No, this isn’t a blog about Cuvée Ray. But it does go to the meaning of “Cuvée” and more importantly the wines that can be defined as “Cuvées.” Let’s get the definition of “Cuvée” out of the way first (a lot of people ask me about the meaning of Cuvée when they see me at Cuvée Ray).
While Cuvée has several meanings, it is most often defined as a special or proprietary blend of wine. The term is often used in connection with Champagne, as Champagne can be the epitome of wine blending as the winemaker can choose from 50 or more different base wines from different vineyards, portions of vineyards, types of grapes, wine vinified in different ways, etc. to arrive at the producer’s consistent house style.
Think of the wines that the winemaker uses to make the Cuvée as the tools she has at her disposal to adjust the mix so that it is consistent from year to year, regardless of the weather and growing conditions that change from year to year.
But a Cuvée isn’t limited to champagne. Other proprietary blends may be referred to as “Cuvées.” Unlike wines made from a single varietal, a single vineyard or even single portion or “block” from a vineyard where the goal may be to have the wine express itself just as it is, when creating a Cuvée, the winemaker’s role is key. And that is what makes certain blends of wine a different animal than single varietal wines.
And for most of my 35 years of tasting, loving, collecting and studying wine, I was not a particular fan of certain blends, particularly many American wine blends. Not that I didn’t like blends…for example, I love a great red Bordeaux (almost always a blend of two or more of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, among others) or an earthy Chateauneuf du Pape (a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and up to a dozen or so other varietals).
It’s just that a lot of American blends threw together grapes that weren’t traditionally mixed (e.g. Syrah and Cabernet or Zinfandel, Cabernet, Syrah) and frankly, I felt the whole was often less than the sum of its parts. So I basically closed my wine tasting mind to these types of blends and I think lots of American wine drinkers are fairly wedded to drinking single varietals. You often hear someone say “I love a nice Napa Cab” or “a great Russian River Chardonnay.” Rarely do we hear someone say “I love a great California blend.” But this is changing and I and my fellow single varietal fans have really been missing out.
Today’s American wine makers have become masters of non-traditional blends. And when you think of it, why shouldn’t non-traditional blends be at the pinnacle of the wine pyramid? Take Super Tuscans as an example. Super Tuscan wines are considered some of the best wines in the world (priced accordingly ☹). And it took pioneering wine makers in Tuscany to revolt against the rules in Tuscany about what grapes and methods could or couldn’t be used to make wine. The recognized pioneer was Tenuta San Guido the maker of Sassicaia who didn’t want to be tied to the Sangiovese grape required to be used by the rules of various regions in Tuscany. So they blended international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in an area where Sangiovese was the order of the day. And a spectacular new category of Italian wine was born!!!
So I say, let’s see where the inventive and pioneering American spirit can take us in the wine world. Why not enjoy a little Sangiovese blended in with Syrah and Grenache or some Zinfandel blended with Petite Syrah and Mourvedre. Let’s open our hearts, minds and palates to the creativity of American winemakers and say Hooray for Cuvée!!
(week of 10/1/2018)
Cuvée Ray: Uncorked Wine Special of the Week: Mention “Hooray for Cuvée” to your server and get 10% off this week’s Cuvée Ray: Uncorked Flight of the Week.