Instituted in 1989, the term Meritage is a certification mark registered with the US Department of Trademarks and Patents. It was coined in 1988 by a group of vintners who sought to establish standards of identification for a category of American blended wines made with traditional bordeaux grape varieties.
The name Meritage is a compound of the words "merit" and "heritage," and is actually pronounced to rhyme with "heritage." It was chosen from over 6,000 entries in an international contest held by these vintners. The purpose of the Meritage Association is to help identify quality American wine blends that, because they're not made with at least 75% of a single variety, can't use the variety name on the label. This forced many producers of excellent wines to either use generic names like "Red Table Wine" or proprietary names, like "insignia," from Joseph Phelps.
To be designated as a Meritage, a wine must meet the following standards:
1.) It must be a blend of two or more Bordeaux grape varieties.
2.) It must be the winery's best wine of its type
3.) It must be produced and bottled by a US winery from grapes that carry a US appellation (a designated place where the grapes are grown)
4.) Its production is limited to a maximum of 25,000 cases per vintage.
Wineries that are approved for the Meritage designation may use it in various ways on the label. They may simply use the word Meritage, or use it in conjunction with their proprietary name.