Cuvée (koo-VEY) is wine term that can mean a great deal or nothing at all.

Like many French words, cuvée sounds more elegant than its actual meaning. It is French for “vat” or “tank”.

In practice, cuvée typically denotes wine from specific batch or blend from specific vats or tanks. During production almost all wine spends some time in a vat or tank, however, so purveyors of cheap swill happily can slap “cuvée” on the label of almost anything, making it wine equivalent of putting lipstick on a plonk [cq] pig.

On the other hand, among quality producers of sparkling wines and Sauternes, cuvée refers to free run and first press liquid—the purest, best juice. In those cases, cuvée means it is wine made from a special blend from selected vats and represents the maker’s premier offering. They may be labeled “cuvée speciale” or “tête de cuvée” (especially in Sauternes). In that context, cuvée on the label indicates high quality in the bottle.

Just to make it complicated—and what would wine world be without complications and contradictions—in some regions cuvée describes wine produced from a mixture of several grape varieties, differentiating it from varietal wines made from one grape. This is especially true for wines made outside France.

Cuvée. Either means something really special. Or can be nothing but marketing hype. Or can mean wine is a blend without reference to quality.

If understanding wine was easy, everyone could do it.


• Gloria Ferrer Brut Carneros Royal Cuvée Vintage Reserve. Vibrant, rich luscious fruit, dramatic finish. California. Superb value. $24

• Iron Horse Russian Cuvée. Sonoma County sparkling, rich and generous rosé; first created for Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Rock your world. $29.

• Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvée. Rich, supple French Champagne at its best. $87