What are the conditions for a wine to be called a "Meritage"?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Recently I've become interested in Meritage wines, but I'm not exactly sure what the term means. According to the Meritage Alliance, it refers to a Bordeaux-style blend. Wines like Opus One and Joseph Phelps Insignia don't seem to be members of the Meritage Alliance, but some people still refer to them as "Meritages." Can you clarify this for me?

—Joon, Boston

Dear Joon, I’m glad you looked up the Meritage Alliance. They created the term “Meritage” as a way to identify wines made in the Bordeaux style from outside the Bordeaux region of France. You’re correct that one of the conditions that must be met to use the term Meritage (rhymes with “heritage”) is that the wine has to be blended entirely from Bordeaux grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, with no more than 90 percent of any single grape.

But that’s only part of the equation. The other part is that wineries have to become members of the Meritage Alliance and pay an annual fee (usually $500 per wine label) to use the term. Not every winery wants to do this, even if they're making a Bordeaux-style blend that would qualify as a "Meritage." There are plenty of other ways to market those wines.

However, as you point out, there are many wine lovers who have come to use the term "Meritage" to describe any Bordeaux-style blend, particularly from California. But that doesn't mean they're using the term correctly: A wine is only a Meritage if it's made by a member of the Meritage Alliance.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

In what ways do old and new wines smell and taste differently?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how wines change in flavor and aroma as they age.

Jul 6, 2020

Is it possible to “fix” cork-tainted wine with plastic wrap? How does that work?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where cork taint comes from, and why PVC wrap …

Jul 3, 2020

If most vines are grafted onto rootstocks, why do some grapevines thrive in soils where others struggle?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny, with an assist from U.C. Davis' viticulture department, …

Jul 1, 2020

What does “buttery” mean when talking about Chardonnay?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where "buttery" flavors come from in wine.

Jun 29, 2020

Are French oak barrels for aging wine made from white oak or red oak?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why white oak is the preferred wood for aging …

Jun 26, 2020

Are freezable tumblers OK for drinking a glass of rosé or white wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how freezable plastic tumblers keep beverages …

Jun 24, 2020