A term used differently in viticulture, with different meanings in the individual countries. The word comes from the French Cuve (vat or wine container). In the original sense it means a certain amount of wine in a container (a barrel of wine, so to speak). In German-speaking countries, it is usually understood to mean the artistic mixing of wines from different types of grape. However, this can also be grape musts, which are then fermented together, as is customary in the southern Rhône. Other designations are Blend (New World), Cape Blend (South Africa), CVC (Conjunto de Varias Cosechas in Spain), Coupage, Marriage, Mélange (France for spirits) and Meritage (California)
As a rule, wines of the same colour are blended. However, the term has no meaning in terms of wine law, which is why "cuvée" on the label does not mean anything unequivocal, as it may well be a wine from one grape variety, from a single vineyard or from one vintage. For example, an exclusive special bottling of a wine estate for a gastronomy business. In no case (as is not so rarely assumed in German-speaking countries) is the blending of wines a negative quality difference compared to single-variety wines.
The blending of wines has mainly taste reasons. One wants to introduce alcohol content, aromas, acidity and colour through several different grape varieties. The latter is achieved by means of Teinturier varieties, of which only 5% are sufficient for colour enhancement. Usually a certain grape variety, the so-called leading variety, makes up the main part of at least 50% of a cuvée and thus determines the character of the wine. Besides taste reasons, there are also practical and economic reasons. If flowering, fruit set and physiological ripeness are unsatisfactory for one grape variety, other grape varieties can compensate. This also minimises the risk, which was previously achieved by the so-called mixed set, i.e. a vineyard with different varieties. So how do you measure the success of a cuvée? Quite simply - when the blended wine tastes better than each individual lot on its own!
In all countries, there are country-specific regulations concerning approved grape varieties, which differ for each wine quality class. For each origin (defined geographical area) it is specified which varieties may be used, although a range with a minimum to maximum percentage of each variety may also be specified. Especially in Italy and France, there are wines with five or more blended grape varieties, as in the case of Chianti or even 13 in the case of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But mostly this means gross and often single-variety wines are also allowed. A guideline could be: Syrah at least 60 to 100%, Grenache Noir(Garnacha Tinta) max. 40%, and Mourvèdre(Monastrell) and/or Cinsaut max. 25%. Typical cuvées are Bordeaux red wines; the characteristic blend of varieties there is called Bordeaux blend. The picture shows a cuvée from the left bank of the river Garonne(Rive gauche), with different grape varieties (all or only three of them) and proportion per château. In general, however, Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant variety in this area.
In German-speaking countries, one cuvée usually consists of two, more rarely of more grape varieties. Whether these must be indicated on the label is regulated differently for each country/region/appellation. The mixing of red wine and white wine (whether grape, mash, grape must or wine) is prohibited for quality wine, country wine and wine with vintage/variety indication within the EU. As an exception, mixing in any form is only permitted for wine without a vintage/variety declaration. There are, however, exemptions granted under EU regulations for certain regions or wines for traditional reasons, such as the Slovenian Cviček, the French Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Italian Chianti. See in this respect under wine law (paragraph on blending), as well as under the individual wine-growing countries.
The must from the first pressing during the production of champagne is called tête de cuvée. After fermentation, up to 50 base wines of different vintages can be blended together (an exception is the Millésime, the so-called vintage champagnes). The result of the blending or composition of these wines before the second fermentation (bottle fermentation) is called cuvée, but the process of blending is called assemblage (especially when blending young wines). But as already mentioned, these are not clearly defined terms and they are often used alternately in different regions. The best barrels (from the best vintages, aged for a long time) produce the top product of the house, the so-called Cuvée de Prestige. If a champagne is produced from grapes of one site, it is also called mono-cuvée.
In Bordeaux, the selection of certain barrels and the subsequent blending of the wines is called assemblage or marriage. Year after year, the final cuvée is decided by the Maître de chai (cellar master), often only in spring after tasting the wines. The best barrels produce the Grand Vin, which bears the Château name. The lower quality wines are then blended to make a second or third wine and must also have other names on the bottle label than the top product (the first wine) of the house. The calculation formulas that are helpful when blending are described under blending cross.
Complete lists of the numerous vinification measures and cellar techniques, as well as the types of wine, sparkling wine and distillate regulated by wine law are included under the heading "Vinification". Comprehensive information on wine law can be found under the keyword wine law.
Images: Ursula Brühl, Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)