Red Wine, Wine

Meritage, Bordeaux’s North American Cousin

March 1, 2018

Since France is pretty well regarded as the Mecca of winemaking it isn’t really surprising that many newer wine regions throughout the world look to emulate what the French have going on. Bordeaux especially gets the flattery treatment, which you might notice by how many other places in the world grow and make cabernet sauvignon and merlot wines.

It’s time to meet Meritage.

But first, let’s review what Bordeaux reds are all about. Bordeaux wines are blends of five grapes:

  • cabernet sauvignon
  • merlot
  • cabernet franc
  • petit verdot
  • malbec

The exact combination and amounts of each grape in each blend is up to the discretion of the winemaker, and some Chateaus guard this information very closely. In my experience, newer regions are more forthcoming with this info, often listing the percentages of each grape on their labels. On the contrary, I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen percentages on a Bordeaux label – either they expect you to know or they just don’t tell you.

About Meritage

Meritage (rhymes with heritage) first became a thing in America in the 1980’s. A bunch of winemakers were starting to create Bordeaux style blends and realized they couldn’t exactly call them Bordeaux but still felt these wines were special – and good. So they decided to create a word that would elevate the wines they were making and start making a name for these new world Bordeaux style wines.

The big deal here is that up until Meritage was introduced most of the American wine conventions were geared toward single variety wines. With the introduction of Meritage blending became permitted and encouraged, giving winemakers the opportunity to build these skills that old world winemakers had been honing for centuries. In my opinion it was a great sign of maturity and ambition for these wine regions to open themselves up to blending.

A test case from TIME Winery

That’s all fine and nice, but what do these wines taste like?? Well, we’re about it find out. To get to know Meritage I’m going to taste the 2013 Meritage from TIME Winery. Thankfully they’re forthcoming with their percentages, so I know from their back label that this wine is 50% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon and 20% cabernet franc. I’m expecting a solid backbone from the cab sauv holding up some softness and fruitiness from the merlot and cab franc.

TIME is located in downtown Penticton, British Columbia, right in the heart of the South Okanagan Valley. I know that the whole explanation above talks about the US but the Meritage movement made its way north of the border too – they’re quite popular in BC.

TIME Winery is actually a brand owned by the larger Encore Vineyards, which has three separate brands in the Okanagan. Encore is owned by Harry McWatters, widely regarded as the grandfather of BC wine industry, so you know the company knows what it’s about.

Another cool thing about TIME? It’s the first urban winery in Penticton. Seriously, it’s right in the middle of town! I for one would love to have a winery in the middle of town. Think of the tasting possibilities!

Tasting Notes

  • It’s a lovely deep, dark red colour. Being from 2013 it’s got a little bit of bottle age but I don’t see any orange at the edges, which is a common sign of age on a red wine.
  • The nose! My goodness, the nose. I get red cherries and vanilla, some black pepper, a bit of smoke, some dry earth, and maybe some blueberry or blackberry hanging out in the background.
  • The palate has some great oomph! It’s clear this wine was built for the long haul, it still has lots of potential even with a few years of bottle age.
  • I get those cherries again, along with the vanilla and a bit of baking spice (clove? cinnamon? allspice?). The blueberry/blackberry note is also still hanging out there, showing up for me on the finish.
  • The earthiness is there too but it’s a bit more like wet earth on the palate, as opposed to the dry earth I get on the nose.
  • I don’t get any vegetal notes, nor is there anything floral on the nose or palate for me. It’s still got good complexity but it feels like a tight, focused, fruity/spicy Bordeaux style blend.

Bottom Line

There’s an interesting thing going on with Meritage wines. They’re made with the same grapes that Bordeaux uses, and they have some of the same features and qualities, but there is still something unique about them. I think it goes back to the whole terroir thing I talked about – it’s not just the grapes that make a wine. It’s everything! And we see that here. Same grapes, similar climate, but different soil and a different ethos with many winemakers makes for a different (yet similar) wine. So cool!

 

Have you ever had a Meritage? What are your thoughts?

 

The product featured in this post was sent to me for consideration.

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