California Wine: Meritage Christmas


The holidays are a time that brings people together, both by choice and by obligation. It is a time when those that have moved away, either for opportunity or escape, find themselves reunited at the table. It is a time when everyone attempts to be at their best for the benefit of the occasion.

A wine that represents this coming together of seemingly disparate entities is a Meritage. Pronounced like heritage, this wine style was created in Napa Valley to denote a Bordeaux-style blend without risking copyright infringement by using the French region's name. A typical Bordeaux blend includes the following five grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec. A Meritage blend must also include a blend of these grapes, with no one grape exceeding 90%.


Here we have five very different grapes, that when blended in the right proportions, become something greater then each is individually. The amount of each grape that is added is determined by its impact on the whole. Cabernet Franc, the dirty-joke-telling uncle, spices things up a bit but is only allowed so much airtime at the table. When the conversation gets too heavy with politics and religion from Cabernet Sauvignon holding court, Merlot is there to smooth things out. Need a burst of juicy celebrity gossip? Let Aunt Malbec take center stage. But if she goes on too long the conversation will quickly fall apart. And every year you can always count on Petite Verdot to attend and act as the glue that holds the whole family gathering together.

The 2008 Rancho Sisquoc Cellar Select from Santa Barbara County is a great example of this style. Rancho Sisquoc Winery dates back to the 1852 Spanish land grant. Sisquoc means gathering place in Chumash, and Meritage is the perfect representation of the winery's history. In this vintage, Merlot plays the dominant role followed by its four ampelogical siblings in diminishing proportions. The wine strikes a balance between dark brooding fruit and palate cleansing acidity. There are layers of flavor with sound structure and a healthy dose of alcohol. It would make a great addition to any holiday table, both to pair with food or simply to provide some assistance in tolerating a family gathering.

2008 Rancho Sisquoc Cellar Select, retails about $20



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