While brainstorming the topic for this article, I found myself staring at the humongous corkboard hanging on my living-room wall. Many corks were reminders of personal memories, while others had no significance, and oddly enough those had the most meaning.
After years of working in the wine industry, I had collected quite a few corks. I asked my grandfather, who does carpentry as a hobby, to build me a six-foot rustic wooden frame to house my collection. He thought I was crazy. “You don’t even have enough corks to fill in the frame!,” he said. “I know Abuelo, but I’m young with years and years of drinking ahead of me. I’ll fill it up as I go.” Immediately I opened a bottle of red, held up the cork and said,
“See, one more!”
A few weeks later, my best friend, who knows everybody (you know, those people who happen to know someone everywhere they go) handed me a bright-neon index card with a clue scribbled on it. He sent me on a treasure hunt – literally – that led me to a sack filled with hundreds of corks! He looked at me coyly and said, “Now you can finish your corkboard.” I hugged him tightly and asked “How did you get these?” “I have friends in Napa and Sonoma who shipped them here,” he said. “Well of course he does!” I thought to myself. And that’s how a group of corks I didn’t collect, suddenly added an unforgettable memory to my corkboard.
Skimming through the corks, one in particular got me excited: CAIN FIVE, a Meritage blend of five red grapes from Napa Valley I tried years ago with my wine mentor. He handed me a glass of a rich-colored red and asked me to guess the grape-varietal. I swirled and sniffed and tasted… and sniffed and tasted again. I peeked up and said “I love it, but I have no idea what it is! This tastes like a new-world version of an old-world wine, and I can’t single out just one grape.” Proudly surprised he replied, “You are way too young to be saying such intelligent things.”
Meritage (pronounced like heritage) is a classification of a high-end, smaller production wine blend (25,000 cases max) using the classic Bordeaux grapes. This category was created in the late 1980s by American winemakers reacting to the challenges of a Federal law, requiring a bottle to contain at least 75% of a single grape-varietal in order to be indicated on the label. This law meant a wine not meeting the minimum requisite would be labeled “Table Wine,” which did not communicate the complexity and depth of these hand-crafted wines to the consumer. Winemaking is essentially an art of blending, and the Meritage classification now allows a winemaker to express the optimal combination of grapes without regard to standardized percentages.
The word Meritage derives from “merit,” signifying high-quality grapes, and “heritage,” embracing the roots of old-world blending. Reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenère, and the atypical St. Macaire and Gros Verdot; whites include Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle du Bordelais. A Meritage blend must have at least two of these grapes, none of which may comprise more than 90%. Grape varietals are segregated until bottling, allowing the winemaker to explore the multi-dimensional aromas and flavors of each varietal throughout the vinification process. Grapes are then combined to create a wine with its own character and age in the bottle for two to three years before release. The freedom for a winemaker to expose a range of essences makes each brand unique. Many chefs believe this trait makes Meritage wines a versatile complement to any menu.
Like a fusion of grapes in a bottle, my corkboard has become a meritage of memories. In some way, I feel as if they tell my story. Wines are meant to evoke feelings and ignite the senses, and after a few glasses, you may find yourself collecting your own meritage. * In this issue we are reprinting one of Daniele’s earlier columns, originally published in April/May 2012. Danielle’s “Adventures in Wine” have been very well received byour readership and we appreciate her contributions to SOMI Magazine.