Meritage wines are some of the best on the market today, but many wine drinkers shy away from them because they don’t even know what a Meritage is! The term “Meritage” was born in much the same way as “Super Tuscan.” (click here to learn more about Super Tuscans).

According to American law, wines labeled with a varietal name, (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc.) must contain a minimum of 75% of that varietal. Wines made from a blend of grapes, none of which amount to 75% of the total bottle, are usually called table wine, a term that often describes a non-descript wine of questionable quality.

This frustrated some American vintners who were making experimental Bordeaux-style blends that they felt deserved a more prestigious label. These wines were often the vintner’s finest because the freedom to use the best harvested fruit available results in higher quality, more interesting wine. The fruit, not the law, dictates the final product.

In 1988, a group of these vintners banded together and launched an international competition to coin a phrase for their blended wines. Meritage — a combination of merit and heritage, pronounced like “heritage” — was the winner, and the Meritage Association was born.

To bear the trademarked Meritage designation, a wine must:
• be a blend of two or more Bordeaux grape varieties with no more than 90% of any single variety in the blend (including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot and Carmenere for reds and Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle for whites)
• be produced and bottled in the U.S. entirely from grapes carrying a U.S. appellation
• be produced in amounts limited to 25,000 cases per vintage

The “Meritage” label also requires the vintner to be a dues-paying member of the Meritage Association, something many vintners making eligible wines prefer not to do. These wineries have chosen to use a proprietary name like Joseph Phelps’ “Insignia,” or Niebaum Coppola’s “Rubicon.”

These wines are readily available in better wine shops, but many come with a steep price tag. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Meritage for less than $20, and many fetch triple digits. But these truly are some of America’s finest wines, so they’re worth the splurge.

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