Meritage is a winemaker’s art form. Combining the “merit” of the grape and the “heritage” of the vines, Meritage is the name given to blending the Bordeaux varietals together to achieve a complex and balanced wine.
For many, the thought of being a winemaker implies a glamorous life marked by creative expression and freedom to explore. Sadly, however, prior to the founding of the Meritage Association, this was not the case, and a creatively blended vintage like Meritage wine was not allowed. In the 1970’s, based on rules established by the Federal government, a winemaker was beholden to certain percentages, for example, at least 75% of the overall blend must be Cabernet Sauvignon, in order to call the wine “Cabernet Sauvignon” on the label. These same rules also applied to many other varietals. As a result, many winemakers were bound to these percentages and other “rules” when attempting to craft the best wine possible.
In 1988, a group of American vintners formed the Meritage Association to create a classification that would identify hand-crafted Bordeaux style blends. No longer would a winemaker be confined to a percentage. The only limitations were that he or she must use two or more Bordeaux varieties in the final blend. With little restriction, a winemaker could now take the best grapes from a given vintage – a dash of Merlot here, a dollop of Cabernet Franc there, to make the best wine possible.
Fast forward over 25 years later, the Meritage Association is stronger than ever. At over 200 members, Meritage wine has blossomed into one of America’s fast growing categories of wine. The name Meritage® (pronounced like “heritage”) was selected from more than 6,000 entries in an international contest. The association liked the combination of “merit” and “heritage” used in coining this new term. Today, the Meritage Association (now called Meritage Alliance) defines Meritage wine as “an American expression of excellence for wines blended in the Bordeaux tradition.” In order to obtain a license and use the term Meritage®, a wine must meet a few criteria:
Must be made from a blend of two or more of the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenere. No single variety may make up more than 90 percent of the blend.
Must be made from a blend of two or more of the following varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Vert. No single variety may make up more than 90 percent of the blend.