“Meritage” does NOT rhyme with “garage”.. and here’s the proof

One of my biggest pet-peeves in the wine industry is the way some people pronounce the word “Meritage”. With permission, I am posting an explanation that was crafted by my Assistant General Manager at James River Cellars (Alexander Morgan) for distribution to the staff and volunteers of our winery. Since nowhere near enough people had the opportunity to read this information, I wanted to extend its reach… I hope you take this to heart and share it with as many people as possible. Together, we can make things right… right?
∞ alison

This is a long time coming, but I just heard the most outlandish justification for why “mer-i-taaaaaaaahge” is most DEFINITELY a French term (it’s not), so I called, read, and googled all kinds of sources, and here you go – proof:

Meritage – “MEHR-i-tidj” or “Summation”

Open Scene — It’s 1988, and a group of CALIFORNIAN winemakers, specifically from Napa Valley, are having trouble with their local ABC and ATF enforcement laws (shocking) concerning the official blend % of a wine in order to print said wine on the label.

Example – if a wine is only 60% Merlot juice, can the label state “Merlot?”

No – the law then, and still today, states that at LEAST 75% of any given wine, red or white, must be of the specific grape, in order to print it on the label.

Example – the wine MUST be a volume of >/= 75% Merlot to print “Winery’s 2013 Merlot”

So, a wine can be … 80% Merlot, with 20% …say, Cabernet Franc (or even 10 other wines at small %), and legally still be labeled as “Merlot”

These winemakers decided to take action and exploit loopholes in the law, in order to showcase the rising appeal of blending, much like the Europeans did. The most proficient blending region in Europe? Bordeaux, France.

So, a contest was held. Over 6000 entries answered the call for a collective term that could be used to describe BORDEAUX-style BLENDS, which were made OUTSIDE of Bordeaux.

One participant suggested combining the very-American terms “merit” and “heritage,” to reference the quality, resiliency, and history of winemaking.

“Meri-“ + “-tage” = “Meritage”
Remember, think “herit-I-ge Merit-I-ge”

And thus, the “Meritage Association of CALIFORNIA” was coined and founded. In 2007, the name was changed to the “Meritage Alliance.”

A Meritage MUST be:
1) a blend of at least 2 or more Bordeaux grape varietals, within no varietal comprising 90% or more of the blend
2) the participating winery’s highest quality wine juice
3) produced and bottled by a U.S. winery, using U.S. grapes
4) limited to a 25,000 case production, per vintage year

A Meritage must be ALL-INCLUSIVE of the following grapes. If blended with even 0.01% of any juice from an outside source, the wine cannot be labeled as “Meritage.”

Official red Bordeaux varietals: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec

Unofficial red Bordeaux varietals: Carménère, Gros Verdot (no relation to Petit Verdot),and St. Macaire

Official white Bordeaux varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillion, and Muscadelle

Unofficial white Bordeaux varietals: Sauvignon Gris, Ugni Blanc (French term for Trebbiano, and parent to Vidal Blanc), Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Ondenc, and Mauzac.

Bordeaux’ regions: Saint-Émilion, Pomerol, Médoc, and Graves

The five ELITE Bordeaux wineries are:
Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (Médoc),

Chateau Margaux (Médoc),

Chateau Latour (Médoc),

Chateau Haut-Brion (Graves), and

Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Médoc)

Other Bordeaux’ wines you may have already drank: Sauternes (Graves)

Outside of the United States, the term “Claret” or “Clairet” is used to describe a Bordeaux-style wine that was created outside of Bordeaux

The Meritage Alliance website – http://www.meritagealliance.com/

There — proof that not only “Meritage” is an American creation, but also that it indicatively CANNOT be a French term (see stipulation #3 above)


Recipe: Chicken Cassoulet

Here’s an easy recipe for Cassoulet that I’ve adapted from Weight Watchers… and included wine.  This was our dinner last night and it got rave reviews from my favorite taste testers (my family).  Since I use The Force when I cook (do I sound like a broken record, warning everyone about this?), the amounts are approximate and will vary depending on the foods you prefer and what you have on hand. 

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.  You’ll start this recipe on the stove top and then allow it to cook for about 30 minutes or so in the oven, so go ahead and get this ready.  If you’re doing the first part early in the day and planning to cook it in the oven just before eating, the only thing I would change would be to add an extra 15 minutes to the baking time before you serve it.  Mine baked a little too long, so it’s pretty dry, but that’s the way my guys like it.

In a Dutch oven (or large skillet with a lid), brown 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  The original recipe calls for bone-in thighs, but my family prefers to not deal with bones whenever possible.  I do this in two stages and remove them to a plate as they brown.

Add diced Canadian bacon and saute until browned and crispy.   Add sliced baby carrots (I used about 2 cups), sliced celery stalks (I had some celery sticks that needed to be used, so I went a little overboard on this one, but I don’t believe it hurt the dish at all), and a diced onion (the recipe actually calls for leeks, but I forgot to get this at the store and I always have onion on hand), and cook until the veggies are soft and a little toasty, stirring frequently to distribute the small amount of fat left from the bacon.  Add 2 cans of cannellini (white kidney) beans (drained slightly), a half bottle of James River Cellars Pinot Gris  (I had this on hand… next time I’ll use James River Cellars Reserve Chardonnay), a packet of chicken broth seasoning, water (I used a coffee cup’s worth), 3 bay leaves, and some lemon thyme (from my friend’s garden).  I then allowed all the flavors to combine and brought the dish to a slow simmer.  Return the chicken thighs (and collected juices) to the pan and nestle the meat among the vegetables.

Baking your dish: Here’s where you can take a break, if needed.  I actually put the lid on the Dutch oven and let it rest on the stove top for about an hour at this point.  M wasn’t due home for a bit and I knew dinner wasn’t going to need to be ready for a few hours.  If you’re making this immediately, pop the Dutch oven (with lid on) into your hot oven and allow to cook for an hour.  Since you’re not using bone-in chicken, you can decrease the baking time a little.  Do realize that if you’re making this using bone-in chicken, you should bake it for 1 hour and 30 minutes.  If you’ve taken a break and are bringing it back from “cool”, I would bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, but this part isn’t exact.  Check your dinner and decide for yourself when the meal is cooked… the meat will be falling apart and the sauce will be thickened to your liking.

Remove the pan from the oven and discard the bay leaves.  If you so desire, take a coffee cup’s worth of sauce (without meat) and process it in a blender until smooth, then return to the dish and stir.  I totally skipped this part because my guys were “starving”, but this is a nice touch.  You can also use a stick blender and just pulse it a few times near the bottom of the pan, staying away from any of the chicken.

Remember to always use a wine that you would drink… there are tons out there that don’t cost a small fortune and are worthy of cooking.  I always have James River Cellars wines on hand, so I tend to lean toward using those.    This is one of my favorite cold-weather dishes and I hope it will become one of yours as well.


Recipe: Wine Cupcakes

Thanks to the glory that is (can be) Facebook, I found a simple cupcake recipe this morning on a friend’s page.  It’s made with Cake Mix, Greek Yogurt, and Water… only I decided to try making it with wine.

I started with a generic Devil’s food cake mix and added a cup (8oz) of nonfat plain Greek yogurt.  I was trying with the idea of using a flavored yogurt but, well, I didn’t have any in the fridge.  I then added a cup of wine… I used James River Cellars Rad Red.  I mixed everything well and then poured the mixture into cupcake tins.  I used mini Bundt pans (pictured) and a tin of mini muffin tins.  After baking for 20 minutes at 375 degrees, they looked so fun!  I added a dollop of chocolate frosting on top of the mini cakes and called it dessert.  YUM!

Have you tried substituting red wine in your chocolate baked good products?  It’s amazing to see what you can create with some great wine and a little ingenuity.  Try it and make your own new creations… your family and friends will be so happy you did!