Meritage Wine: America's Bordeaux Blend. Meritage is an American wine made from Bordeaux grape varietals.
A common complaint I often hear from those wishing to find a good wine is that it is hard to find a quality Bordeaux, especially at an affordable price. As a better Bordeaux can easily run several hundred dollars per bottle (and sometimes several hundred dollars per half bottle), I sympathize. However, what many do not understand is that quality wines made from noble Bordeaux grape varietals are being created right here in the United States. They are known as Meritage wines and they are not getting the recognition they deserve in terms of sales.
What is Meritage Wine? Meritage wines are, quite simply, red or white American wines blended in the tradition of quality Bordeaux wines and made from noble Bordeaux grape varietals.
Varietal wines make up the majority of wines, named after whichever grape makes up at least 75% of that wine. However, there are many vintners who believe that the 75% varietal requirement does not, necessarily, result in the highest quality wine. As the generic term "Table Wine" often has connotations of lower quality blended wine, it was determined that a new category of wine should be established - one which represented the high quality wines famous in the Bordeaux region of France.
In 1988, a group of vintners decided to form the Meritage Association in order to identify quality American wines blended in this tradition. As these wines cannot call themselves "Bordeaux" without infringing upon the Bordeaux region's legally protected designation of origin, an international contest was held in order to achieve a propriety name for these wines. More than 6,000 entries were received. The name "Meritage" was chosen, which combines the words "merit" and "heritage" while rhyming with "heritage". In order to produce wines with "Meritage" on the label, the winery must be a member of the The Meritage Association. By 2003, there were more than 100 members of this association, including their first international participants. In 2009, The Meritage Association changed its name to The Meritage Alliance. By August of that year, its numbers swelled to over 250 members.
A Red Meritage Wine is made up from at least two of the following grapes, with no one grape accounting for more than 90% of the blend:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cabernet Franc
- Petit Verdot
- St. Macaire
- Gros Verdot
Usually, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot make up the dominant grape of a Meritage wine, with smaller percentages of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenere are much more rare and are not often included in a Meritage.
A White Meritage Wine must contain at least two of the following principal white Bordeaux Grapes:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Muscadelle du Bordelais
Although it is not part of the Meritage licensing agreement, the Meritage Alliance recommends that wineries only put the label "Meritage" on their best blends and limit production to 25,000 cases.
What Can I Expect from a Meritage? You can expect a quality Meritage to taste much as a Bordeaux as they are blended with the same grape varietals, allowing for some differences due to variations in soil and climate from different regions. A Meritage should have a rich, full aroma. Depending on the blend, it should taste of dark fruit (such as blackberry, plum and black cherry), chocolate, different spices and sometimes a tobacco finish.
Meritage wine should be served at the same "room temperature" as Bordeaux wine, which is 61-63 degrees Fahrenheit.
*** Please remember that cellar temperatures in France during the 19th Century were much colder than modern room temperatures in the United States. Resist the urge to serve red wines too warm and white wines too cold. This is a common mistake, even among many restaurants, which hampers the ability to truly appreciate fine wines.
Some Meritage Wines Which I Appreciate: If you are looking to try your first Meritage wine, or are wanting to share a quality Meritage wine with your guests, I have a couple or recommendations:
- Estancia Reserve Meritage: Liquor Stores with even a moderate selection of wine frequently have the Estancia Reserve Meritage. If this is your first time drinking a Meritage, this makes an excellent wine with which to start. It is extremely versatile, pairing well with steak, game meats and pheasant. Noticeable on the palate is plum followed by dark chocolate and a rich, zesty finish. It does not have the strong smoky, tobacco finish some find off-putting with certain Meritage wines. If you can find a 2005 bottle of Estancia Reserve Meritage, GET IT. 2005 was an excellent year for American wine. The 2005 Estancia Reserve Meritage is beautifully full-bodied and tastes older than it is. It would make an excellent library wine. If you are unable to find a 2005, the 2006 is also superb. More recent vintages are still high quality. Prices can range anywhere from $18-$30 per bottle, depending on the store or if you purchase it on-line. Remember that lower on-line prices often lead to high shipping charges.
- Guenoc Langtry Meritage: This is actually my favorite Meritage wine, with the 2005 vintage being, by far, their best vintage. Larger percentages of Petit Verdot, compared to earlier vintages, means that rich, dark fruits become immediately noticeable upon the palate. This is followed by complexities of dark chocolate, licorice and spice with what I consider to be a smoky, tobacco finish. The tannins are strong, rich and very complex. Though these are traits which I admire in a Meritage, those very traits are not desired by everyone. For this reason, I would suggest the Estancia to someone who is first trying a Meritage, rather than the Langtry. This is a wine which pairs well with lighter meats, such as pork, veal and perhaps even chicken. It can still accompany a steak, depending on how the steak is prepared in regards to the amount of seasoning. Overly peppery, spicy foods could overwhelm this wine. Pricing could run easily from about $18 to the mid $20 range. Again, if ordering on-line, factor shipping costs which might be high. If the 2005 is unavailable, the 2006 is also good. I have yet to find available a more recent vintage. Whereas the 2005 Guenoc Langtry Meritage would make an excellent library wine, I would not purchase nor store an earlier vintage. These tend to be less complex and were not reviewed terribly well. The varietal percentages beginning in 2005 are more what people come to expect from a quality Meritage.
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