Wine Talk

Snooth User: Degrandcru

How long to keep non-vintage champagne?

Posted by Degrandcru, Jan 5, 2010.

I always was under the impression that non-vintage champagne and other sparklers have to be drunk shortly after release and usually never keep them more then a few months. Now a friend of mine claimed that he ages non-vintage champagne for about 5 years, as they would develop a "nuttier" and less fruity taste.

So is there any advantage in aging non-vintage champagne and what is usually the time limit in which one should drink up non-vintage and other sparkling wines (cavas, prosecos, sekt etc.)?

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 5, 2010.

Champagnes, proseccos and sekt are all somewhat different animals. As a broad generalization, champagne will have a longer effective cellar life than the other two. And there are other sparklers not mentioned that really do need to be drunk up fast. I'll talk here about champagnes since they (and their cousins made the same way in California and the Pacific Northwest) are what I know best. Perhaps someone else can chime in on Proseccos, Cavas, Sekts, etc., etc.

To people who tell you that champagne can't be aged and should be drunk up toute suite, I say (at loud volume) 'horse puckey'! Laying down champagne will almost always allow the wine to deliver greater complexity.

Even NV champagne can be aged for quite a few years if it's made well. Krug is a very famous (and expensive) example, but many others improve, IMHO, over time, too. Some people think that blanc de noirs (from pinot noir) ages better than blancs de blancs (solely from chardonnay), though I've had plenty of chardonnay-only champagne that tasted exquisite two or more decades down the line.

Remember that champagne goes through two types of aging. The first type is on the lees, before disgorgement. That aging gives the toasty, doughy, yeasty flavors that we all tend to love, so nobody really dislikes it (other than having to pay a higher price) when that takes place over many years. The other type of aging is on the corks that have been put in the bottles after disgorgement, and is necessarily more oxidative. When aged only on the lees, with minimal cork aging, the wine will always taste fresher and crisper, thanks to its good acidity. Aging on the cork will lead over time to a lessening of the acidity, and emergence of a number of other flavors.

However many years is acceptable to you depends on your taste and the type of champagne experience you want. Do you require a fresh splap-in-your-face? Or do you want something more mellow with certain exotic flavors that I have only experienced in decades-old champagne? Personally, I like both.

When people recommend that you drink up within two or three years after market release, look at who's doing the recommending. It is definitely in the interests of champagne producers and merchants to have you drink up as many bottles as you can now, so that you can buy more next month and next year. Historically, there's also a bit of backbiting between the French and English. The French even have a word for it, the 'goût Anglais' (English palate), and they have been known to call the Brits kinky for liking what the French call old, oxidized, even madeirized wine. I guess I have both a French and English palate, myself.

Remember that champagne has already been aged before it's even released to market. Non vintage champagnes are generally aged two to three years. Vintage champagnes are aged three to five. And the luxury cuvées (tête de cuvées like Sir Winston Churchill from Pol Roger, Dom Perignon from Moet Chandon, Cristal from Roederer, La Grande Dame from Veuve Cliquot, etc.) are generally aged six to seven years before release. Also, you can pretty much assume that the quality of the grapes chosen for each class runs along similar lines to the way they are handled after fermentation (such as the time spent aging the wines).

These tête de cuvées bottles can age well for several decades depending on the vintage. Good NVs for a couple before you have to begin worrying too much. But lesser NVs are also plentiful, so you need to be aware of who's making the wine once you get to the end of the first decade since market release (so it makes sense if you're going to cellar them to note when you bought a NV).

Then there are the crazy cultish boutique houses like Salon--crazily expensive, though also crazily delicious. Champagne is only released under the Salon name during exceptional years, averaging roughly three vintages per decade (they're owned by Laurent-Perrier, so it's likely that the wine made by grapes from their contract growers will end up in other Laurent-Perrier champagne during other years). The Salon website says their wines are fermented in stainless steel and allowed to age in the bottle for 'several' years before release. They, like many other Champagne producers, don't release an entire vintage at the same time, but hold back some volume to spend more time aging on the lees. A number of bottles from the 1959 Le Mesnil vintage were kept on lees *38* years prior to disgorging. Perhaps needless to say, they sold for a hefty premium at auction.

I've thrown out only the most famous, and pretty much most expensive, names here. There are many other labels that are very good, whether their vintage or non-vintage offerings, from smaller houses across Champagne, and that are a lot more reasonable in price. But that's the subject for another thread.

Reply by dmcker, Jan 5, 2010.

Forgot to throw in before I hit the 'post reply' button that what I say above about the sparklers from Champagne also holds true for those labels I mention in that other thread I started about good sparkling wines not from France, Italy or Spain. I've had a number of bottles from Schramsberg and the transplanted French houses in California that, vintage or non-vintage, have been very good a decade or two later.

Philip, can we *please* have an edit function that works on a message after we've posted it?

Reply by dmcker, Jan 5, 2010.

Also forgot to throw in this link to that other thread:

Reply by Degrandcru, Jan 5, 2010.

@dmcker: Thank you for this great detailed response. I assume this is valid for all sparkling wines that are produced by the methode champenoise.

One more question though, many people recommend to age champagne bottles standing up instead of horizontally. True or nonsense? Anything else to be considered when storing champagne?

Reply by dmcker, Jan 5, 2010.

If they've got corks, lay them down, though there's nothing wrong with a slight upward slant towards the neck, so long as the wine can get enough contact to keep the cork wet (I've stored wine both ways successfully over decades). Plastic or other cork variants are another story, but why would you be aging them, anyway?

Also meant to say in my earlier post(s), but didn't want to keep adding to them, that since you have a new cellar, Degrandcru, you have a great laboratory for checking aging potential for whatever label's NV you like. Buy sets of at least three (more the merrier) and taste one now, another in a couple of years, another in five years, and so forth. Would be great to hear how you find them at that time.

For that matter, what kinds of sparkling do you like?

I also forgot to mention that some people think blancs de blancs last better longer, because properly treated chardonnay does take a long time to mature. Of the three main varietals in Champagne (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier), the last one matures the quickest and gets the least respect, though Krug believes in it implicitly, and you can't complain about the bubbly they make. You'll find arguments between proponents of PN and chard as to which has the best longterm maturation curve, though.

Reply by dmcker, Jan 5, 2010.

Another forgotten comment. When you say "I assume this is valid for all sparkling wines that are produced by the methode champenoise," I have to say all sparkling wines that are produced *well* by that method. There are plenty of sparklers made in California and elsewhere that don't laste all that well, and plenty of Cava, etc. made by the methode champenoise that I don't like very much to start with and that has fallen flat after only a few years...

Reply by Degrandcru, Jan 6, 2010.

The new cellar was actually the starting point for the topic. Wanted to make sure that its worth it to lay down some sparkling and watch the development over time.

To be honest I don´t have much experience with sparkling, but usually prefer something more complex then just crispy and refreshing (almond, yeast, toast etc is highly apreciated).

For Christmas I opened a few bottles of Rodier Pere & Fils that I really enjoyed.

There are also some mexican Cavas from Freixenet, Queretaro that I really like, especially the Viña Doña Dolores Brut Nature Gran Reserva & Sala Vivé Brut. Both are great values for the money.

Also had some Crémants from the Alsace that I rellay enjoyed. Most Prosecos I tried so far were pretty disappointing, but I may just have tried the wrong ones.

Reply by spanishtouch, Jan 7, 2010.

Just my two cents, but I think that in general, the Cava producers are aiming at a young wine, and people in Spain in general seem to prefer it "fresh". In my experience and in talking with various Cava producers I get the impression that Cava from Spain isn't supposed to be cellered for more than a few years, so finding an older one is a challenge. I was lucky enough over Christmas to be able to try a '76 Codorniu, and given my trepidations about such an "old" bottle, I was very impressed.

Reply by atonalprime, Jan 8, 2010.

Speaking of Cava, does a Reserva or Gran Reserva have more potential for aging, or doe sit just age differently? I was shocked recently to try the vintage 2005 Juve y Camps Resrva and Gran Reserva (respectively: and then

The Reserva was simply blown away by the Gran Reserva, as the flavor was a lot more complex and interesting. I felt like the Gran Reserva had a much finer finesse and the bubbles lived longer, but ultimately it was many layers on the palette and ability to pair with various foods that made me appreciate it more.

I'm also a lover of red wines like tempranillo that have been aged longer in oak, so perhaps this is just my preference?

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jan 8, 2010.

I age my NV Champagne for about 5 years on average. I think it really adds a lot to the wines, rounding out the texture and introducing layers of complexity that the current releases can only hint at.

As far as Cava goes, my experience has been that the wines are best near release. I can certainly see the Gran Reserva out-performing the Reservas from the same producer though.

Reply by zufrieden, Jan 8, 2010.

A wonderfully informative discussion. My complements. Given the already good synopsis of theChampagne and Cava stories, I don't feel any pressure to add any technical advice or background at all except that I agree with the general position of respondents that NV Champagne will age quite a long time under prudent cellaring conditions. Generally, however, I cannot resist dipping into the NV (and Vintage) before some optimal point in the aging process...

Reply by Piccolo161, Jan 9, 2010.

What a great discussion.
All the main points have already been covered very expertly and in detail so I don't want to go over too much of what has been said already

zufrieden has hit the nail on the head
"Champagne will age quite a long time under prudent cellaring conditions"

BUT I would say that 90% ( or so) of champagne drinkers DON'T have prudent cellaring conditions. They keep their bottles in the kitchen, the garage or under the stairs and that's a very good reason not to keep your champagne more than a few months at most.

Far better to drink it now and enjoy it than to hang on too long and be disappointed - and if the bottle has not been looked after, the day of disappointment will be sooner rather than later.

There's also the point that the greater complexity that bottle ageing can bring, is not to everyone's taste and this touches on the British palate / French palate debate

I'm not sure, given what I've mentioned just above, that those who recommend that you
' drink up now' are driven solely by cynical commercialism - but having said this, I have to declare a bias in that my champagne experience was gained in Champagne so I tend to go with the French argument

If you like the taste profile that longer ageing brings then isn't the best answer all round to buy 'recently disgorged ' champagne?

Although it was Bollinger who first used this tag they're not the only ones to market this style of champagne - as dmcker said, Salon do it and they are others too.

The longer ageing on the lees is going to bring out all the complexity sought after by those with a British palate, whilst retaining more of the freshness for those who like that style.

True, these late disgorged gems will cost you a dollar or two, but if you're looking for perfection without the risk of cellaring it yourself, then that would seem to be the answer

Finally, the rule of thumb that was always given to me is to keep a champage for as long as it's been kept in the cellar before dégorgement, i.e. 3 years max for nv and 5 - 7 years for vintage ( IF you have a good cellar)

Thanks again for a great discussion

Reply by WinePleasures, Jul 5, 2010.

Degrandcru has switched us in here on the topic of ageing Champagne and/or cava. Cava producers would shudder if they knew that consumers were purchasing their cavas to sit in a cellar (without the lees) for 5+ years. Indeed, if they had disgorged their bottles and were unable to sell them a year or so later  they would chuck them out rather than let the market consume them as cava is not meant to be aged

We have witnessed cava bottles (whole palets) being opened and poured into the ecosystem becasue they had been sitting in a cellar for 2 years waiting to be exported.

So people are ageing their cavas and champagnes - well if they like it like that then go ahead. We'll be publishing a few more wine maker views on when to drink cava soon on our original post but we can 99% be certain they will saying drink it when you buy it - keep it a long time and your losing out on the freshness, acidity, fruit and so on.


Reply by dmcker, Jul 5, 2010.

Winepleasures, you should stay off the subject of champagne in your discussions and stick to cava. I hear what you say in the other thread about cavas, and still have an open mind on the subject, thanks to your persevering on the subject. But if you insist on saying that champagne cannot be drunk aged, you lose all credibility. I know for a fact you are just plain wrong about champagne.

Was it Degrandcru who steered you to this thread, or rather me and GregDP?

Reply by GregT, Jul 5, 2010.

D - I'm with you except that Cava is exactly like Champagne in terms of it's potential.  There is cheap Cava meant for early consumption, and Cava for aging.  In the US, people have been conditioned to drink Cava early because most of it is produced by 2 companies and sells for under $10.  But there are producers who are making serious wine. 

Winepleasures doesn't have a lot of background with the wine, and that's OK - most people don't.  But good Cava is much like good Champagne.  And both are like other wines - most aren't meant for aging, but those that are, develop wonderfully.

Reply by Andrew46, Jul 6, 2010.

On the origianal topic of how long to age NV Sparkling wine, it depends on the wine.  This is a very big category.  I'd tend to suggest that those wines which have at least 3 years on the lees will often have the potential to improve some with time in the bottle.  However, it will depend on the individual wine.  How oxidized the cuvee was before going on the lees will be a key factor in how the wine ages, along with the pH.

Bottom line:  It depends.  Some NV should clearly be drunk within a 2-3 years of DG.  Others can clearly age, and will be best in the 5-10 year range.

Reply by WinePleasures, Jul 6, 2010.

@dmcker Well our article reported a visit to a cava producer who claims that Cava is best drunk soon after disgorge. We write about wine and travel.

@GregT Sorry you are wrong - no cava is not made for ageing  and declines over time. We live here and virtually know all of the some 300 cava makers in the region on a personal basis. Again this is from the wine makers mouth - you should come to Spain and verify this for yourself.

If people enjoy old sparkling wine then go ahead and drink it and enjoy. We don't have issues on this.As someone said in the thread - there are no straight answers when it comes to wine.

Reply by Andrew46, Jul 6, 2010.

"As someone said in the thread - there are no straight answers when it comes to wine." 

Sorry.  Not sure who said this.  It is not really true.  While much of our experience of a wine is subjective, the wine itself is objective.  What is in the bottle really is in the bottle.  There are lots of things about wine which can be verified as fact.  For example:  A wine seems to taste sweet.  Rather than saying, it "is sweet", I take it to the lab and test for RS.  Also for pH, acidity, alk etc.  Lots of straight answers are possible.  For example, which wine is sweeter or tarter?  Let't check in the lab.

The problem is that lots of people rely on the subjective nature of experience and think they can claim whatever they want with no facts to support the claims.

Reply by WinePleasures, Jul 6, 2010.

Nice point!

Reply by Stephen Harvey, Jul 6, 2010.

A very interesting debate.

We see virtually no Cava's in Australia, which probably gives some credence to the drink early proposition

However when it comes to Vintage Champagne it is made for laying down.

I had the privelege to do a VIP tour of Pernod Ricards two Champagne Houses - Mumm and Perrier Jouet and both Chefs du Cave expressed the view that Vintage Champagne is made so that it will change in a positive way when bottle aged.  Both Houses have extensive museum cellars with Champagnes going well back into the 1800's.  I understand that many of the very old bottles lose their fizz but the base wine is often quite an interesting drink.

I agree with the comment that all wine can be chemically analysed but the argument of aged v fresh is very much one for the subjective palate.

I think that if the Winemaker tells you he/she made it to drink young and fresh then drink it young and fresh, if they say it will age well then it is up to you to decide if it is worth the risk to age the wine.

I have had the privelege of recently trying:

90, 96 & 00 Dom Perignon

96 Dom Perignon Rose

96 Salon

95 & 96 Krug

98 & 99 Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque

96 & 98 Pol Roger Winston Churchill

They are all magnificent Champagnes [at "magnificent prices] and definitely show how well they age, albeit in some cases a few short years in the bottle.  They also appear to travel quite well given they have all made the trip from Champagne in France to Adelaide in South Australia.

PS  - I look forward to getting to Spain one day and try some nice fresh Cava's


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