Crush Notes 9 Wine Education 9 Bordeaux Blend Vs Meritage

Bordeaux Blend Vs Meritage

by | Saturday, January 16, 2021 | Wine Education, Wine Regions

What’s a Meritage wine?
Is it the same as a Bordeaux Blend?
🔻  Want to know?… just scroll!  🔻

          I say MERITAGE* 
                        What’s up? 


The Wines, The Grapes of BORDEAUX
Some of the most well-known, world-traveled, popular grapes we know today originated in France, gaining renowned because of the celebrated and sought-after wines they produce and regions where they grow.

France has been making wine since the 6th century BC, thanks to ancient Greek settlers and later, the Romans, who brought their wines, vines, and growing techniques north into what was then Gaul. In centuries to follow, monks became the stewards of French vineyard land, the winemaking experts, experimenting with and producing the beverage across the continent most central to the sacrament. They vinted wines with the grape varieties that emerged, mutated, evolved and adapted best to their particular regional climate and soils – whether in Burgundy, the Loire, Bordeaux, Alsace, Rhone, Provence or Acquitane. 

As time advanced, the neighboring English gained a taste and generated tremendous demand for French wines. Dutch traders began trading and exporting barrels of the beverage ever more broadly across the expanding world. The diversity of French wines from multiple growing regions were sought after, each garnering their own fame ever since.

BORDEAUX is just one of France’s famed wine regions. At her mid-Atlantic coast, Bordeaux starts at the mouth of the Gironde estuary and moves inland, its vineyards flanking both sides of the Gironde, then along and between the two rivers it divides into – the Dordogne and the Garonne. It is mother home to some of today’s most world-famous grapes:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot (the best known reds) and Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle (best known whites).

The wines from Bordeaux are by long tradition, blends of two or more grapes, rarely from a single variety. The particular qualities of the land, sub-regions, or plots where the grapes were grown were (and still are) credited with differences in style. The wines (just like most regions in France), are thus named after the REGION the grapes are grown.

Wines appellated (labelled) “Bordeaux” are for broad regional wines. Those sourced from a more defined sub-region within its borders (such as “Medoc,” “St Emilion,” “Graves,” or the more distinct “Pauillac,” “Margaux,” or “Sauterne,”) take the name of the smaller (and more prestigious) sub-appellation. And those from a single estate (Chateau), take the name of such (Chateau Latour, Mouton Rothschild, Cos d’Estournel) 

Thus, if you’re drinking a wine labelled Bordeaux and it is red, you know that A) it’s a wine from this region of France, and B) it’s composed of two or more of those 5 red grapes you’ve come to know and love.

By international agreement, and even internal French law though, no wine grown and produced outside of Bordeaux (or likewise, the sub-regions Sauterne, Margaux, etc.) are permitted to use those region names on a wine label.

But what if you are a winemaker in California or Washington state, or Australia for that matter, and want to signal that your wine is a blend of the famed traveling grapes that originated in Bordeaux? Or what if you are…well …YOU – a wine drinker, searching for one these distinctive blends, some of the most celebrated, popular (and sometimes most expensive) wines on the globe! 
 Is there a short cut to indicate or ask for wines with this distinctive blend of signature grapes?  
Red Blend – In the US, when a wine contains 75% or more of a single variety, the varietal name can appear on the front label (ex: “Cabernet Sauvignon” ) to refer to the wine inside, even if the remaining 25% of the wine is, let’s say Merlot. If no single variety meets that 75% minimum, whether the wine is a blend of two grapes or six, you’ll only see Red Wine or Red Blend on the front (or a winery’s own proprietary name, ex. Opus One).

But what grapes are in the blend?  Perhaps it’s Zinfandel, Syrah, and Merlot. Or maybe it’s Merlot and Cabernet Franc. You won’t know until you do a little more research, which might be as simple as turning to the back label. Or you might need to consult the producer’s website or an advertisement. Not always quick and easy.

“Bordeaux Blend” – Not a legal name allowed on a front label (The EU and France would protest!). It’s simply a term wine drinkers, winemakers, and sommeliers use to unofficially describe wines made with the classic Bordeaux varieties. You’ll sometimes find this descriptor on a back label, in published winemaker notes and other promo materials. But really, it’s just an everyday term for YOU to use anytime you’re looking for (or wish to avoid) one of these blends. Use it whenever you “phone a friend” asking for your next wine recommendation!

Meritage – Finally!  A term that can legally be used on the front label that indicates – hey, this is a classic Bordeaux blend.It’s a trademark name! 
Back in the 80’s, some northern California winemakers were frustrated, tired of being beholden to 75% minimums. They wanted freedom to craft their own signature Bordeaux style wines and be immediately recognizable to the consumer as such. So, they banded together, created an association, and lobbied for their own proprietary trademark name. They even held a contest, asking the public to help select a memorable proprietary name that also connotes a prestige reflecting the wine inside.
 The Winner:   MeritageMerit + Heritage = Meritage
Though most people want to Frenchify the pronunciation (as I also originally did!) – guess what – Meritage rhymes with “Heritage” (accent on the first syllable and the “G” as in George).  It’s True!  

Requirements?  To include Meritage on the label, wineries must pay a per-case licensing fee to the Meritage Alliance for use of naming rights. The wine must be a blend of two or more of the five classic Bordeaux grapes (with St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenère also allowed), and no single variety can constitute more than 90% of the blend.

The Alliance requests, but doesn’t require – that a winery reserve Meritage for only its top, most prestigious limited production blend.

So now you know!