What style of wine was consumed in Spain long ago?
Of the many styles of wine that were being produced as far back as the Middle Ages, one particular style stands out among the rest.
The answer is clarete, a pink or lighter hued red wine, fashionable long before the term rosé became common.
But to call clarete a pink wine would not be accurate nor tell the whole story. Despite its lighter color, it’s neither a red, a white, nor a rosé. This is due to the winemaking method of blending red and white grapes and co-fermenting them together on their skins, just like how red wines are made today.
In winemaking regions such as the Ribera del Duero and Cigales, long before barrel aged reds, the blending of red and white grapes made for lighter styled wines that matched the local cuisine and the popular tastes of the people – fresh, juicy, and drinkable. That also means that before the powerhouse reds since the formation of the D.O. that Ribera del Duero is now known for, clarete was the only style of wine the people drank.
The exact origin of this style is not clear. Family recipes were proprietary, but historical and physical records document many lagars, or underground cellars, used by families to produce clarete for consumption in the Ribera del Duero.
Each family made a signature wine from a specific blend of grapes which were not just co-fermented, but often co-planted – a true field blend. Many of the grapes came from old vines. Some typical varietals included tempranillo, viura, albillo, bobal, and malvasia. Wines were aged in oak foudres, to develop complexity and balance out the natural acidity of the high-altitude grapes.
When the market shifted towards barrel aged reds styled after Bordeaux, clarete fell out of fashion. Old vines white varietals were extirpated in favor of tempranillo and garnacha. An age old wine tale of out with the old and in with the new.
Why has clarete been enjoying a renaissance now?
Perhaps the natural wine movement should receive some of the credit. Natural wines are made with indigenous grapes, natural yeast fermentation and minimum intervention in the cellar, often resulting in lower alcohol wines, which seem to fit today’s palate for many consumers.
Some wineries who were known for their claretes in the past are seizing the opportunity to return to winemaking traditions of their heritage, carefully crafting clarete for structure, texture, complexity and drinkability. Today, clarete is being made in various parts of Spain with an expansion of native grapes and blends.
Whether you are a fan of lower ABV reds, skin contact (orange) or food versatile wines, or good old-fashioned rosé, there’s a style of clarete out there for you.