German literary critic and philosopher Friedrich Schlegel wrote that “Irony is the clear consciousness of an eternal agility, of an infinitely abundant chaos.” When we take a perpetually ironic attitude towards something it opens an infinite distance between what it is and what we take it to be. The “face value” is inconclusive, complete sincerity unachievable. And so I take this wine label as a statement of irony. It can never be what it claims to be, i.e. a proper claret.
“Claret” is the British nickname for Bordeaux blend, although the term was first used as such in the 1700’s when Britain was at war with France and the British were looking to Portugal for their wines. How ironic—a proper claret may be Portuguese. Furthermore, “claret” used to mean light-colored, despite the fact that Bordeaux wines are dark red. Hmm.
Even the word “proper” has its own ironies. Just as when the Brits say “With the greatest respect” they think you’re an idiot, when they use “proper” they don’t mean “characterized by propriety” but mean “really” or “completely”, an excellent thing of its type. So something could be properly improper, as in “a proper lout”. You see what Schlegel meant by “infinitely abundant chaos”?
So I take Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret to be properly improper. Strictly speaking a claret or Bordeaux blend must include only currently permitted Bordeaux varietals—the Cabernets, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Malbec. This wine has been improperly invaded by Rhone varietals: 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 13% Petit Verdot, 8% Syrah, 1% Petite Sirah.
The bright, rich cherry and plum fruit is not classic Claret; it’s California all the way although thankfully there is no hint of prune or raisin characteristics. The earth undertones are “proper Claret”, but the mint, floral, and thyme notes would lead me away from Bordeaux in a blind tasting. But as the winery tasting notes suggest “it is lean, neither overly alcoholic (weighing in at 13%) nor overly extracted, nor overly oakèd”. Indeed, and here we come to the heart of the matter. It is balanced, with strong acidity, and with fine tannins that have a bit of grip—all properly Claret although I have yet to taste a young Bordeaux with tannins this ripe.
It’s the mouthwatering acidity that makes you think European. I needed a high acid wine to go with my churrasco-style steak with chimichurri sauce I served on the 4th of July and this wine was outstanding holding up well to the vinegar in the sauce.
Randle Grahm, proprietor and winemaker at Bonny Doon, is not above a little irony and humor with his wine labels. Don’t worry if this is a “proper claret”. Just drink it. At this price an outstanding wine.
Alanis Morissette is enthusiastic about irony. I have no idea if she would find A Proper Claret” as delicious as “a traffic jam when you’re already late”