Storing and maturing Champagne
When it comes to celebrating life's special moments, few wines rival the elegance and effervescence of Champagne. But within the world of Champagne, there are several distinct categories that aficionados often encounter: non-vintage (NV) and vintage champagne and Grand Marque and Growers Champagne. Should these wine types be served or stored differently? No, all can be stored in a Champagne fridge. However, some are meant to be drunk younger or more mature than others.
Understanding the Champagne Maturation Process
Before diving into storage techniques, it's crucial to understand why and how Champagne matures. Unlike some still wines, most vintage Champagne is bottled with the intention of long-term aging. During maturation, several transformations take place that enhance its flavours, aromas, and overall complexity:
Autolysis: Yeast cells left behind during the secondary fermentation (in-bottle) break down and release compounds that contribute to a creamy texture and bready notes.
Integration: The various components of Champagne (acids, sugars, tannins) harmonise, resulting in a more balanced and nuanced flavor profile.
Developed Aromatics: Champagne develops tertiary aromas, including nutty, honeyed, and toasty notes, adding depth to the bouquet.
Effervescence: Over time, the bubbles become finer and more refined, creating a smoother mouthfeel.
Selecting the Right Champagne for Maturation
Not all Champagnes are suited for extended aging. Before embarking on a maturation journey, consider these factors when selecting your bottles:
Vintage Champagne: Vintage Champagnes are the ideal candidates for maturation. They are typically produced in exceptional years and have the potential to evolve beautifully over time.
High-quality Non-Vintage: Some well-crafted non-vintage Champagnes from reputable producers can also age gracefully, but they should have the structure and acidity necessary for long-term aging.
Store-Bought vs. Pre-Aged: Some Champagne houses release aged or "late-disgorged" versions of their cuvées, which have already undergone significant aging. These can be great choices for those seeking immediate enjoyment without waiting.
Creating the Ideal Storage Environment
Proper storage conditions play a pivotal role in Champagne maturation. Here's what you need to know:
Temperature: Champagne should be stored at a consistent temperature of around 12°C. Fluctuations in temperature can cause the cork to expand and contract, leading to oxidation and potential spoilage.
Humidity: Maintaining humidity levels between 50% and 80% helps prevent the cork from drying out and protects the wine from oxidation.
Light: Champagne is sensitive to light, so it's essential to keep your bottles in a dark place, away from direct sunlight and fluorescent lighting.
Vibration: Champagne should be kept in a stable environment free from vibrations, as they can disrupt the aging process.
Position: Store Champagne bottles horizontally to keep the cork moist and ensure a proper seal.
Choosing the Right Storage Equipment
Investing in the right storage equipment can make a significant difference in your Champagne's maturation process:
Wine Cooler or Wine Cellar: If you have a substantial collection of Champagne, consider a wine cooler or cellar to maintain the ideal temperature and humidity levels. See our Champagne Fridges here.
Wine Racks: Wooden or metal wine racks are perfect for smaller collections. Ensure they are placed in a cool, dark area of your home.
Champagne Riddling Racks: These specialised racks help with the traditional method of bottle aging. While not necessary for all Champagne, they can be a valuable addition if you plan to age large quantities.
Patience and Tracking Progress
Once you've established the right storage conditions, the final step is patience. Champagne maturation can take years or even decades, depending on the style and vintage. To track your progress and decide when to pop the cork, consider these tips:
Record-keeping: Maintain a detailed log of your Champagne collection, including purchase dates, vintages, and storage conditions.
Tasting Notes: Periodically sample a bottle to assess its development and evolution. Make detailed tasting notes to track changes.
External Advice: Seek guidance from wine professionals or experienced collectors to help determine the optimal time to enjoy your matured Champagne.
Which is the best Champagne fridge?
The best Champagne fridge in production is undoubtedly the EuroCave Champagne cabinet. Launched in 2022, this beautiful fridge is excellent for Champagne service with a revolving bucket storage area for open Champagne service and specialist Champagne shelves for storing both single and magnum Champagne bottles.
Which Champagne to store?
Non-vintage champagne, often abbreviated as NV, is the most common type of champagne produced. It is characterised by its consistent flavour profile and accessibility. NV Champagne is a blend of wines from multiple vintages, which means it's a carefully crafted cuvée (blend) that maintains a consistent taste from year to year. This consistency makes NV champagne the flagship product of most champagne houses.
The production of NV champagne begins with the harvest of grapes from various vineyards and vintages. After fermentation and initial aging in tanks, the winemaker assembles a blend of still wines to create the desired flavor profile. This blend undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, known as the traditional method. It is during this second fermentation that the bubbles are created through carbonation. After aging on the lees (spent yeast cells) for a minimum of 15 months, NV champagne is disgorged, corked, and ready for sale.
NV champagne is known for its fresh and vibrant character. It typically offers notes of green apple, citrus, and floral undertones. The palate is crisp, with a well-balanced acidity, making it an excellent choice for a wide range of occasions and pairings. Whether you're sipping it as an aperitif or pairing it with seafood or light dishes, NV champagne's versatility shines.
Vintage champagne is the product of a single exceptional year. Unlike NV champagne, which aims for consistency, vintage champagne seeks to capture the unique characteristics of a specific vintage. As such, it is only produced in outstanding years when the grapes reach the pinnacle of quality.
The production of vintage champagne is similar to that of NV champagne but with a crucial difference: only grapes from the designated vintage year are used. This stringent requirement means that vintage champagne production is infrequent and often results in limited quantities. The aging period for vintage champagne is also longer, typically ranging from 3 to 10 years or more.
Vintage champagne showcases the essence of a particular year's climate and terroir. It often possesses more complexity, depth, and aging potential than NV champagne. Expect a richer and fuller flavour profile, with notes of ripe fruits, honey, toasted nuts, and brioche. The acidity is still well-balanced, but the overall experience is more nuanced and layered.
Choosing Between Non-Vintage and Vintage Champagne
The choice between non-vintage and vintage champagne ultimately depends on the occasion, personal preferences, and budget. Non-vintage champagne offers a reliable and accessible option for everyday celebrations and impromptu toasts. On the other hand, vintage champagne represents an investment in time and terroir, making it a cherished choice for significant life milestones and moments of reflection.
Grand Marque Champagne
Grand Marque Champagne, often referred to as "Big Brand" or "House Champagne," is produced by established and renowned champagne houses with centuries-old legacies. These houses have the resources, expertise, and access to vineyards throughout the Champagne region, allowing them to create consistent and prestigious cuvées.
The production of Grand Marque Champagne involves meticulous blending of grapes from various vineyards and vintages to achieve a consistent house style. These houses often own extensive vineyard holdings, enabling them to select grapes from diverse terroirs. The grapes are harvested, fermented, and aged using the traditional method, with an emphasis on precision and craftsmanship. The resulting champagne is a blend of different crus (vineyard sites) that exemplify the house's signature taste.
Grand Marque Champagne is celebrated for its finesse, elegance, and complexity. It typically offers a well-balanced combination of fruitiness, minerality, and toasty notes. Expect a refined and persistent effervescence, with a palate that evolves from crisp acidity to a long, harmonious finish. These champagnes often develop more pronounced flavours with aging.
Grand Marque Champagne is the choice for grand celebrations and formal events. Its reputation and consistency make it a symbol of luxury and excellence. Whether you're toasting to a wedding, engagement, or a corporate achievement, a bottle of Grand Marque Champagne adds a touch of glamour and sophistication to any occasion.
Grower Champagne, also known as "Farmer Fizz" or "Artisanal Champagne," is crafted by independent grape growers who cultivate their own vineyards and produce their own champagne. Unlike the grand champagne houses, these growers are deeply connected to the land, focusing on small-scale, terroir-driven production.
Grower Champagne production is a reflection of the specific vineyards and vintages the grower owns. These producers have an intimate understanding of their terroir and strive to express it in each bottle. They handle every aspect of the winemaking process, from vineyard management to bottling, ensuring a hands-on and personalised approach.
Grower Champagne offers a more diverse and distinctive flavour profile. Each bottle reflects the unique characteristics of the grower's vineyard and the specific vintage. You can expect a broader range of flavours, from bright and zesty citrus notes to earthy and mineral undertones. The effervescence is often lively and playful, with a focus on purity and expression.
Grower Champagne is perfect for intimate gatherings, wine tastings, and moments where authenticity and individuality shine. It's an excellent choice for those seeking a more personal and artisanal touch to their champagne experience. Whether you're sharing it with friends over a picnic or exploring the nuances of terroir, Grower Champagne offers a unique journey into the world of sparkling wine.
The choice between Grand Marque Champagne and Grower Champagne depends on your taste preferences, the occasion, and the experience you seek. Grand Marque Champagne represents tradition, consistency, and prestige, making it ideal for formal events and grand celebrations. Grower Champagne, on the other hand, embodies the spirit of terroir and craftsmanship, appealing to those who appreciate diversity and individuality in their bubbly.