What The Term Cuvée Means In Winemaking

In the world of winemaking, there are many industry terms that carry mystique and wonder, like terroir or must. Perhaps no other term causes more confusion than cuvée, and for good reason — depending on the wine bottle you're viewing, it can mean several different things.  

Its original meaning, a French word, refers to the first step in winemaking and denotes the wine as a blend of superior quality. This fine wine would be typically be ideal for pairing with a lamb dish. But this term changes when applied to sparkling wine. In this case, the word cuvée is referring to the juice extraction process, indicating the wine will be particularly pure and sweet with a high acidity and low pH. 

A third definition is that cuvée can refer to the "first cut" of the wine press, which again suggests a high-quality wine. Interestingly enough, the word is not regulated in the usually highly regulated wine world, which explains why it can mean so many different things. You'll most likely see cuvée on reds, rosés, and sparkling wine varietals. Still, no matter what bottle the term cuvée is added to, it can be trusted to denote quality and the method that the wine was produced.

A look at the world of cuvée wines

So what are some prime examples of all the different terms for a cuvée wine? Let's take a cuvée red like Castle Rock Winery's Red Wine Cuvée from Columbia Valley. In this instance, the term cuvée is referring to the fact that this is a blend of grapes, like cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot, and pinot noir, all hailing from the Columbia Valley region. 

Meanwhile, a rosé cuvée will normally be applied to a sparkling variety, like Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, symbolizing the brut wine's quality. Finally, when looking at a classic champagne cuvée, like Piper Heidsieck Brut Cuvée, the term is all about suggesting the first cut of the pressed grapes. These will typically be much pricier than a standard sparkling wine.  

As the term cuvée isn't regulated you can't always count on it really denoting quality, and any brand can slap it on their bottle of sparkling wine without consequence. With that in mind, some winemakers are adding extra terms to it like "prestige cuvée" to truly set their wine apart from others. Still, now that you know what the term is intending to clarify, you can better pick out your next bottle of vino.