Leah’s Beer School: Lesson 12

What is a cuvée?

Originally a French wine term, cuvée is derived from the French word cuve which means vat or tank. Used frequently to describe wine and champagne, cuvée is becoming a common beer term too. A cuvée often denotes a specific blend or batch, alluding to a product of premium quality. 

Winemakers will produce regular blends of wine, reserving the term cuvée to refer to special blends or higher quality wines. A winery’s highest quality cuvées are referred to as reserve wines, and cuvées not selected for the first label are referred to as second wines, or second label. 

For champagne or other sparkling wines, a cuvée may indicate the first, extremely gentle pressing of the grapes, which will produce the very best champagne. A cuvée may also refer to a sparkling wine that has been blended for consistency year over year. 

In beer production, just as in winemaking, there’s always some degree of variability within a given batch. Often the same beer aged in two different barrels may taste entirely different, which is why barrels are regularly blended as a form of quality control and consistency. 

Many gueuzes and lambics are marketed as cuvées to suggest quality and complexity. A gueuze is a type of lambic made from blending a young lambic with a 2 or 3-year-old aged lambic.  One-year-old gueuzes are blended to add vibrancy and sweetness to dry, acidic, funky beer. Young lambics also have residual fermentable sugars which are desirable for refermentation or bottle conditioning to occur.

Although the word cuvée implies consistency and superior quality, the term itself is unregulated and does not guarantee to deliver on its promise. As consumers, we need to be shrewd in determining whether the label “cuvée” is referring to a product’s exceptional quality or if it’s a basic blend.