What is Meritage?

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.

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