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

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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

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