The Complexities of Enjoying a ‘Ménage á Trois’

A devout reader of this column recently submitted a question to
the Gilroy Dispatch via the Red Phone. The following is the
verbatim quote from the paper:

I am wondering why there is a wine called Meritage and if it has
anything to do with the wine I saw called M
énage à Trois.
A devout reader of this column recently submitted a question to the Gilroy Dispatch via the Red Phone. The following is the verbatim quote from the paper: “I am wondering why there is a wine called Meritage and if it has anything to do with the wine I saw called Ménage à Trois.

I’d like David Cox to answer that question for me in his new wine column. If you could pass this on to him, I’m very anxious to know if there’s any relationship between the Ménage à Trois and the Meritage.”

As soon as I saw “anxious,” “ménage à trois” and my name together, I knew I had to be responsive and sensitive to the nature of the call. Luckily, I had a number of previous experiences to help me answer the question.

In 1988, a group of American vintners formed the Meritage (pronounced like “heritage”) Association to identify handcrafted wines blended from the traditional “noble” Bordeaux varietals.

Most American wines are labeled after the grape variety that comprises at least 75 percent of that wine. For example, a label with “cabernet sauvignon” indicates that the wine is comprised of 75 percent or more of the grape variety cabernet sauvignon. Many wineries like to boast if their percentage is higher, often times citing their cabernet sauvignon is 100 percent. “All killer, no filler” as we say at Léal Vineyards in Hollister!

Many winemakers, however, believed the varietal requirement did not necessarily result in the highest quality wine from their vineyards. The term “Meritage” was coined to identify wines that represent the highest form of the winemaker’s art – blending – and the term also distinguishes these wines from the more generic moniker of “table wine.”

So, when you purchase a bottle of wine that has been labeled “red or white table wine,” there is a good chance that two or more varieties of grapes were used to produce the wine, with no grape containing more than 75 percent.

Meritage was selected from more than 6,000 entries in an international contest to name the new wine category. Meritage is an invented word that combines “merit” and “heritage.”

While many wineries prefer to use proprietary names in addition to (or rather than) Meritage, to obtain a license and use the term Meritage, a wine must meet the following criteria:

n A red Meritage is made from a blend of two or more of the following varieties: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, petit verdot, St. Macaire, gros verdot and carmenere. No single variety may make up more than 90 percent of the blend.

n A white Meritage (very rare) is made from a blend of two or more of the following varieties: sauvignon blanc, semillon and sauvignon vert. No single variety may make up more than 90 percent of the blend.

Blending wines, especially in the Meritage style, is an art. In speaking with a couple of winemakers, the results can be phenomenal if done right.

The task of making the right combination of varieties, experimenting with percentages, and finding the subtle nuances of each grape and how it melds with the others is not easy. As the number of varieties that are used increases, there are greater risks and challenges.

As for the relationship between Meritage and Ménage à Trois? Well, if you have a few bottles of Meritage, they might lead to a Ménage à Trois – if you are lucky! Again, let me explain.

A Napa Valley winery called Folie à Deux (French for “shared fantasies”) has produced a wine called Ménage à Trois for a few years now. The winery makes a blend of California white grapes (moscato, chardonnay and chenin blanc) and a blend of California red grapes (zinfandel, merlot and cabernet franc).

The double, or should I say triple, entendre is meant to convey the joining of three grapes together in one bottle. These are blends, but not Meritage wines, because the grapes used are not all noble Bordeaux varietals.

Léal Vineyards produced an estate Rhone-style blend a couple of years ago called Ménage à Trois. The blend used grapes that are associated with Rhone varietals including syrah, grenache and mourvedre. This year, a similar wine was released that is affectionately called Threesome. This stuff is stellar from the cellar!

Told you I had experience with this stuff.

All chuckles aside, this hopefully clarifies the question posed via the Red Phone. Blended wines are becoming more popular, although some purists will not touch them. I think this is their loss. Winemaking should continue to explore variations that will showcase our adventurous spirits. Wine should entice and be playful, sexy and fun.

Cheers!

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