As you make the rounds of wine tastings, wine shops or wineries, you will no doubt encounter a Meritage wine. Chances are that, like me, you’ll assume this is an ancient innovation of a French vintner or a monk somewhere in the Alps.
The name for this tasty and wide-ranging type of wine actually only came about in 1988, by a small group of frustrated California winemakers who were seeking a recognizable term for their Bordeaux style blends.
In France almost all the great wines are blends, generally of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Cabernet Franc, a popular varietal wine in the Finger Lakes region is almost exclusively a blending wine in France.
Meritage is pronounced like heritage and is derived from a combination of merit and heritage. The word is trademarked and winemakers must license the trademark from its owner, the California-based Meritage Alliance. As of August 2009, the Alliance had over 250 members.
Producers of Meritage must pay a $1 fee per case, which is capped at $500 vintage and adhere to various labeling restrictions. It is also recommended that the Meritage moniker be reserved for a winery’s very best blend and with a production of no more than 25,000 cases.
Red Bordeaux is made mainly from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and to a lesser extent Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. A red Meritage must be made from at least two of these or the lesser known St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenère, with no grape comprising more than 90% of the blend.
I’ve never encountered one, but white Meritages do exist. The white Meritage blends of at least two of the principal white Bordeaux grapes Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle du Bordolais.
Meritage wines are fun and flavorful. There are other worthy blends, in fact in the Finger Lakes at one winery the server explained that their Rhapsody wine was “like a Meritage” but the winery didn’t want to pay the licensing fee.
For some fun try a tasting matching a Bordeaux blend against a Meritage.
Photo by Nick Sieger