Claret – pronounced clair-et (or kler-ət) with the “t” pronounced – is an English (not French) word for a particular shade of red. The term Claret was applied generally to red Bordeaux back in the time when red Bordeaux was a more red (rather than the current purple) wine made for a broader clientele. The term “a useful claret” was often used to describe a good wine, often from a lesser (not to say bad) vintage, that made a good luncheon wine (back when a bottle of wine with a proper lunch was a thing) or a good wine for a casual family dinner at home or with friends you weren’t trying to impress. Calling a wine a “useful claret” may have been faint praise but it was still, in an understated way, praise – a sort of implicit acknowledgment that the wine in question was better than expected and more than just-good-enough. That the wine was, in fact, useful. 2013 is a vintage that was widely bashed before the grapes were even picked, largely because a number of chateau owners were talking about the vintage and its challenges, referring (prematurely) to 2013 as a difficult vintage. Some of the press translated “difficult” to “bad.” But the Bordelaise did not say “bad,”, they said “difficult.” And it was a difficult vintage. Flowering was late and uncertain and the weather was cool and wet – until it wasn’t (which was almost August). There was much concern but the sun did come out and – miracle-of-miracles – burned off (in the better sites) the pyrazines (the stuff that can give under-ripe grapes – and the wine made from them – a nasty green flavor) allowing clean fruit flavors to emerge. As long as they resisted doing a big extraction, many of the better producers made interesting, pleasant, easy drinking, even pretty wines with lots of (often crunchy red) fruit and not too much extraction. The Ch. Pontac Lynch referenced below is such a wine – a useful claret indeed.
Ch. PONTAC LYNCH, Margaux, 2013 ($28.49)
A blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 5% Petite Verdot from the estate in Margaux (contiguous with Chx. Margaux, Rauzan Segla, Palmer, and d’issan) fermented in concrete tanks using using pump-overs and aged in all French oak barrels (50% new). Red-purple color with well formed legs; dry, medium-plus-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics. Almost crunchy red fruit with gravel-sand terroir elegance. Supple. Note of Oak and accents of tobacco leaf, tea leaf, and dark floral; quite long finish; alive-in-the-mouth. Easy-to-drink-and-like. A useful claret. BearScore: 91.