The difference between Claret and Klaret.

At one time in the TV show Fawlty Towers Basil says I can certainly see you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret. A great line, as claret is bordeaux wine – or is it?

I couldn’t find the clip – but do enjoy this instead 🙂

I was pretty sure that was the case but then again language is a funny thing and what means one thing in one place might mean a different thing in another. I’m from Sweden and going through a couple of books on food and drinks in historic times I stumbled over a recipe for Klaret from 17th century.

I was reading Ingrid Larsson Haglund’s book Grevarna Brahes Vinterbok – Historia, traditioner och mat från Visingborgs grevskap (1999) a book on history, traditions and food connected to count Per Brahe the younger (1602-1680). In part this book is a historic cookbook. The recipes in the book come from two 17th century books; Ein Köstlich new Kochbuch printed 1609 in Basel, penned by Anna Weckerstein (born 1528), orginally published already in 1598. The second book is called Count Pers cookbook and written sometime in the 1600s. The 17th century cookbooks were not only on food but also on health and they do contain some information on the drinks of the day so lets return to Klaret.

In the Swedish Academy’s dictionary (SAOL), you can find information on when a word was first used in texts. The oldest evidence for Klaret or Clairet in Swedish is from 1559 and was a term for a kind of spiced wine. It’s described as a wine with added honey, sugar, mead and passed through a cloth bag. Furthermore from the text one can conclude that they there was a distinct difference between wine and Klaret; The man drank klarheet and Wijn (1559). However, the term is also used for some red wines from the mid 1600’s, it’s described as lice red French wines (1640) and towards the end of the 1800s its a term for red wines in general and red wine from Bordeaux in particular.

A recipe for Klaret from the 1600s

Ingrid Larsson Haglund has translated this recipe to modern conditions:

  • 10 cl of vodka
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ – ½ tsp cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups white wine (probably Rhine wine, my comment)
  • 2-3 tablespoons sugar

Mix the vodka and spices in a bottle. Let stand for 9-10 days, the liquid should be held lukewarm, shake the bottle every day or stir.

When this is done, take a tablespoon of the mixture and pour into Ca 2 dl of white wine, add the sugar and let stand for 12 hours. The drink can be enjoyed cold or in room temperature.

I have not tested this myself, but I will – someday, this said to have been the Swedish king Erik XIV’s (1533-1577) favourite beverage.

I believe the white wine should be a Rhine wine, that is likely Riesling, after reading Olaus Magnus (1490-1557) Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples) (1555) which states that three kinds of wine were imported to Sweden, during the 16th century; sweet wine, sour wines and light wines. The sweet wine came from Spain and was called Bastard wine, the sour wine came from France, and was used primarily as communion wine (ie, red wine) and then the light is the wine from the Rhine. In the 13th book, chapters 19-20 in Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus one can read about wine and wine import.

A Swedish wine hut, Olaus Magnus 1555

Olaus Magnus writes that in addition to the malt beverages Swedes drank wine from Spain, France and Germany. The Spanish wines were called Bastard. It is described as a wine with a delightful flavor, color and scent. It is sweet, mellow, slightly syrupy, and extremely strong and durable, with a strong fragrance of the mouth, and with high estimate with a clear translucent colour. It’s not every day one can read a tatse note from the 16th century :). Two types of wines were imported from France, the first were called Romeniska – it is described as harsh and sour, the other is called Peitha (Poiteu), its a lighter wine that is described as having little valued, except during the hot season, as it was weak. The Rhine wines come from several German landscapes and are often served in wine huts, due to tax regulations they were cheap they are served to all and sundry. The wines are described, however, as desirable for its delicious taste.

Olaus Magnus also lets us know that the women never or very seldom got to enjoy wine, and then only the sweet wines, in very small amounts. I rather enjoy having my wines with women 🙂

Magnus Reuterdahl



  1. Hi Magnus, great post, I loved reading it. The same situation goes for the Netherlands: clareyte is a spiced wine, with evidence of the word from the later Middle Ages. Claret is the term used for the lighter red wines from Bordeaux, exported from the full Middle Ages till our times! What exactly the relation is between the two words, I still have to figure out.
    That the same words exist in Sweden as in the Netherlands, is perhaps not so surprising: Dutch merchants shipped a lot of wine to Göteborg and other Swedish towns, I believe. I would love to read more on that relationship!

    We should really organize a conference on wine in the Northern Countries from the Middle Ages till the 20th century some day! 😉

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