One of my biggest pet-peeves in the wine industry is the way some people pronounce the word “Meritage”. With permission, I am posting an explanation that was crafted by my Assistant General Manager at James River Cellars (Alexander Morgan) for distribution to the staff and volunteers of our winery. Since nowhere near enough people had the opportunity to read this information, I wanted to extend its reach… I hope you take this to heart and share it with as many people as possible. Together, we can make things right… right?
This is a long time coming, but I just heard the most outlandish justification for why “mer-i-taaaaaaaahge” is most DEFINITELY a French term (it’s not), so I called, read, and googled all kinds of sources, and here you go – proof:
Meritage – “MEHR-i-tidj” or “Summation”
Open Scene — It’s 1988, and a group of CALIFORNIAN winemakers, specifically from Napa Valley, are having trouble with their local ABC and ATF enforcement laws (shocking) concerning the official blend % of a wine in order to print said wine on the label.
Example – if a wine is only 60% Merlot juice, can the label state “Merlot?”
No – the law then, and still today, states that at LEAST 75% of any given wine, red or white, must be of the specific grape, in order to print it on the label.
Example – the wine MUST be a volume of >/= 75% Merlot to print “Winery’s 2013 Merlot”
So, a wine can be … 80% Merlot, with 20% …say, Cabernet Franc (or even 10 other wines at small %), and legally still be labeled as “Merlot”
These winemakers decided to take action and exploit loopholes in the law, in order to showcase the rising appeal of blending, much like the Europeans did. The most proficient blending region in Europe? Bordeaux, France.
So, a contest was held. Over 6000 entries answered the call for a collective term that could be used to describe BORDEAUX-style BLENDS, which were made OUTSIDE of Bordeaux.
One participant suggested combining the very-American terms “merit” and “heritage,” to reference the quality, resiliency, and history of winemaking.
“Meri-“ + “-tage” = “Meritage”
Remember, think “herit-I-ge Merit-I-ge”
And thus, the “Meritage Association of CALIFORNIA” was coined and founded. In 2007, the name was changed to the “Meritage Alliance.”
A Meritage MUST be:
1) a blend of at least 2 or more Bordeaux grape varietals, within no varietal comprising 90% or more of the blend
2) the participating winery’s highest quality wine juice
3) produced and bottled by a U.S. winery, using U.S. grapes
4) limited to a 25,000 case production, per vintage year
A Meritage must be ALL-INCLUSIVE of the following grapes. If blended with even 0.01% of any juice from an outside source, the wine cannot be labeled as “Meritage.”
Official red Bordeaux varietals: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec
Unofficial red Bordeaux varietals: Carménère, Gros Verdot (no relation to Petit Verdot),and St. Macaire
Official white Bordeaux varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillion, and Muscadelle
Unofficial white Bordeaux varietals: Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc (French term for Trebbiano, and parent to Vidal Blanc), Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Ondenc, and Mauzac.
Bordeaux’ regions: Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Médoc, and Graves
The five ELITE Bordeaux wineries are:
Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (Médoc),
Chateau Margaux (Médoc),
Chateau Latour (Médoc),
Chateau Haut-Brion (Graves), and
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Médoc)
Other Bordeaux’ wines you may have already drank: Sauternes (Graves)
Outside of the United States, the term “Claret” or “Clairet” is used to describe a Bordeaux-style wine that was created outside of Bordeaux
The Meritage Alliance website – http://www.meritagealliance.com/
There — proof that not only “Meritage” is an American creation, but also that it indicatively CANNOT be a French term (see stipulation #3 above)