Getting to Know Meritage

Every wine has a story and most of them are fascinating because of the history, or the romance we associate with its location or producer. I recently learned the story behind Meritage wine,  and while it is not what I would call romantic, it is fascinating.

I must confess I drank Meritage many times and never considered exactly what it was — a varietal? a region? In the process of studying for the CSW exam, I discovered that Meritage came to be from the result of businessmen, who happened to be winemakers, coming up with an idea that was pure marketing genius.

In  1988, a group of Napa Valley winemakers formed The Meritage Association, which is currently The Meritage Alliance. The birth of this Association/Alliance resulted from American wine labeling laws which did not allow wine makers to label a superior quality red blend with anything more than a basic table wine label. To put this into practical terms, think about American wines that you know and love — they are labeled by varietal — merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, etc. These wines can only carry the varietal identification if they contain a minimum of 75% of  the identified variety. A wine containing a blend that did not meet this requirement would be labeled as a red blend, which could be misinterpreted as being of the same quality as table wine.

In comparison, Old World wines are most often labeled by the region they come from, with Bordeaux in particular, representing the pinnacle of quality wine world wide. The Bordeaux blend is copied world wide, however the wine cannot be labeled a Bordeaux unless it originated in Bordeaux.

American winemakers, producing beautiful blends that represented the best of their technical and artistic abilities, wanted to be able to label these wines with something other than “red blend.” The intent was to create a New World wine that could  compete with a Bordeaux. A name that consumers would recognize, just as they recognize Bordeaux.

These wine makers had the concept but needed a name for this creation. A contest was held to determine the name to be given to this wine and the result was Meritage.

“Meritage,” pronounced like “heritage,” was selected from more than 6,000 entries in an international contest to name the new wine category. Meritage is an in invented word that combines “merit” and “heritage” – reflecting the quality of the grapes and the ancient art of blending wine.  —

Presumably unknown prior to 1988, the word Meritage has since blended itself right into the English language. Although you cannot find Meritage in any dictionary, a quick Google search will reveal many business ventures and housing developments that use the name Meritage. Now if that’s not interesting, I don’t know what it is!

In addition to being a member of the Meritage Alliance, the wine must be made from the same grapes approved for use in Bordeaux, for both white and red wines. So, if you are drinking a red Meritage it will contain a blend of at least 2 of the following varietals:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Pedit Verdot and Carmenere. If you have a white Meritage, the blend will include at least 2 of these 3: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Muscadelle du Bordulais.

Meritage wines are easy to find at your local retailer, and most are very affordable.  Here is a link to a list of some that the Alliance has singled out for having received high accolades:

Today there are hundreds of members of the Alliance, including international members from Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Israel and Mexico. It is interesting to note that sometimes members do not use the label Meritage, and img_9388
instead prefer to use their own proprietary name. For example, the awarding winning Meritage from Vina Robles, has the img_9389proprietary name, Suendero. While it does not say Meritage on the label, it does use it in the description. Another award winner, Lemon Creek Winery in Michigan uses Meritage on the label. So, like all wine labeling, it can be confusing. The important thing is that now you know what a Meritage is!

When putting this knowledge into practice remember that any red blend comprised of the Bordeaux varietals would be similar to a Meritage.  Just like Bordeaux cannot be used on a label if it did not originate in Bordeaux, Meritage cannot be used if you are not a member of the Alliance. But if a red blend is comprised of the grape varietals listed above, it is  the same style of wine.

The Meritage Alliance encourages you to host your own blending party:

What a fabulous idea! I think there is a future Side Hustle Wino event in the making….








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