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Meritage – America’s Bordeaux Blends

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Earlier this evening a friend of ours asked a good question about what a “Meritage” wine is and how the term came about.  I thought it would be nice to share a bit of our discussion.

Cheers!

“Meritage” (rhymes with heritage) is purely an American word that is a combination of the words “merit” and “heritage.”  In 1988, a group of American winemakers got together to find a way to identify and market red and white wines made from the traditional Bordeaux grapes.  Through a contest they later chose the term “Meritage” to represent their style of wines, and thus the Meritage Alliance was born.

Why did they have to do this?  In the United States we prefer to see the grape variety on the label because it makes it easier for the consumer to identify and select a wine.  America’s complex labeling laws say that if you want to label the wine with the grape’s variety at least 75% of that grape needs to be in the bottle.  For a long time, winemakers knew that in many cases they could make better wines if they blended in some other varieties.  For instance, a wine with 100% cabernet sauvignon may be good, but if they blended in some merlot or cabernet franc it might be great!  The problem was that if the blend contained less than 75% of any one grape they were forced to label the wines as red or white “table wine” – not a very appealing marketing strategy.  Many producers turned to creating proprietary names to get around the legal obstacles.  Opus One, Dominus, and Aeros are just a few examples.  The Meritage Alliance exists to assist the producers in marketing their wines and helping to educate the industry and consumers about America’s Bordeaux-style blends.

It is important to note that not just any grapes can be blended together and be called a Meritage wine.  The blend must be a combination of the “nobel” Bordeaux varieties.  The red wines can contain: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, merlot, petit verdot, and on the rare occasion St. Macaire, gros verdot and carmenère. The whites can contain: sauvignon blanc, sémillon or muscadelle. No single wine can make up more than 90% of the blend.  In addition to using the right grapes, the producers must also join the Meritage Alliance for a small licensing fee.