Ever pick up a bottle and discover it was a Meritage wine? Did you scratch your head and immediately go Google? Are we describing what happened to us? Yup.
A Meritage wine is another wine that we feel is important to learn about to expand our wine drinking vocabulary. Let's dive in and discover what this Meritage wine business is all about.
What Does Meritage Mean?
Meritage is the term utilized to describe Bordeaux-style red and white wines made by the Meritage Alliance members. These wines must be created from at least two permitted grape varieties in the red or white wine categories, with no single grape variety making up more than ninety percent of the final blend. They vary in taste and aroma, and there are Bordeaux blends being made by the Meritage Alliance everywhere from the Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma County to the Okanagan Valley in Canada.
So who is the Meritage Alliance? The group was founded in 1999 as the Meritage Association and was created with the goal of supporting blended wines from California's Napa Valley. At the time, California winemakers were discouraged by the US's varietal wine-labeling requirements and aspired to formulate a unique brand to expand their proprietary blends. The word "Meritage" was created from the combination of "merit" and "heritage" and was selected as a way of conveying a sense of both quality and history.
Today, the application of the word Meritage is governed by this Alliance. The organization is a non-profit that recovers costs by requiring a small fee based on each member's wine volume. There is a range of quality assurances presented by the Alliance, including a recommended production limit of 25,000 cases annually. While US members dominate the Meritage Alliance, it is still a global group. Some wineries that are also active include wineries in Australia, Argentina, Canada, France, Israel, and Mexico.
To achieve a license to use the Meritage name, the wine must be a blend of at least two of the traditional red or white Bordeaux grape varieties, and a single type cannot make up more than ninety percent of the blend. Once this particular criterion is met, a winemaker can download a membership application and questionnaire and send it to the agreement's address.
Is It Red or White?
Both! Red Meritage is by far the more common of the two styles and is typically based around Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Red Meritage typically includes any combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Saint-Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenere; however, Saint-Macaire and Gros Verdot are remarkably rare. The blend is based on Bordeaux red wines of the preceding 200 years. Yet, the wines created have powerful New World associations. The Bordelais historically label their wine according to the chateau or estate name and region in which it was produced. These terms also appear on New World wines; however, there is a greater emphasis on the varietal composition. Because of this, Meritage brings together the divide between the New and Old World wine marketing.
White Meritage is more straightforward than its Red Meritage counterpart. Essentially, White Meritage is the blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. While a small portion of Muscadelle grape occasionally is added, the variety is too sweet for most palates today. It is utilized as a condiment to the wine rather than a staple component. Given Meritage's extreme association with red wine, some argue that it is counterproductive to confuse red and white styles with the same name.
What Grapes Might Be Included?
It is important to remember that Meritage wines are made solely from the approved Bordeaux varieties; if any other wine is in the blend, it cannot be Meritage.
What's the Difference Between a Red Blend and Meritage?
Meritage is a category of blended wine. As we explained, a winery has to be a member of the Meritage Association to use the term. Therefore, the wine must be blended entirely from Bordeaux grape varieties with no more than ninety percent of any single grape.