If you drink wine from California you’ve probably heard of “Meritage.” But do you know what the word actually means?
Meritage may sound fancy-schmancy but it’s basically a made up word for a Bordeaux-style blend made by a winemaker who has paid a fee to use the word.
But first let’s start with the pronunciation of Meritage. There’s no “ahh” sound. Meritage rhymes with heritage. That’s actually partly where the word comes from — in 1988 it was created during a contest by a man who combined the words “merit” and “heritage.”
For a wine to be called a specific varietal in the United States, it must contain at least 75% of that grape. So that bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon you last opened could have contained between 0% and 25% Merlot, Malbec, or a variety of other grapes. If a winemaker creates a blend in the Bordeaux style that doesn’t have 75% of a particular grape it is labeled “Red Table Wine” or “White Table Wine” — not really a prestigious-sounding name for a wine with noble roots.
Enter a small group of Napa Valley vintners who in 1988 sought to create a recognizable name for high-quality blended wines. A contest was held to come up with a name and Meritage and the Meritage Association were born. Today there are more than 100 members of the Meritage Association, including international members.
For red wine, a Meritage must be made from at least two of the traditional Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. It may also contain Carmenere, St. Macaire, or Gros Verdot. For white wine, a Meritage is a blend of two or more white Bordeaux varietals: Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Vert. For both red and white Meritage, no more than 90% can be a single varietal.
You can’t just stick the word “Meritage” on your label — it’s a registered trademark of The Meritage Association. Only wineries that agree to the Meritage Association’s licensing agreement and pay a fee to the association can use the word.
A wine labeled as a Meritage doesn’t necessarily mean good quality; however the association strongly recommends its members label only their best blend as Meritage and limit the production to 25,000 cases.
For more information visit www.meritagewine.org.