Meritage is a term used to describe Bordeaux-style red and white wines made by members of the Meritage Alliance. The wines must be made from at least two of the permitted grape varieties in the red or white wine categories, with no single variety making up more than 90% of the final blend. Red Meritage is by far the more common of the two styles and is typically based around Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The Meritage Alliance was founded in 1988 as the Meritage Association, with the goal of promoting blended wines from California’s Napa Valley. At the time many Californian winemakers were frustrated with the varietal wine-labeling requirements in the US and wanted to create a unique brand to promote their proprietary blends. Meritage, an amalgamation of the words ‘merit’ and ‘heritage’, was chosen as the brand name to convey a sense of quality and history.
Use of the term Meritage is governed by the Meritage Alliance, a non-profit organization that recoups costs by charging a small fee based on the volume of wine produced by each member. A range of quality assurances are provided by the Meritage Alliance, including a suggested production limit of 25,000 cases annually. Membership to the Meritage Alliance is dominated by the US, but there are also membership wineries in Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Israel and Mexico.
Red Meritage may include any combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Saint-Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenere, though Saint-Macaire and Gros Verdot are extremely rare. The blend is based on Bordeaux red wines of the past 200 years, however the wines produced have very strong New World associations. For one, the Bordelais historically label their wine according to the chateau or estate name and the region in which it is produced. These terms also appear on New World wines, but there tends to be a greater emphasis on varietal composition. In this sense, Meritage bridges the divide between New and Old World wine marketing.
White Meritage is relatively simpler in that it is essentially a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. A little of the aromatic Muscadelle grape may be added, but the variety is too sweet for most modern American palates and is used more as a condiment to the wine than a staple ingredient. Such is the strength of Sauvignon Blanc’s varietal identity that the need to label the wine as Meritage has considerably lessened. In fact, given Meritage’s strong association with red wine, it may even be counterproductive to confuse the red and white styles with the same name.
Food matches include:
Europe: Roussillon meatballs in a spiced tomato and green olive sauce (boles de picolat); osso bucco (braised veal shanks)
Asia: Beef yakitori; Balinese smoked duck (bebek betutu)
Americas: Five-spice braised bison; Chilean stewed lentils with bacon (lentejas con tocino)
Africa/Middle East: Cumin- and garlic-spiced beef strips; baked meatballs (frikkadels)