This is a good time to chat about how to store champagne because if you were lucky you got a tonne of champagne as Christmas presents just last month!
When I was asked this by a friend last week, I was really surprised because she enjoys champs and wine and I assumed she knew how to store it. She told me I should write a blog post about it because ‘no-one wants to ask in the wine shops because we don’t want to look silly’.
I think we’d all look a lot sillier spending up on a lovely bottle of wine only to destroy it by storing it on top of the kitchen cupboard!
Like another friend whose husband gave her a bottle of Bollinger R.D. last Christmas and she asked me how she should store it… in September. After she’d left it on top of the kitchen cupboards… for nine long months.
So I realised I had to immediately set about writing this post to help save bottles of champagne everywhere!
While I find this topic really interesting, if you don’t care WHY but just want to know WHAT to do, scroll to the end of the post to see how I sum it up 🙂
Or do you like to watch? I have a video over on my YouTube channel you can watch instead!
Know your enemies!
So there are really only two things to remember for storing champagne…. champagne’s biggest enemies are light (UV and flouro more than anything!) and temperature (or more specifically, changes in temperature).
Which means you should store champagne so it’s protected from light and kept at a consistent temperature.
Which clearly means definitely DON’T store it on top of the cupboard. Or leave it on the kitchen bench (with ovens and stoves nearby). And don’t put it on one of those half-assed wine racks that sit in the kitchen because the champs will feel the hot, cold, humidity, wet, and dry with indoor temps all over the place throughout the year (especially in any Queensland house!) and it will slowly (or quickly!) kill the champagne.
Simply, the best ways to store champagne are…
1 – A wine cellar (yeah, I know, I don’t have one either but it is the best way so I had to put it out there but I have alternatives!)
2 – A wine fridge/cabinet (Is a GREAT option for storing good wine and champagne… I have one of my own and use ‘space’ in another three owned by trusted family and friends. I could tell you where they are but then I would have to kill you.)
3 – The spare fridge (I say the spare fridge because a lot of us have a spare fridge/drinks fridge and it is usually opened less frequently than the everyday fridge …. opening the door exposes champs to light and subtle temperature disruptions and vibrations that can cause damage over time)
4 – The fridge fridge (Well – we all have one and it will provide a mostly consistent temperature making it a better option than the bench!)
5 – Honestly, if you have a really fancy bottle (expensive) AND you don’t have access to a wine cabinet, don’t try to store – just drink it … NOW!
Champagne and light
Like I said, light and temperature (or more specifically, changes in temperature) are champagne’s greatest enemies.
While all wines are sensitive to light and temperature, champagne’s a bit of a princess, and it is extra, extra sensitive. Particularly to light.
You’ve probably noticed that most champagne bottles (and most wine bottles for that matter) are green. That’s because the green bottles protect against about 92% of UV light.
If you’re a champagne fan, you will have come across champagnes that come in a clear bottle. Most notable is the Cristal champagne, the Cuvee de Prestige from Louis Roederer, but I can think of a few others as well.
Roederer can get away with it because of the history behind the Cristal. They initially made the Cuvee de Prestige for the Russians who demanded it be made in real crystal bottles (and could afford the pay the premium)..
While Cristal bottles are now just made from glass they’ve kept the clear glass paying homage to that history. Most importantly, Roederer wrap the Cristal in gold foil and sell it in a box.
So if you are buying a champagne that comes in a clear bottle, it must be in its box. If you are in restaurant or bar, I would want to see the champs presented in its box to know that the champagne is not going to be light-struck and dead.
The risk with light struck champagne, which is champagne which has been affected by light, according to Tyson Stelzer is it gets an oniony, rubbery, or bacon-like odour about it. Mmmmm, sounds like you should be able to pick it pretty easily.
Champagne and temperature
The ideal temperature to store champagne is between 7 and 10 degrees but the most important thing is that it’s kept at a consistent temperature. According to British champagne writer Tom Stevenson, if you store champagne at a fairly consistent temp between 12 and 18 degrees for as much as a year or two, you will probably be just fine.
The problem in Australia (particular in Qld where I live) is that room temperature in summer is much warmer than 18 degrees and will fluctuate a lot over a year (even indoors it can be as much as 30 degrees in summer, without the air con on 24/7). And most people keep wine in the kitchen… somewhere near the oven which heats it up even more. And if you have your champs on the top of the cupboard – and remember hot air rises – it is even hotter than bench height. Under these conditions for a few weeks your champs will soldier on, but for months or years of this kind of abuse…. there is little hope of life left when you finally pop it.
I think we’ve covered the effect of temperature on champs if you leave it out on the bench
If you put it in the cellar or in your wine fridge, the way to manage temperature consistency is to leave it there until you’re ready to drink it. Basic.
If you buy a bottle of champagne and you put it in the everyday or the spare fridge (the temp in there is around 1.6 – 3 degrees), again keep it in the fridge until you drink it.
(HOT TIP and off topic but if you do store it in the fridge, you actually want it to warm up a bit before you drink it! Ideal serving temp is 8-10 degrees for NV and 10-12 for vintages, even a little warmer for really complex champs. If you serve and drink it straight from the fridge you won’t be able to taste or smell a thing. To use a pretty crass but funny and appropriate analogy… think about what men say happens to their anatomy in the cold… not much is on show! In the same way, champagne retreats and retracts in the cold and is much more open and expressive when it’s at a comfortable temp!)
Where was I…???? Champs in the fridge! Plenty of experts actually say you shouldn’t store champagne in the fridge for longer than three to four days because they can start to detect oxidization after just a few days.
Now, I think the average champagne drinker doesn’t need to take things that far… I’ve kept bottles of champagne in the fridge for six months, even a year and don’t notice a difference. (In fact, I actually keep all my NV champs in the spare fridge, reserving space in wine cabinets for the vintages and prestige cuvees.)
The thing about storing champagne in the normal fridge versus a wine fridge is the lack of humidity. In the lack of humidity, the cork dries out. And when the cork dries out, it doesn’t seal the bottle properly. And that’s when you get the champagne being exposed to oxygen which causes oxidization, which can mean the death of all wines including champagne.
Speaking of oxidization
Oxidization is the most common of three main ways champagne is damaged (the other ways are being light-struck – see above – and cork taint – coming up below).
You can recognise oxidization of wine when the wine starts to go a bit brown. With champagne, I find oxidization shows as being a darker yellow (more so than a brown), flat or very little in the way of bubbles, or in its earlier stages just a bit lacklustre and not giving off any fruit or floral smells before it starts to taste vinegary or bitter.
I think Tyson Stelzer said he was detecting oxidization in about 3% of the champagnes he tried for his last guide but for the 2017-2018 edition of the guide he said it was 1%… the lowest ever. The problem is oxidization can actually happen at any stage and may not be something you can control. It can happen in the cellars even before disgorgement. It can happen during shipping. It can happen at the retailer. Or it can happen once you get your hot little hands on it and stuff the storage up.
Exactly what oxidized champagne looks like
In this video I show an an example of an Oxidized champagne . You can see the lively bubbles in the champagne in the glass in the foreground compared to the flat, dark yellow coloured wine in the glass behind it. To be fair, this was a 1999 Vintage champagne so it was more mature and would have been darker in colour regardless and older wines are at higher risk of being oxidised. I had only just purchased this champs from Dan Murphy’s when I opened it so I had no idea of its storage history. I took the bottle back and got another bottle…. and saw exactly the same result from the second bottle (and then I gave up).
In another recent example of damaged wine, this one differed between two bottles bought at the same time. My friend who asked me about storing champs bought two bottles of 2000 Charles Heidsieck – one for her and one for me. She bought them on Hamilton Island and it wasn’t long after a massive and devastating cyclone so I was skeptical at the time but decided it was worth the risk. Their bottle – which we opened just a few weeks later – was damaged and undrinkable but mine – which I put in my wine cabinet for 12 months – was perfect (and divine!). This example involved another older vintage so more time had passed for the damage to be done but you should always feel comfortable taking the bottle back to the retailer!
These were both examples where the damage was obvious… often the damage can be more subtle and most wine drinkers won’t pick it up. When Tyson Stelzer says he was finding about one in every 30 bottles he tasted is oxidized, it is worth remembering he has a very refined palate! I wouldn’t expect the average champs fan to pick anywhere near that… I know I certainly don’t!
Another way champagne can be damaged is by cork taint. When you get a corked champagne, you will smell wet cardboard or wet dog or a musty room that needs a good airing. More subtly, it can just be a bit dull on bouquet and flavour. The best description I’ve heard of cork taint is that it’s like “topping off your soufflé with a mouldy sock”.
In effect what’s happened with cork taint is that the cork has been polluted with the TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) molecule. TCA or cork taint actually isn’t a smell, rather the TCA masks the wine’s aroma and it distorts our perceptions of aroma.
But there is hope for us all yet! A lot more champagnes, 9according to Tyson Stelzer about one in six bottles of champagne), are now sealed using DIAM, which is a closure specifically designed to extract the cork taint and other molecules from the champagne that can alter the smells. He says he has not once seen cork taint in a champagne sealed under DIAM. While it’s becoming more common, it’s not compulsory yet and there is a lot of debate about the virtues of DIAM so I don’t expect it will be required for a long time yet.
How checking the label can help you reduce your risk of damaged champs…..
Generally the newer the champagne is, the fresher it tastes and the less time has passed for something to have gone wrong.
More and more growers and houses are helping us know how fresh the champagne is by printing the disgorgement date on the label.
By putting the disgorgement date on the label (see below for examples of what to look for) it tells you the date that the champagne was disgorged, or when it was taken from the cellars, the lees removed and dosage added and corked for final distribution to you.
This gives you an idea when you buy it or when you come across it in the restaurant or you pick it out of somebody’s cellar, of how fresh the champagne is. You can sometimes find the stock of non-vintage champagnes in a big retailer will have two or more different disgorgement dates. If the dates were printed on the label, you could choose the the fresher one (that’s what I would do anyway.)
Particularly with non-vintage champagnes, experts suggest you don’t hold onto them any longer than three years. Non-vintage champagnes are meant to be bought and drunk… they’re not meant to be cellared and stored because they’re really not going to mature or change any. A label that had the disgorgement dates printed on it, will let you know if the NV is approaching or past the three year mark. If I saw a date on a bottle of NV champagne that was much greater than three years, I wouldn’t buy it (or pour it for friends or at a tasting).
So to sum up…
I did get carried away and go on a bit BUT…
My tips for how to know you’re buying champagne that is least likely to be damaged before you get it are:
- Look how and where it has been stored in the retailer. If it’s near a big window, I’d worry about the consistency of temp and the risk of being light-struck.
- Never buy wine in a clear bottle unless it has been in a box.
- Check the label for the disgorgement date and if it’s an NV and getting past it’s prime (3 years) leave it behind!
- If you are spending a fair bit of money on the champagne, find out if it’s sealed under DIAM, and then you’re protecting yourself as much as you can against cork taint.
And once you get the champs into your hot little hands, particularly here in Australia…
- Store champagne away from light and store at a consistent temperature. Do not leave it on top of the cupboard. Do not leave it on the bench. Do not put it in the pantry. Don’t put it on one of those half-assed wine racks that sits in the kitchen because the temps will vary – hot, cold, humid, wet, dry – and it will kill the champagne.
- I honestly think you can get away with storing champagne in the kitchen fridge much longer than wine gurus will recommend… up to a year or two. (But if you have champs in your fridge for that long and you resist opening it, you have more self control than me. Seriously, you should just bloody drink it!)
- And if you do keep it in the fridge, lie it on the side as the cork’s less likely to dry out.
- Champagne needs to be kept at a consistent temperature so don’t take it from the kitchen fridge to an ice bucket and then put it back in a wine fridge (but again why you would ever have left over champagne I don’t know!) Once it hits the fridge, keep it there. And once it hits the ice bucket – just bloody drink it!
- If you are a bit of a wine or champagne fan and regularly spend more than $50 on a bottle… invest in a wine cabinet! Because when you’re spending hundreds of dollars on a bottle of champagne you do not want to open it to find out it’s dead!