Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine.
With food halls opening left and right these days, it's no surprise to hear that San Diego now has its very own: Liberty Public Market. A total of 27 vendors occupy 25,000 square feet, from sausages to seafood to sweets, and at least one venue is equipped with its very own sommelier, Mess Hall. A unique concept in itself, the eatery sources all its seasonal ingredients from vendors within the market, and sommelier Tami Wong pairs unsung varietal wines from lesser known worldwide regions. Below, she explains Meritage wines.
Q: What is a Meritage wine and can you recommend some great bottles to try?
Wong: Heritage (rhymes with heritage), is a New World wine blended in the more traditional Bordeaux-style. A red Meritage wine must contain at least two Bordeaux grapes from the following varietals: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot. These wines are routinely named among the world’s most highly rated bottles, as they boast a silky smooth, complex, yet robust structure.
A white Meritage is a blend of two grape varietals, either from sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle du Bordelais. These wines are an ode to the centuries-old tradition of blending, which has long been considered one of the highest forms of winemaking.
These wines are an ode to the centuries-old tradition of blending, which is considered one of the highest forms of winemaking.
New to the wine business, my 'aha' moment with Meritage came when sampling Palazzo wines. Inspired by the Right Bank countryside of Bordeaux, owner Scott Palazzo's merlot blends were powerful, bold, yet silky and oh so smooth. The merlot and cabernet franc blend had a distinctly Old World flair, and in-between sips he spilled the secrets to creating a perfect glass of Meritage. The grapes are picked at 24 brix, which is on the lower end of fruit sugar content, which preserves acidity and makes a balanced wine with lower alcohol. The wine is an eye-opener, walking the tightrope between the opulent ripeness of California fruit and the earthiness of Saint-Émilion, with well-integrated oak. I am holding on to a bottle of the 2007 for a special occasion involving lamb and loved ones, and I implore you to pick up a bottle, too.
While most Meritage blends hail from California, the Washington State region is starting to gain a reputation for their New World Bordeaux blends. On a recent road trip, I had the opportunity to sample these wines firsthand. Being on the same latitude as Bordeaux, France, the grapes benefit from the intense sun during the day and cold, wintery nights, producing red Meritages that exhibit bright, pure fruit flavors, underlined with fresh acidity. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot are cultivated around the world, but when you see Meritage on a label, know that you are looking at something uniquely New World with roots in the Old.
Top Meritage Picks:
- 2010 Palazzo ‘Right Bank’ Red Wine ($85): Ripe fruit of the New World, with Old World balance. Small production, well balanced, full-bodied, ripe, dark fruit, plums, just-ripe blackberries and blueberries, with leafy forest floor undercurrent.
- 2013 Robert Hall Meritage ($40): For those that love an explosive, masculine wine, this gem from Paso Robles is just the ticket. This wine has a tobacco, leathery, and rich oaky vanilla flavor that turns almost smoky on the palate.
- 2011 Jason Stephens Estate Meritage ($34): Slightly off the beaten path, Jason Stephens’ Meritage from Santa Cruz, California makes great wines at an even better price. Santa Cruz wines tend to have a more linear quality to the earth, producing a balanced wine between plush and dark fruits.
- 2012 Milagro Farms Estate Meritage ($35): From San Diego, California’s very own Ramona Valley, this local favorite makes for a serious contender. A full-bodied red blend, this award-winning bottle has been aging for over two years in French and European oaks, producing that strong berry and anise aromas perfect for aging.