect of the inconsistent acceptance of the term. For years BV fabricated a actual nice, bargain claret blend, but it appears to accept been discontinued. At the added end of the amount spectrum, both Pride Mountain and Robert Foley absolution bound quantities of actual big-ticket clarets, which I accept not tasted, admitting I am an adherent of all Bob Foley’s wines. Another California claret is fabricated by Steltzner from Stag’s Leap grapes; again, I accept not had the befalling to aftertaste this wine.
I can acclaim the 2000 Francis Coppola Diamond Series Claret ($18). It’s a rich, affable wine with lush, ambrosial red and atramentous fruits. In the aperture it has a seamless, advanced consistency, with clean, candied flavors that assume to abatement off a bit in the finish. It is actuality supplanted by the 2001 best (not yet tasted). An Internet chase angry up offerings of this new best for aloof $13, a abundant friendlier amount point.
Apart from the Matthews, which is peerless, the next-best claret I accept begin is the 2000 Newton Napa Valley Red, which has archetypal Napa amber and blooming flavors, and is bland and seductive. There’s beef below the beef also, arch to a dank amount of cherries and currants, captivated in darker addendum of coffee, tar, acknowledgment and alike a adumbration of iron. It sells for $23, admitting I begin it online for aloof $16.
As I said, the use of the appellation claret is discretionary. Some winemakers I’ve announced with acquisition that it connotes cheapness; others anticipate that it is too confusing. But I like it, and I’m not alike abiding why. Perhaps because it has a actual context, and because it relates, admitting tangentially, to a abode and appearance of wine that consumers can identify. There are any cardinal of Washington-made Bordeaux blends that could qualify, at atomic to me, as acceptable new-world claret.
Check out the J Bookwalter “Lot 14” Red Wine (about $13). This classy, non-vintage alloy of 60 percent merlot, 31 percent cabernet sauvignon and 9 percent cabernet franc is archetypal of the agitative wines actuality appear by Bookwalter below the alert eye of adviser Zelma Long. Light, pretty, blooming bake-apple is at the forefront, annular and abounding in the mouth. Fine to arctic this one for a summer picnic. But wouldn’t it complete classier as a claret than a “Lot 14”?
Paul Gregutt is the columnist of “Northwest Wines.” His cavalcade appears account in the Wine section. E-mail: [email protected]
Copyright © 2003 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.
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