The Heritage of Meritage

I’d like to try to clear up some things about the myths and misunderstandings surrounding the term Meritage. A lot of customers love the wines, with good reason, but aren’t quite sure what it is or what it means. Meritage is a protected, licensed name, much like Champagne or Bordeaux, that was invented to describe a group of wines that previously had no identity outside the regulations of the Board of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Under the jurisdiction of the BATF, a wine is required to be made with at least 75% of the varietal listed on the label. In 1988, a group of winemakers in Napa Valley, California got together to figure out a way to get around this regulation. Since Bordeaux-style blends (wines comprising different percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc) were gaining popularity at the time, no one wanted to lose out on the chance to market them. The group needed a name to identify their blends.

The Meritage Alliance is based in California and boasts over 250 members.

The term meritage is an invented word that is a “blend” (Get it? …sorry) of the terms merit and heritage. Meritage wines must be made from two or more of the following: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere. The term is, contrary to popular belief, not pronounced with a Frenchified ending, that being the one that rhymes with lodge or garage or hodge-podge. Many people tend to lean that way thinking that most wine names sound snobby anyway so this one probably does as well. The Meritage Alliance stipulates that the term should rhyme with heritage. There is also a $1/case fee for use of the protected name—the Meritage Alliance started with 22 members in 1999 and by 2009 had grown to more than 250.

While Meritage can mean “red blend,” not every red blend is a Meritage. Many vintners choose to omit the term Meritage on their labels because of the associated costs, even if the wines fit the description. Both Meritages and red blends can be excellent, elegant, and complex wines fit for any fine dining occasion. For a bargain price, try the Sterling Vintners Collection 2007 Meritage for $7.99 or the Windy Lane 2007 Meritage for $9.99. The Estancia 2006 Meritage is wonderful at $29.99 or try the Meritage-styled Franciscan 2004 Magnificat ($39.99) or the BV 2006 Reserve Tapestry ($29.99).

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One Response to The Heritage of Meritage

  1. Katherine says:

    So, what catagory does “Claret” fall into? Are there regulations for the content of these wines?