On a recent visit to Davis, Calif., I enjoyed a splendid glass of wine in a local bistro, a 2006 claret from Newton vineyards. Claret is a blend, a Bordeaux type red wine, and a wine I remember fondly from the late 1970s and early 1980s. I quit drinking alcohol in 1982 and when I began having the occasional glass of wine with dinner 20 years later there was no claret. It had fallen out of fashion. I missed it and have been happy to see it showing up again. Hurrah.
So, I recently stopped in at a liquor store with a good rep and a wine shop, both in Carson City. In both stores I asked for Newton claret (KLARR-it) and in both stores the clerk repeated it back to me as klarr-RAY. In the first store I let it pass, but in the second I said, “Actually, its KLARR-it.” I’ve been noticeably cranky lately.
I got a bit sniffy about it and for several days had numerous biting discussions in my head and with my bathroom mirror over this bastardization of a perfectly good word.
Then I thought, “Well hell, maybe they changed the pronunciation since the 1970s and early 1980s,” although I did briefly remember that in the restaurants where I’ve been served that lovely wine they still pronounce it KLARR-it.
So I looked up the word online, then in the “American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,” Third Edition, and finally, in “The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary” published in 1971, the latter being a free gift I received for joining the Book of the Month Club way back then.
Claret is an English word and it is still pronounced KLARR-it. According to Wikipedia “It has been coined from the [French word] clairet, a now uncommon dark rose which was the most common style of wine exported from Bordeaux until the 18th century. Claret is a protected name within the European Union for describing a red Bordeaux wine; it was accepted after the British wine trade demonstrated over 300 years’ usage of the word.”
Wikipedia goes on to explain that the Plantagenet kingdom, covering England and much of France from 1152 to 1453, encouraged wine trade and the development of English taste for this wine, adopting the French word clairet to describe it. And now that I know I’m right, I can stop making sure everyone else knows I’m right, damnit.