Close up image man and woman hands with goblet of wine at the sea side
King Family Vineyards in Crozet, Virginia has won two Virginia Governor’s Cup awards thanks to its flagship wine: Meritage. Several of its neighbors have enjoyed similar success from their Meritage wines, including Jefferson Vineyards, Stinson Vineyards and Pollak Vineyards.
Meritage wines are from the New World, blends made with the “noble” Bordeaux grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and (more rarely) St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenère for reds and Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle du Bordelais for whites.
Meritage wines represent a such a meaningful product that in 1988, a group of vintners from the United States formed The Meritage Association in order to identify these wines, which aren’t entitled to labeling that includes the term Bordeaux, because they aren’t from that winegrowing region. This group includes members from many states as well as Mexico, Israel, France, Canada, Australia and Argentina.
The name Meritage is a combination of the words merit and heritage, and was chosen from a list of 6,000+ entries in an effort to name the new wine category for the marketplace. And how to say it? It rhymes with heritage.
But use of the term is definitely not required, even if these varieties are included. In fact, many wines that would qualify for the moniker aren’t labeled as such. For example, St. Supéry Napa Valley Virtú is a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc yet consumers will not find it labeled as a Meritage.
And Meritage has come to represent other things besides wine. Meritage at Callaway Vineyard and Winery in Temecula is a restaurant and Tipsy Candle Company makes a Meritage version that’s “inspired by barrel aged wine.”
2015 Meritage at Danza del Sol’s Temecula tasting room.
While Meritage wines have a similar composition at their core, the discovery method involves tasting these wines from various origins. Unlike many wine label terms, Meritage isn’t at all tied to origin.
In California’s Temecula region, where Meritage wines are prevalent, Danza de Sol’s Meritage 2015 contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, all grown in the Temecula Valley. From elsewhere in California, Cameron Hughes has two Meritage bottles available now: Lot 737 from Sierra Foothills and Lot 695 from Napa Valley. In Lodi, Oak Farm Vineyards “Genevieve” Meritage is named after the winery’s co-owner Dorothy Panella’s French mother.
On the East Coast of the U.S., led by the dozens of Virginia wineries making wine in this category, there’s also Big Cork Vineyards in Maryland with a barrel select Meritage and Dr. Konstantin Frank Wines in the Finger Lakes crafting two Meritage releases.
Wine Enthusiast gave 90+ point scores and Editor’s Choice recommendations to Burrowing Owl 2012 Meritage from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, Boeger 2015 Meritage from California’s El Dorado region and Hayotzer 2016 Lyrica Meritage from Israel’s Galilee.
Meritage wines are also made by wineries in Washington, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, New Mexico and more. High quality bottles come in a range of prices—Cameron Hughes Lot 373 (mentioned above) is available for less than $20.
King Family Vineyards (mentioned above) offers a Meritage Pack, including the 2013 and 2108 releases for $114. And though these wines come from an award-winning pedigree, winemaker Matthieu Finot says that accolades aren’t his motivation. “We don’t make wine for a gold medal. I don’t wake up at night dreaming of gold medals,” he says. “Our goal is to make wine we like to drink.”
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