“Meritage”—what is it, and why is it so pricey?
Answer one: American wine made by blending two or more grapes. Answer two: a winery’s premier wine.

Varietal labeling is a marketing breakthrough essential to today’s wine explosion. Sales took off in the 1970s when California producers began labeling with the name of the predominant grape. “I like a supple Merlot. I like a buttery Chardonnay.” By U.S. law, varietal wine must contain 75 percent or more of a single grape.

But what about splendid wines made by blending grapes? Bordeaux-style wines typically do not qualify as a varietal. In the U.S., such blends had to be labeled “red wine,” “white wine,” or “table wine.” From a marketing perspective, not good at all.

American winemakers banded together to set standards for American-made, Bordeaux-style blends. In 1988, they picked a marketing-friendly name for such wines: Meritage. Not a French word, it is a combination of “merit” and “heritage.” It rhymes with “heritage,” not “mirage.”

Red Meritage blends two or more grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Gros Verdot, or Carmenère.

White Meritage blends two or more grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Vert, or Semillon.

Meritage cannot contain more than 90 percent of a single grape.

The Meritage Association—more than 110 members—urges wineries to make Meritage their most expensive offering.

Meritage. No matter how you pronounce it, worth a taste.


• Estancia Red Meritage. Paso Robles, intense chocolate, wonderful structure. $29

• Franciscan Magnificat. Meritage movement pioneer; cherry, plum, magnificent. $40

• Geyser Peak Reserve Alexandre Meritage. Smooth, rich, blackcurrent, black cherry. $49