Having studied French for four years in school and appreciating many French wines over the years, I am certainly in the habit of pronouncing most words found on a wine bottle with a French pronunciation….unless, of course, it is a Spanish, Italian, Hungarian or some other country’s wine, in which case I make the change to the linguistic rules of that language.
It is due to the French assumption though that I have always called this wine “mair’-ih-tazh”. While visiting the Larson Family Winery tasting room and chatting with the server a few years back, I learned the error of my ways.
Meritage rhymes with heritage, not camouflage. It is an American-created term that combines the words ‘merit’ and ‘heritage’ and is intended to be used to describe high-quality Bordeaux-style blends made in the States. It was established a couple of decades ago by a group of Napa Valley vintners who were looking for a way to distinguish their handcrafted wines from the usual descriptor of ‘red table wine’ so they could sell more, charge more and make more from their efforts.
From all indications, this simple bit of marketing must have worked. While the word ‘meritage’ has not yet made it into the English dictionary, it has made it into the food and wine dictionaries. An internet search will show it associated with all sorts of things of perceived quality including homes, spas and restaurants.
Membership in the group (that now goes by the name of the Meritage Alliance) has grown far beyond the limits of Napa Valley; they now have participating wineries in 26 of the 50 states. In addition to following the rules and regulations imposed by the group, these wineries even pay $1/case into the group to be able to use the term on their labels. I have to assume that if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it.
Thinking back to my own enjoyment of the Larson Family Winery’s 2009 Millerick Road Meritage, its heritage certainly merited a grander descriptor than red table wine. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to pick up more but, after calling the winery and doing a search for it on-line, the vintage is all sold out. It seems they were able to charge more and sell more. Too bad they didn’t MAKE more! 😉