Back in 1988, US wineries were all choosing names for their various blended wines. An association was formed to define a ”Bordeaux Style Blend” of wine that was made on non-French soil. They had over 6,000 people submit choices for the name of this blend, and “Meritage” finally came out on top. Meritage is a deliberate combination of the words “Merit” and “Heritage”.
Meritage is a registered trademark. Winemakers wishing to label their wines Meritage must adhere to the rules set by the Meritage Alliance. As well as paying a licensing fee, the wines produced must be “high end”, quality wines produced using the following grapes:
A red Meritage must be made from a blend of at least two or more of the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot or Carmenere, with no varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend.
A white Meritage must be made from a blend of at least two or more of the following varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Muscadelle du Bordelais, with no varietal comprising more than 90% of the blend.
Being made with the same grapes, a Meritage tastes just like Bordeaux. There's a rich, full aroma to it. Depending on the particular blend, it can be black cherry, blackberry, spices, vanilla, and chocolate. Most Meritages have the Bordeaux signature flavors - rich fruits, cigar box, with a hefty feel.
The Meritage Association was formed in 1988 by a small group of Napa Valley, California winegrowers increasingly frustrated by U.S. regulations stipulating wines contain at least 75% of a specific grape to be labeled as that varietal. As interest grew in creating Bordeaux-style wines, which by their blended nature fail to qualify for varietal status, members sought to create a recognizable name for their high-quality blended wines.
The association decided to host a contest to conceive a proprietary name for these wines, and received over 6,000 submissions. “Meritage”, —a combination of merit and heritage, was selected. By 1999 The Meritage Association had grown to 22 members. Shifting its focus from trademark policing to education and marketing contributed to it's rapid growth. By 2003 the Association had over 100 members, including its first international members.
In May 2009, The Meritage Association changed its name to The Meritage Alliance. As of August 2009, the Alliance had grown significantly and had over 250 members.
Meritage, being a copyrighted name belonging to the Meritage Alliance, is not confined to any region as such. Although membership is dominated by United States wineries there are now membership wineries in Australia, Argentina, France, Canada, Mexico and Israel.
Merritage reds are very similar to Bordeaux blends. They typically offer black cherry, dark plum, and blackberry aromas along with a plush, velvety texture and succulent mid-palate flavors. Its finish is often impressively long and enhanced by well-integrated tannins. They will age well and mellow over the years, losing some of their tannins while gaining more complexity. These wines pair well with hearty, rich flavored foods such as grilled porterhouse steak, lamb chops, and flavorful cheeses.