Enough of lambruscos chungos from the supermarket and rosé champagnes made from Ibizan linen. Let’s drink claret, especially in summer, and we will see other more optimistic and noble aromas flourish than those that breathe industrial sugars or hundred-euro bubbles. Following is an exalted praise of claret, which is probably – along with Sherry – the Spanish wine par excellence: legacy, imagination, necessity, ancestral culture and forgotten treasure.
The claret is our particular Porco Rossoour hero tornado pig, the wine what of which the Roman Pliny spoke with praises of toga and laurel. It is the most difficult wine to make and the easiest to drink, the most reviled and the most unknown. Impossible to classify, because it brings together red, rosé and white, being different from the three. It is usually worth more than it costs and is a risk for any winery (because the effort is usually not worth it). But, above all, the claret keeps all the drinks that our ancestors threw down the drain, the usual wine in our homes and taverns for millennia, the one that was made and consumed throughout the year as a fundamental part of an autarkic diet.
Story of a wine
To begin with, let’s define a claret: a wine made with red and white grapes in the proportion that each maestrillo wants. Pink, on the other hand, only contains inks, which limits the difficulty. When he chooses the varieties he likes, the winemaker normally vinifies using the red wine technique, that is, letting the grapes ferment together with the skins (in other words, the skin of the grape, which gives it the dark colour, hence in the white ones remove the skins, and in the rosé one they are left just a few hours). However, today’s clarets ferment mainly as reds because the European Union required it in its day, guilty of the bad reputation of a wine that, in reality, was also vinified freely, according to the booklet of each house.
Until 100 years ago, claret was the ubiquitous wine. It was mixed with water for the children to drink, it nourished the shepherd’s backpack, the peasant’s boot and the craftsman’s jug. It was kept in domestic skins and transported on vat carts to the bar, often with the tap already embedded in the barrel. It was him mob boy, but also the usual label in current red temples such as Vega Sicilia, CVNE or Protos; Some wineries in La Rioja even called their very aged wines clarets, because they lost color and resembled the wines of the year, only with a slightly more funeral tone. In Aragón, León and Andalusia claret was drunk at close range, Cigales had gained fame beyond the Pyrenees and Tarifa, the harvest festivals reddened the songs, festivals and brawls.
we can steal from Blah its gorgeous gravel over our best neighbor to summarize what has happened to the claret: “I am like Portugal, they always discover me late and badly”. Like mistela or stale wine, claret resonates in the ears of some posh dandruff, Hurdes in black and white, the tyrannical past from which Spain is always escaping. But we are in time to solve it. Because claret is perfect for spoiling youth with wine, to brighten up almost any dish, to hit a table with disparate tastes that do not agree when choosing between red or white. There are robust claret and light claret, there are claret for all tastes, and a cold touch always celebrates summer.
the french question
If Portugal is our ignored Totoro, France is equivalent in our collective imagination to the pestilent spirit of Spirited Away, to that ghost with a mask, black and malicious, who actually hides a dragon trapped in its contamination, a curse that we could well call chauvinism. Spain began to produce red wines mainly when the French came down to La Rioja desperate for the phylloxera, at the end of the 19th century, and transformed our way of making wine according to the Bordeaux tradition. Later, when Spain joined the Common Market, France pressured the Spanish claret to the point of pointing it out as false devils, like susuwatarithose playful little sooty creatures that are scary in Miyazaki movies because they cover everything with dust.
Claret was denigrated in the 1990s to differentiate it from Gallic rosés -especially the AOC Bordeaux claret-, appealing to another carpetovetónica custom that was also covered by the word “claret”: mixing red and white wines directly, instead of grapes, a custom sanctioned since then as a sacrilege by the international gurus of the pompano. When the neighborhood is mixed with money, the windows become boundaries and the loan of salt, ringworm and nationalism (which are probably synonymous).
Since the 1990s, therefore, the marginalizing European regulation has led to a confusion between claret and rosé wines that, obviously, has mistreated the national market. If we add the explosion and fashion of the Tempranillo grape at the end of the 20th century, that is, the rise of the red with resounding aging, again imitating the gabachos, the poor claret was shrinking, exiled to the forests, like princess Mononoke, like pure nature repudiated by modernity as a dangerous savage. More than 90% of the wine consumed in the world today is red. It is incredible how hypercapitalism standardizes expenses and tastes.
Then came Cigales
The land where the claret has survived with special pride is located between the provinces of Valladolid and Palencia: the Denomination of Origin (DO) Cigales It was born in 1991, right in the midst of a regulatory mess, complicating the progress “of the wine that requires the most effort and the least appreciated”, insists Águeda del Val, technical director of the DO and who has been working for claret since 1988. After the initial community sanction, the EU ended equating claret to rosé in 2011, wanting to fix the mess of the nineties, but ending the confusion with “something that looked like a death certificate”, as Águeda recalls. The competition between Cigales and Navarra to place their flagship wines, especially in the north of Spain, became more acute. Because Navarra only makes rosés. In distribution, however, both remain getting confused, because they are not distinguished in the glass either. Logically, the claret is more versatile, it allows more experiments and surprises, by mixing more varieties. But it is also more prone to error.
The Alma mater of the Cigales denomination was José Félix Lezcano León, whose biography summarizes the efforts and problems of this entire history. Engineer and winemaker, José Félix was also an expert ampelograph, a specialist in identifying grape varieties (especially through the morphology of the vine leaves). Cigales, being a transit point on the Camino de Santiago, had received for centuries sticks of a multitude of grapes from numerous countries, carried by foreigners along with their faith and their sandals, until composing a countryside where the mixtures appeared truffled in almost all the hawthorns. If there is a wine diversity in Spain, that is what feeds the Pisuerga, where the terroirs of yesteryear looked like playgrounds with colored balls. Lezcano conducted a study in Cigales that narrowed down 28 varieties, including century-old French Chardonnays, and Chasselas from the Swiss Po Valley, but also five types of Grenache. From the sieve came the initial regulations of the DO, which he started with six wineries. Today there are forty.
“Even so, claret is still the ugly duckling of wines,” laments Félix Lezcano Lacalle, son of that pioneer and now head of the family business. Even he himself came to believe it: after finishing his oenology studies, Félix returned to his house determined to make Tempranillo reds aged with Cabernet and Merlot. The stream of the nineties. However, at home they urged him to keep his roots, and in 1996 he brought to the market twelvetonidsone of the most anthological clarets of our contemporary viticulture, multi-awarded in competitions, applauded by critics and consumed with fan loyalty by the public. “We dispensed with the Bordeaux bottle and chose the Rhin, because it was a wine that did not want to be given importance, and also because the hotel industry appreciates it since it is stored better. An elegant label, black, with yellow letters and a very Castilian typeface”. Docetañidos was so successful that it was exported to nine countries, including Puerto Rico and New Zealand.
The end of one era (and the beginning of another)
But in 2018, Bodegas Lezcano-Lacalle decided to make the latest vintage. “We were forced to sell it cheaper than 10 years before,” says Félix. Because, in this market, “to be considered a great wine, it has to be a red”. Their vines, moreover, had reached the age of majority, and offered the opportunity to jump into that other league, that of the stately red wine, in which all the world brands compete furiously. “I always say that Twelvers ended up like Marilyn, dead but leaving a perfect corpse,” says Félix as a proud epitaph.
What is the moral of this story? Well, we are the clients who make the bells ring with party or funeral melodies. Each consumption is a decision that goes beyond price, since each consumption determines the progress of the economy in one direction or another. With each purchase we value craftsmanship or manufacturing, we recognize history or join the trends, we give our money to the store or the platform. The more curious, conscious and unprejudiced our consumption is, the more we will contribute to changing the world and, above all, the better we will brighten up our days with rich and fun things.
Why can only red wines be great if half of the ones served leave you indifferent, or seem expensive? Why do you have to choose impenetrably between white, red or rosé? Can’t you eat with a Sherry, or dine with cava after the night of Kings? Between purple and yellow there is a galaxy of flavors, a universe as intoxicating as Miyazaki’s, where you feel more like a child than an adult, more a drinker than an expert, more a citizen than a consumer. At the stroke of claret, the humble and delicious claret that has resisted so many trips and in whose bosom so many grapes has welcomed, we can lengthen our enjoyments like someone who lengthens the summer by changing toasts between baths. If you still doubt, try it with rice. Even with a beach bar, because claret is unbeatable as an accompaniment to paella (with or without chorizo).
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