Repeat it with me. Meritage rhymes with Heritage. Once more. Meritage rhymes with heritage. Got it? Good. Ok, by now you’re probably thinking just what is a Meritage? For that answer we have to travel to Bordeaux, France (and eventually back to the US).

You’ve probably heard of Bordeaux. It’s both a town and wine region in France along with the name of a type of wine made in the region named after it. The French, like all things wine-related, are extremely proud of the name. Bordeaux wines are some of the most regarded wines in the world, commanding prices into 4 and 5 digits. It’s a taste, a style and commands respect Americans are striving to achieve.

When you drink a Bordeaux, you know only a defined set of grapes and winemaking regulations are allowed in order to bestow the name.

The Americans, namely Napa Valley, knew the ingredients in which the French made their award-winning wine. And off they went to make their own. But there was only one problem. They couldn’t call their wine Bordeaux, as France would take up arms, err, wine glasses in (la) résistance. California already scoffed at the idea of giving up the right to not use the word Champagne, but that’s for another blog post.

Furthermore, according to wine label laws, you can’t put the varietal on the front of the label unless the wine is 75% of that grape or more. No if, ands or grape stems about it. In addition, specific blend names can be trademarked to a particular winery.  

Napa Valley was in a quandary. How the heck does an entire wine region tell the world they are making wine in a Bordeaux-style without writing the phrase, “Bordeaux-style wine” on the label? On all the labels, from winery to winery?

Enter the Meritage Association (now Alliance). Think of an association of vintners and wineries that collectively license the name to themselves. A co-op of owners of sorts pay into a pool for the privilege of using the name Meritage.

I feel like the term Meritage was a new-world problem solved by the old world already. The old world, or wines that comes from pretty much a stone’s’ throw away from France, are generally referred to from the region it comes from: Port, Champagne, Chianti just to name a few. The grapes come secondary to the name of the region. The new world, or basically any region that you can’t throw a rock from France and hit a grape vine, is generally varietal focused: Malbec, Chardonnay, Merlot.

The Meritage Alliance established old-world criteria methods, such as requiring which grapes go into white or red wines, amongst other regulations, before a label is granted the name. Of course, this is America. The name has no real history. It was “invented” through a contest with the winning name, Meritage, being comprised of the two words, “Merit” & “Heritage”.

Slowly, as most invented words do in America, it soon became part of the lexicon. I’ve dined at a restaurant called Meritage before (phonetically pronounced incorrectly I might add & ironically had no Bordeauxs on the wine list). I’ve seen hotel packages with the word Meritage in their advertising too.

The next time you stumble upon a Meritage, just remind yourself it’s like a Bordeaux but shrouded in an American flag, not a French one. And, it rhymes with heritage.

Cheers,
Haydn

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