In its literal translation, “cuvée” means “tank” in French. If you remember your high school French (and we’re pretty sure it was offered for wine-related purposes), the term “cuvée” would mean something like “tanked,” or having come from a tank. That’s why at least one meaning of the term “cuvée” refers to a particular batch or blend of wine. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Or our frustrated French teachers.
Although we should keep the tank/vat thing in mind as we try to understand how the term is used in the realm of wine. Let’s think about Champagne first. One meaning of cuvée Champagne is Champagne made from the very first, very gentle pressing of the grapes—thus, a measure of quality. But cuvée Champagne can also refer to the specific blend of wines (from various vats, ahem) that go into a Champagne house’s particular recipe. (Remember, beyond so-called Grower Champagne, most Champagne is made by major “houses” that blend from a variety of carefully selected vineyards, the idea being to create the same taste year after year.)
That same meaning—the carefully selected blend of wines to create a repeatable finished product—can apply to wine outside of Champagne as well, sparkling and non-sparkling. But here’s the rub: unlike a ton of other terms and rules in wine (including the term Champagne itself, but also rules like what constitutes a varietal and appellation regulations), the term “cuvée” is not regulated. You can slap it onto a bottle of Two Buck Chuck and thereby increase the perceived value, and price. (Think of the way “natural” is pretty loosely regulated by the FDA.)
In general you can assume a “cuvée” wine is a special blend of the house—be it Champagne or still wine—and/or a first pressing (in the case of Champagne). But it’s always good to do a little research on a particular cuvée to ensure you’re getting what you paid for, as opposed to some less-than-stellar grape juice with a fancy term slapped on the label.