by Fred McMillin
for December 26, 1997

Winery of the Week

Hip, Hip, Hooray, It's Boxing Day

Prologue: Boxing Day—Of English origin, Boxing Day is a holiday observed on the first weekday after Christmas. Christmas boxes are given to postmen, etc.

...Webster's International Dictionary

The Rest of the Story: So what wine do I serve on Boxing Day? Since the holiday, observed in Canada, originated in merry old England, I'm pouring one of their early favorites...CLARET. But exactly what is "claret"? Let's see how the meaning has changed.

  • First Meaning: A British blend of white and red wines—On November 18, 1251 the King of England commanded the keeper of his wines at York to "deliver two casks of white wine and one cask of red wine to make claret." This is the oldest known use of the term.

  • Second Meaning: A light-bodied rose (roh-zay) from Bordeaux—A few centuries later, a light-red wine is called "clairet" (clear) in Bordeaux. It is called "claret" in England. Demand exceeded supply; in London, Dr. Edward Barry wrote:

    "1775—The French wine merchants, encouraged by the demand for weak French claret, began to mix it with the Spanish." This produced a darker, stronger red wine that led to the next usage of "claret."

  • Third Meaning: A dark red wine from Bordeaux—Another British physician, Dr. Alexander Henderson, documented this change. "1824—Rough growths from other areas [including the Rhone] are used for strengthening the ordinary wines of Bordeaux, and exported under the name of Claret."
Ultimately, the adulteration was overcome, and particularly in Great Britain "claret" refers to fine red Bordeaux. If you want an affordable bottle for Boxing Day, try this one.

Just the Facts

Name   Chateau Larose-Trintaudon Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux, France
Location   West of St. Julien
Vineyard   425 acres, the largest in the Medoc, planted chiefly with Cabernet Sauvignon plus some Merlot and Cabernet Franc
Current Release   1994 vintage
Importer   Seagram's
Contact   Angela Freire, (707)255-7667
Chateau Comment   "As the wine ages in the bottle, it develops into an even more fragrant and rounded CLARET."
Price   $18

Postscript: About that adulteration problem, the Medoc had its share. In fact, a little over a century ago, one Dr. Thudichem wrote that "its exports are TWELVE times as great as the Medoc production."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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