Yet while many people enjoy Meritage wines, I’ve found that many don’t know much about these delightfully complex wines which are essentially synonymous with “Bordeaux blend”. I’ve noticed that many wine enthusiasts are inexorably drawn to pronouncing Meritage with a long “a”, as in montage. The propensity to Frenchify the word is perfectly understandable, because otherwise we’d all be going around convinced that Cabernet rhymes cabinet. However, Meritage is instead a purely American invention that rhymes with heritage. It was coined by the Meritage Association out of necessity, because in the same way that Champagne can only be so-called when it is made in the Champagne region of France, international law forbids the Bordeaux moniker from being applied to wines produced elsewhere. Recognizing the need, some clever Californians in the 1980s joined the words “merit” and “heritage”, thusly creating the word “Meritage”. The Meritage Association (now known as the Meritage Alliance) dictates precisely what constitutes a Meritage wine and a winery must belong to the Alliance (and pay them tithes) in order to make use of the trademarked name on their label.
According to the Alliance’s website, a Meritage must be a blend of at least two of the Bordeaux varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, and must contain no more than 90% of a single varietal. Less common Bordeaux varietals that may also me included are St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Garmenère. Although Deerfield doesn’t make one, there is such a thing as a white Meritage. These wines must be a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon (or the rarer Sauvignon Vert).
The term Meritage isn’t an official term recognized by alcohol regulators, and is instead merely intended to represent that the wine is a Bordeaux blend. The creators of the term perceive blends to be the highest form of the winemaker’s art and indeed, we pay homage to that ideal in that Deerfield’s flagship wine, DRX, is a Meritage blend. Few wines better exemplify the winemaker’s craft than a Meritage made by Winemaker Robert Rex. After all, blending is his specialty. To produce it, Robert tastes every barrel of Bordeaux varietals he made in a given year and then selects the very best barrels from the various lots that will make it into this blend. Think of it as an exclusive party that requires the right credentials to attend. He then creates the blend with the Old World in mind: Less focus on fruit forwardness, and more attention to structure, elegance and terroir. The sense of place that accompanies the DRX springs from the earthiness that defines it.
Now that you’re in the know, be careful! You’ll find that 90% of the people you encounter, sometimes even those steeped in wine lore, love a good Meri-tah-ge. I usually don’t mention the correct pronunciation unless I’m asked. Besides, it’s not the pronunciation that matters – it’s what’s in the bottle that makes the difference!