The Meritage Association was formed in 1988 by a handful of progressive Napa vintners. They’d grown frustrated with our domestic requirement that a wine contain at least 75% of a specific grape in order to list that varietal on the label (Cabernet, Chardonnay, etc). And because the U.S. wine drinker had been used to seeing this for 60 years, even the best blended wines were seen as inferior if they didn’t have a grape variety listed on the label.
So the Association undertook something never tried before – creating ultra-premium wines using the blending practices of Bordeaux and a unique brand that fit the high quality of the wine.
The Alliance held a naming contest for the new brand, generated 300+ entries, and ended up adopting the word “Meritage” (but don’t Frenchify its pronunciation! The word rhymes with “Heritage” – a combination of Merit and Heritage). Given the alliance’s Bordelaise inspiration, all red Meritage wines must be a blend of the classic Bordeaux grapes – Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot. Now in its 24th year, the alliance has grown to over 250 wineries, each supporting the alliance with a percentage of sales on every bottle of Meritage wine.
Here’s an excellent example of a Meritage wine – the 2008 Meritage from Trinitas. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (54%), Merlot (19%), Cabernet Franc (17%), and Malbec (10%). Soft tannins combine with intense fruit flavors of black currant, blackberries, plums, and cocoa. The winemaker describes this wine as “full, supple, and rich with a lengthy finish that will leave you lingering for more.”
The wine begins with fruit from the heart of Napa Valley – the Oak Knoll AVA, known for its variety of soil types, each lending a slightly different profile to Oak Knoll wines, which are identifiable by their full-flavored, intense fruit profiles. The Trinitas winemaker amplified this fruit-forward profile by cold-soaking the grapes prior to fermentation and by using a slow, cool fermentation. This technique not only aids in color extraction, it emphasizes fruit flavors and aromas. And following the tradition of great Bordeaux, the wine is aged for 22 months in 100% New French Oak.