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All we have to do is say Bordeaux and a vision of a rolling vineyard in a picturesque French countryside comes to mind. A picnic blanket spread out with cheese, salami and a wonderful French baguette just waiting to join that bottle of a 2000 vintage of a first growth…say Chateau Margaux.
But wait, you are in the suburbs of DC not Paris and the picnic is still there, but alas your wine shop was sold out of your favorite French Bordeaux. What is a good vino connoisseur to do, well while you are in your neighborhood wine shop purchase a nice American Meritage.
Meritage, rhymes with Heritage, came to being in America in the late 80’s, it was selected from more than 6,000 entries in an international contest. Meritage combines “merit,” reflecting the quality of the grapes, with “heritage,” which recognizes the centuries-old tradition of blending, long considered being the highest form of the winemaker’s art. The traditional red grape blend of Bordeaux is cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. White Bordeaux blends are typically Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Vert. A sweeter white would also be blended with Muscadelle.
In order to use the Meritage designation the winery must be a member of the Meritage Alliance and adhere to the regulations. For a Meritage red, the wine must be a blend of two or more of the red Bordeaux varieties with no single variety composing more than 90% of the blend. Meritage whites are less common but the requirements are the same: At least two of the white Bordeaux varieties must be used with no one variety making up more than 90 percent of the blend.
Meritage is just like Bordeaux, since it’s made with the same grapes!! There’s a rich, full aroma to it. Depending on the particular blend, it can be blackberry, black cherry, spices, chocolate, and vanilla. Most Meritages have the Bordeaux signature flavors – cigar box, rich fruits, with a hefty feel. It’s great with a steak, or with game meats – venison, pheasant.
A classic example of an American Bordeaux, eh, Meritage is Joseph Phelps’s “Insigna”. Phelps has been producing this huge hunk of love for years and constantly ranks up there with the best juice produced in America.
Another great way to enjoy a Meritage at a terrific price is to purchase from American Negociants such as Cameron Hughes. I represent Cameron Hughes Wines in in-store demonstrations; he has put together a great collection of wines that he has bottled with his own lot numbers. I especially enjoy his Meritage lot 139, at around $10 a bottle it represents a terrific value for a dynamic wine, so much so that you actually will have to decant this wine. A great price and terrific example of an inexpensive Meritage at retail but with a big boy mouth feel.
But remember, if you store your Bordeaux’s or Meritage’s in a nice wine rack in your living room you might as well get ready for a vinegar salad dressing. Room temperature refers to the climate in French Caves which hovers around 57-64 degrees. So do you and your wine a favor and purchase a nice 30-50 bottle temperature controlled wine storage unit.
Now go out there and enjoy your picnic.
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