Do you know the story of Australian Claret?

Do you know the story of Australian Claret?

I work for a winery in Barossa Valley, which produces two fantastic wines that use Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for their blends. The story I’m about to tell is one that I love sharing with the tourists who come to visit us and taste our wines, and today I decided to share this story with you.

Many Australians used to refer to the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon (or Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz) blend as Claret, but the Claret nomenclature was actually the name used in Bordeaux for any red table wine. In my wanderings through various wine regions around the world, I have never come across the blend of Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon before and would say that it is a typical Australian blend.

Cabernet Sauvignon is often used in blends - I've found several Malbec in Argentina with a percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon; many Super Toscano blends from Italy also use Cabernet Sauvignon, like Tignanello for example; one of the most famous wines in Spain, Vega Sicília Único, uses a percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in its wines, which are predominantly made with the Tinto Fino grape; not to mention Bordeaux wines, which are also blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc - but never Shiraz.

In general, blending is used to address varietal deficiencies, by adding a wine with the missing traits. However, according to Kevin Glastonbury, winemaker at Yalumba, with this blend this is not the case at all. He explains

"It is the case that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole". "It is about the marriage of two varieties that creates an entirely new wine." - Kevin Glastonbury

The term Claret refers to easy-to-drink red wines with limited skin contact and short fermentation times, that were made and exported from Bordeaux to England. In France they were called Vinum Clarum, Vin Clar or Clareit. But the British invented the term Claret, and so the nomenclature arrived in Australia.

With a history that can be traced back to the late 1800s, the Yalumba winery made Claret in the 1880s and sent it to India to be enjoyed by the British Raj. In 1890, French winemaker Edmund Mazure (creator of the red Sparkling Shiraz) started his own winery and made an excellent Cabernet-Shiraz, plus Chateau Reynella were also famous for producing Clarets.

In the 1950’s, the famous Max Schubert (Penfolds' First Chief Winemaker), championed the blend, using it to create wines like the 1962 Bin 60A, which became a favourite on the world stage. Bin 60A became Penfolds' most successful wine, winning 19 trophies and 33 gold.

Although Australia makes excellent wine from Cabernet and Shiraz blends, it cannot receive credit for the successful marriage. French scientist Dr. Jules Guyot was influential in creating the blend in the 1860s. Although the practice of blending Syrah from the north of Rhône and Cabernet from the Bordeaux regions became popular in France, it did not last long. Europe's appellation system brought an end to the famous blend.

On May 6, 1919, the French Law for the Protection of the Place of Origin “Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée’ was passed, and Appellations were born. The law specifies in which region and with which grapes, a wine can be made, thus making blending between regions and certain grape varieties illegal.

Never again in a single bottle could Bordeaux Cabernet and Rhône Syrah come together. Sad news for France, but great news for Australians.

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