Long before I ever began to appreciate wine, I used to think the word "claret" was the name of a deep purplish-red color. And while claret (pronounced CLAIR-et) really is the name of a color, it does relate to wine. Claret is primarily a very old British term that refers to French red wines from Bordeaux made from the classic grapes of that region: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and malbec.
While we don't see the term used very often on wines these days, it's hard to miss the striking black and gold label of the Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Claret and the gold netting that encases the bottle. The wine is widely available throughout St. Louis — including at the Trader Joe's at 48 Brentwood Promenade Court, where I bought a bottle of the 2009 vintage for $13.99. (The price there later went up to $17.99, but I've found it other places for $14.99.)
In addition to the eye-catching packaging, this claret has an interesting history. According to the label, the Francis Coppola Claret is made in the same style as wines from the Bordeaux appellation of Médoc, in which cabernet sauvignon often dominates the blend. The front of the bottle states in parentheses "1910 type." Language on the back explains that the wine is called claret to honor the heritage of wines made by Captain Gustave Niebaum from grapes grown in his California vineyards dating to 1910.
Niebaum was a famous Finnish sea captain and fur trader in the 1800s. He settled in California and in 1880 founded the Inglenook Winery. The winery, located in what is now Napa's Rutherford appellation, was among the first in the United States to make wines in the Bordeaux style. Within 10 years, Niebaum's wines drew international praise and won gold medals at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris. Francis Ford Coppola, who directed, among others, the award-winning film "The Godfather," now owns the Niebaum property and has renamed it Rubicon Estate Winery.
Although the Coppola Claret is made from a blend of Bordeaux grapes, it's 81 percent cabernet sauvignon. The wine has been aged in French oak for 15 months and has an alcohol level of 13.5 percent. This claret is a medium-body wine that has the fruity, youthful taste of many California cabernets. It's a well-balanced wine with focused tannins and plum, raspberry and black cherry flavors laced with some spice and vanilla. It would be a good accompaniment to steak and grilled meats.
Since the label says the claret is made in the style of a Médoc wine, I decided to compare it to a real Médoc from France, the 2008 Château Méric Médoc, which Trader Joe's sells for $10.99.
This actually turned out to be a different style of wine, but also very good. Although there was no information available about the proportions of grapes in the blend, it was a much softer wine, suggesting a higher amount of merlot in the mix. While it's also a medium-bodied red, this Médoc was lighter and drier than the Coppola claret and a bit more complex. It's an easier-to-drink wine with silky tannins and a little lower alcohol content of 12.5 percent. Because it's a little lighter, the Médoc would go well with grilled chicken as well as beef.