Tasha Brandstatter on March 22, 2017 1 Comment Meritage is one of the newest words in wine. You may have seen it while browsing through your local wine shop, especially if you favor Californian wines. But what exactly can you expect from a Meritage wine? The answer is a New World style of one the world’s oldest and most beloved styles of wine, Bordeaux. Given its popularity and relative affordability, Meritage is a blend you don’t want to miss out on. Keep reading to find out more! History of Meritage Wine In the 1980s, even though New World wines — and Californian wines in particular — had risen in reputation ever since the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine tasting, some California winemakers still faced difficulties marketing their product to consumers. In the US, any wine made with 75% of one grape can be labeled after the varietal. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon. But what about wines that are blends of several grapes, like those from Bordeaux? At the time, US winemakers who preferred to blend their wine had two choices: label their wines “Bordeaux,” or “Bordeaux-style blends,” which was not only disingenuous but confusing; or give their wines the generic label of “red table wine,” which told consumers nothing about the quality or taste of their wine. So in 1988 a group of California winemakers got together and realized what they needed was a completely new term to describe a high-quality style of blended wine made in the New World. Famous European wine regions like Bordeaux, Champagne, and Burgundy, have their own brand, partly because people know what to expect out of wine from these regions, but also because European law protects the use of these names. In the US, however, place names aren’t as protected or regulated, nor is there the centuries-worth of trial and error and rules attached to AVAs as there is to French Appellations. So the California winemakers couldn’t name their blend after a place. Instead, they would have to create a name from scratch and then trademark the term to protect against imitators and misuse. After holding an international contest for the best name, they settled on Meritage (rhymes with heritage). It’s a combination of merit, indicating quality, and heritage, a nod to the traditional Bordeaux wines of France. What’s In A Meritage Blend? Meritage wine is made from at least two of the “noble” Bordeaux grapes, with one grape variety making up no more than ninety percent of the total blend. And that’s it! Once a winemaker has created their blend, they have to apply to the Meritage Association to use the term Meritage on the label, since it’s trademarked. But those are the only two application requirements. The grapes that can be used in a red Meritage are: Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc Malbec Merlot Petit Verdot St. Macaire Gros Verdot Carmenère If the wine contains any other grape variety, it cannot call itself Meritage. White Meritage, like white Bordeaux, is a rarer blend, but if you can find it you’ll discover a very food-friendly wine that’s generally described as elegant and balanced. The grapes that can be used for white Meritage are: Sauvignon Blanc Semillon And Muscadelle du Bordelais A very short list compared to the red Meritage! Again, no other grape varieties can be blended into the wine if the winemaker wants to call it a Meritage. Meritage Wines to Try You can find fantastic Meritage wines at every price point, from the everyday $10-15 bottle, to bottles costing $100 or more. Here are a few brands to keep an eye out for on your next shopping trip. Bargain Brands These wines are all in the $10-20 range and receive high ratings from wine critics. Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve Napa Valley Meritage, $12.99/bottle Believe it or not, you can find one of the best Meritage blends right at Trader Joe’s. It’s described as fruit-forward with a long, dry finish and notes of vanilla and caramel. Let it decant for an hour or two before serving to truly get the most out of it. Cameron Hughes Napa Valley Meritage, $10-19/bottle Cameron Hughes winery is consistently cited as one of the best deals in Meritage. It’s rich and soft, with notes of blackberry, chocolate, oak, plum, and cedar. Can be enjoyed immediately. Kirkland Signature Rutherford Napa Valley Meritage, $13.99/bottle Another big box brand, this one available exclusively at Costco. Rutherford is an AVA known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s almost impossible to find a decent wine from this region under $20. Unfortunately, as the area becomes more famous for its Cab Sauv, the price of the grapes goes up, and Kirkland Signature has been incrementally cutting back on the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in their Meritage blends over the last few years. As a result, more recent vintages aren’t as complex. It’s still a good deal, though, with tons of jammy fruit and the signature “Rutherford dust” finish. Midpriced Meritage Costing between $20-50, these Meritage blends are excellent and give you all the quality of a great Bordeaux for a fraction of the price. Geyser Peak Alexander Valley Meritage Red, $45/bottle Voted one of Wine Enthusiast’s Best Wines of the Year in 2003, Geyser Peak’s Cab-heavy Meritage blend is soft, plush, and complex, with a strong note of cherry and lightly oaked to give it just a hint of spice. Delightful all around! Three Rivers Columbia Valley Meritage, $39/bottle Three Rivers Winery is known for both its white and red Meritage blends, which consistently score high with critics. The white blend is a good value at around $19 a bottle, with lots of fresh herb and citrus notes, aged in French oak, and nicely balanced with acidity. The red blend tends to be more expensive, with strong savory, smoky flavors balanced by notes of violet and licorice. Smooth and subtle. Pricey Keep in mind that, like their French counterparts, these more expensive wines usually require aging of at least five years, if not ten or fifteen or more. Vérité La Joie Meritage, $100 The 2001 vintage of this acclaimed Sonoma Valley Meritage received 96 points from Robert Parker, who described it as dense and concentrated, with, “Aromas and flavors of roasted espresso, grilled herbs, scorched earth, blackberries, and cassis.” Vérité’s other Meritage blends, such as La Muse, also tend to receive very high ratings–and are equally as expensive. Fourteen Appellations Napa Valley Meritage, $85 Described as mellow and earthy, after about five years of aging this wine tends to take on smooth, velvety characteristics, with rich fruit-forward notes of cherry, currant, and chocolate. It’s by far the highest user-rated Meritage blend on Vivino.