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Cuvée Champagne - Another Champagne Myth?

Jiles Halling,
UK’s leading Champagne host

Recently I noticed how many people search Google every month for the term Cuvée Champagne. There are thousands and I got to wondering why.

I suppose that many people think that these two simple words somehow indicate a better quality champagne. If that’s the case then I’m sorry to say that this is just another of those weird tales and anecdotes that champagne seems to attract for no apparent reason. Here’s why...

Don’t get me wrong, I love the glitz and glamour that has been built up around champagne just as much as the next person; without it a glass of champagne would be just another glass of wine, with it champagne becomes a luxurious little indulgence that leaves us feeling that the sun is shining and all is right in the world.

In many ways the reputation of champagne is built on real quality but on the other hand the aura of mystery and magic that goes with champagne can conceal a lot of hot air and ‘marketing speak’ that has little or no foundation in fact.

If you don’t want to waste your money it’s important to be able to tell the difference between the two and cuvée champagne falls fair and square into the category of ‘champagne misconceptions’

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The word cuvée comes from the word Cuve which means a vat or container used to store wine. The picture above shows a row of 'cuves' and there's nothing particularly glamourous or special about them, as you can see.

The cuvée is the actual liquid that’s in the vat, so for all intents and purposes cuvée really only means ‘wine’ and doesn’t have any notion of special quality whatsoever.

The meaning has been extended to indicate a particular blend that the champagne maker has put together, but there’s nothing remarkable about that either because all champagne is a blend so every single champagne that is produced could be described as cuvée.

Sometimes you see the words special cuvée or even cuvée de prestige which people assume means that the champagne is of a higher than normal quality. Well, that’s true as far as it goes: Dom Pérignon is considered to be a cuvée de prestige and the same could be said for Cristal or any other famous brand but there are no absolute criteria to say what can and can’t be a special cuvée or a cuvée de prestige, so in theory any champagne maker can use these words.

The word cuvée is also used in another sense. It’s the word used to describe the first juice that comes from the grapes as they are pressed.

Lots of champagne makers make a big thing about only using La Cuvée for their champagnes as if this is very rare, but here again you’ve got to be careful not to get taken in by flowery language.

La Cuvée is the most sought after part the juice because it’s rich in both sugar and acid - you need both to make a great champagne – and it has none of the bitterness that you can find in La Taille which is the juice that comes out of the press towards the end of the pressing process.

That’s when you're getting down to the skins, pips and stalks and these can give the juice a sort of astringency and that’s best avoided.

The fact of the matter is that a full 80% of the juice that comes off the press is classified as Cuvée, so it’s not that exclusive after all.

That’s the thing about champagne: a little knowledge can be dangerous, so my advice would be don’t put too much importance on the word cuvée and certainly don’t automatically think that cuvée champagne is necessarily the stuff to look out for.

Second picture courtesy of Billecart-Salmon

For an update of Jiles last publications: read more …..

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