Tuesday, 16 April 2024

Foodie Freak: Meritage




Nobody gets a choice about these things in life but most people are born either good looking, intelligent or talented. A lucky few get to be two out of the three, but rarely does a person get to be all three, like Padma Lakshmi.

Not only is Padma Lakshmi good looking, she’s downright gorgeous, so much so that she could read the book of Leviticus in a dull monotone and it would still get a million hits on YouTube.

It’s the same with the wine called Meritage. Most wines are what the grapes make them.

For example, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes will give you a Cabernet Sauvignon wine. It may be a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon but it doesn’t get to choose to be anything else. It can’t make itself better than a Cabernet Sauvignon; the grape has a certain potential and it can’t exceed that potential. No matter how much you want you can’t have a (natural) Cabernet Sauvignon with certain features.

Not so with Meritage. Like a Rosé, Meritage isn’t a grape varietal but a style of blending wine in the Bordeaux fashion.

This means that the winemaker can blend different types of grapes to make the most perfect wine possible. The winemaker can take the potential of the grape and exceed it by adding another type of grape.

Many people believe that blended wines are the pinnacle of the winemaker's art. This is where the creativity and expertise of a winemaker can be fully tried and expressed.

Meritage, the proprietary name for this Bordeaux style of wine, was created:

1. As a way to not infringe on the Bordeaux region’s trademarks; and

2. As a rebellion against the federal government which in 1985 regulated that any wine that contains less than 75 percent of a single grape variety was to be labeled as “table wine.”

The ignominious title “table wine” most likely caused the winemakers who fashioned these classic Bordeaux blends to pout and stomp their feet and start The Meritage Association in 1988. It has since been renamed The Meritage Alliance.

The word Meritage was created from combining “Merit” and “Heritage.” Don’t try to fancy it up by saying “Meri-TAHJZ”; it simply rhymes with heritage.

Padma Lakshmi’s name isn’t really difficult to pronounce either. Yes, like Meritage it might look intimidating at first, but it isn’t complicated at all. Don’t make it more difficult than it is.

Padma Lakshmi isn’t the type of celebrity that is instantly recognized by everybody, nor is Meritage a type of wine that everyone can recognize on a menu, but both of them are skyrocketing in popularity.

There are about 200 different Meritages on the market made in America in the past year. Red Meritage is by far the most common but White Meritage can be made.

Meritage has strict guidelines in order to claim its pedigree. It cannot contain more than 90 percent of any single grape, and the grapes must all be “noble” Bordeaux origination.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, Merlot, Malbec, and Petite Verdot are candidates for red Meritage. Muscadelle du Bordelais, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon can be blended for a white Meritage.

Padma Lakshmi’s heritage is Brahmin (Indian) and her full name, Padma Parvati Lakshmi, contains names that are each sacred in Hindu mythology. Noble grapes look a little blue collar after that.

The original vision for Meritage wines was that they would be crafted in smaller batches of 25,000 cases or less but recent agreements with Robert Mondavi Private Selections, Sterling Vineyards and Costco have allowed for mass marketing and turned this objective into less of a requirement and more of “guideline.”

Similarly, Padma Lakshmi, this elegant and refined woman, now has her own line of spices on a home shopping network show. Both Meritage and Padma Lakshmi seem to be lessened a little with these volume marketing turns.

There are more than 240 wineries producing Meritage in over seven countries. Padma Lakshmi speaks five languages.

Descriptors that you might find in a Meritage can be … unfortunately I can’t give you a definitive list of every flavor descriptor like I usual do since every Meritage will be unique in its blend of grape varietals, whether it be red or white. You will get different flavors, aromas and assets from each grape.

For instance, Cabernet Franc isn’t the most flavorful grape but it is known and appreciated by many winemakers for the rich color and nose that it imparts to a wine. There are other grapes that will contribute deep flavors but not great colors.

A winemaker can then take the rich flavors of a Cabernet Sauvignon and blend it with a Cabernet Franc to improve the color and therefore make a superior wine to the original two grapes. Sauvignon Blanc can be a harsh acidic wine at times but blending it with a Semillon can smooth it out while a Muscadelle can sweeten it up.

Similarly, Padma Lakshmi can’t be described in a single category: actress, author, chef, jewelry designer, model, television show host and soon-to-be mother. Talk about driven! I feel successful if I clean my pantry or finish a column.

Padma Lakshmi has written two cookbooks, “Easy Exotic” and “Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet,” both of which are very good (she’s won awards). I own them both, and as much as I might like it to be the titles are not double-entendres. If you are a fan of “Top Chef” you may notice she makes unintentional double-entendres often.

I had to giggle when reading “Tangy Tart” because at one point she says substituting an ingredient in a recipe would be “lovely.” If you watch “Top Chef” you’ll be familiar with the fact that Padma Lakshmi uses the word “lovely” about as often as Michael Ruhlman uses the word “craft” in his books (just a little inside humor for the foodies out there).

Personally, I’m dying to make her tangerine peel pickle recipe. I just purchased all of the spices required.

A short time ago I took my wife out to the Langtry Estate & Vineyard and asked to sample their Meritage.

After she tasted the wine she looked at me and said “Wow, you hit it out of the park with this one, this is definitely Padma. Dark and sultry, complex … this is so good.”

Langtry/Guenoc also has a red “Proprietary Blend” that is very good and follows the Bordeaux style.

Lake County only has two licensed Meritages, but I’ve included some very similar Bordeaux style blends that all use the “noble grapes” in this list.

Lake County Meritage/Bordeaux style blends / (grapes)

Beaver Creek Vineyards “Red Wine” Bordeaux style blend. (Merlot, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon)

Ceago Vinegarden “Winemakers Blend” Bordeaux style blend. (Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec)

Dharmapalan Vineyards Meritage (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot)

Fortress Vineyards “Novateur” White Bordeaux style blend. (Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc)

Guenoc/Langtry Estate Wines Meritage (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc)

Six Sigma Ranch “Cuvee Pique Nique” Bordeaux style blend. (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc)

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community. Follow him on Twitter, http://twitter.com/Foodiefreak .

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