Curiously enough, one of the most frequently mispronounced wine words is not French but English. But it looks French, and therein lies the problem.
"Meritage," a registered trademark coined as a contest entry in 1988, is intended to rhyme with "Heritage," but that doesn't deter many wine experts from giving it a French twist as "Mehr-uh-TAHJ." True confessions: I have to fight a tendency to do this, myself.
Where did the name come from? Back in the 1980s, frustrated by the lack of what lawyers call a "term of art" for wines made from the traditional blends of Bordeaux grapes, a group of American wine producers banded together to come up with a name - and a procedure to control its use.
Following a widely publicized contest (with a cellar full of fine California wine as first prize), they selected "Meritage" (based on "merit" and "heritage") and formed a non-profit consortium, The Meritage Society (later renamed Meritage Association) to promote it. The organization took pains to point out that Meritage is not a French word ... and wine enthusiasts immediately started mispronouncing it.
U.S. wineries that wish to use the proprietary name "Meritage" must obtain a license from the association (for an annual charge of $1 for every case of Meritage wine they produce), and may use it only on wines that meet specific criteria:
Although the name and the notion endured some sniping and inevitable parody at the time, the concept stuck, even if the pronunciation didn't. "Meritage" is in wide use today, with well over 100 licensed wineries in 13 U.S. states and Canada; and in the ultimate unintended compliment, there's a growing tendency - particularly on restaurant wine lists - toward its use as a generic term for blended wines. (Just don't let the Society's lawyers catch you doing that.)
Although most of us probably think of Meritage wines as red Cabernet and Merlot-based blends, there's plenty of white Meritage around as well. Today's tasting report features one, from Cosentino in Napa. A muscular, oaky white blend, it's a long way from Bordeaux, but it's a big mouthful of white wine if that's your style.
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Cosentino 2000 "The Novelist" California Meritage ($9.99)
This pale-gold wine's ripe aromas focus on white fruit, ripe melons and juicy pineapple. Tropical fruit and buttery oak come together on the palate with full body and a rich mouthfeel, bolstered by 14.5 percent alcohol, startlingly powerful for a white. It's made from 80 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 20 percent Semillon, but frankly seems more akin to a New World Chardonnay than a Bordeaux-style blend in flavor except for its saving grace, a crisp, steely acidity that provides a sturdy structure. (March 8, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: This is the kind of big and strong white wine that needs a sturdy companion. I would avoid seafood or fish in favor of poultry, pork or robust cheese dishes. We paired it with a hearty vegetarian dish, cauliflower and penne pasta in a creamy sauce of strong Swiss Gruyere Reserve cheese laced with Dijon mustard.
VALUE: An idiosyncratic wine, but it's hard to quibble about the $10 price point if you like this style. Shop with care, however, and compare prices, as Web searching revails some rapacious pricing.
WHEN TO DRINK: It's hard to predict whether it will evolve with time, but big fruit and potent alcohol should preserve it for several years under good storage conditions.
WEB LINK: Cosentino's Website is here:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Check prices and find vendors for Cosentino "The Novelist" on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Friday, March 12, 2004