Virginia wineries often have a “Meritage” wine among their list of offerings. What does this term mean and where did it come from?
What is a Meritage Wine?
Simply, Meritage (rhymes with heritage) is a term for a wine that is a blend of Bordeaux varietals—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec (and sometime Carmenere). Additionally, the blend cannot contain more than 90% of any one grape. Finally, using this term requires that the winery be a member of the Meritage Alliance—the organization responsible for creating the term.
Why was this term created?
Like to the term, “Super Tuscan,” Meritage was created to denote an elevated level of quality that existing wine labeling laws do not provide. In the US, a wine can be labeled with the varietal name if it contains at least 75% of that grape. If the wine contains less than 75% of any one grape, it is considered “table wine,” which can have a negative, low-quality connotation. However, in many cases, winemakers are intentionally blending wines to achieve a specific style where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The term Meritage was created to reflect these superior quality wines.
One such example of a superior Meritage wine is the King Family Monticello Meritage—a blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, with a complex nose of bright red fruit, violets, and dried rose petals, laced with delicate notes of saffron, vanilla, and spice.
What if a winery isn’t a member of the Meritage Alliance?
Wineries must apply to and pay for membership in the Meritage Alliance to be able to label their wine as Meritage. Wineries that are not members of the Meritage Alliance will invent creative names for their blends. For example, the Veritas Vineyards Vintner's Reserve is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec from the winemaker’s favorite barrels in the cellar. While the Gabriele Rausse VA Monticello Rosso is a blend of Bordeaux varietals—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc—the term “Rosso” pays homage to his Italian heritage.
Another Virginia winery that has taken a creative approach in this area is Ingleside Vineyards. They produce not one, but two Bordeaux blends. They have called the wines “Left Bank” and “Right Bank,” in reference to the different regions within Bordeaux. The Left Bank blend is more Cabernet-heavy, while the Right Bank is more Merlot-heavy. Both are equally worthy of a trip to their tasting room!