There’s so much more to wine than just the grape; there’s the soil, sunlight, weather, barrel, fermentation time, and then there’s the New World twist on an Old World tradition: blending varietals.
Some have the notion that a blend is a cheaper way a winemaker can produce a wine-taking a few different types of grapes and mashing them together just to market a new kind of wine. It’s so much more than that, and much more common than one might think.
Meritage (pronounced like ‘Heritage’) was created by a group of American vintners in the late 1980’s; combining the words ‘merit’ and ‘heritage’ to reflect the quality of the grapes and the centuries-old art of blending.
For a wine to be a true Meritage wine it must be a member of the Meritage Association and the blend must be one of the winery’s top bottlings. Red Meritage wine must be a blend of two or more of five traditional Bordeaux Reds, and white should be a blend of two or more of the three traditional Bordeaux whites.
The Bordeaux reds are specified as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere and Malbec. Whites are of the Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle du Bordolais variety. How does a winemaker decide which varieties to blend? That is completely up to the vision of the winemaker and what flavors he or she would like to dominate the overall product. In order to decide on the best combination, it’s important to note the aromas of each grape.
Cabernet Sauvignon produces a dense wine with structure and concentrated flavor making it a good foundation for a Meritage. The aromas of black currants, black cherry and plum present rich black fruit flavors adding rich tannins.
Cabernet Franc is less dominant than a Cabernet Sauvignon resulting in softer tannins. It adds an earthy character producing red fruit such as raspberries and cherries, and spiciness like cinnamon characteristics.
Merlot is also a softer tannin producing grape with livelier fruit characteristics including chocolate flavors and a fleshy texture.
Malbec adds depth and acidity including floral and exotic flavors. Petit Verdot provides an intense color, is highly aromatic and includes bursting flavors of molasses. Carmanere brings forward dark chocolate and tobacco combining earthy smoke and spice.
Of the whites, Sauvignon Blanc introduces grassy qualities with melon, pear and citrus flavors. The type of fermentation technique will either bring forward these notes, or produce a rich and creamy wine. Semillon is a light and fruity wine and adds complexity to the Meritage blend, whereas the Muscadelle is used in very small percentages due to its intense floral character.
Try a tasting of Meritage blends on your next Vino Virginia tour. We will share with you our favorite Meritage wines and help you discover some of the great blends Virginia wineries have for you!