Is My 1990 Cristal Too Old?

Question from Victor: Today I was going to open my 1990 Cristal Champagne and noticed it was really cloudy. Has it gone bad? Its over 20 years aged.

Reply: Hello, Victor. Thank you for writing! Cloudiness isn’t a good sign but, if it’s been stored properly your Cristal is, theoretically, near the end of its viability but not necessarily beyond. 

These prestige Champagnes are delicious upon release but can also age for a surprisingly long time. There are those who think they don’t really come into their own until ten years from the vintage. Total aging time? Up to fifteen or twenty years from the vintage. Some would say even longer, depending upon the producer and the vintage. 

Of course, deliciousness is subjective and personal. Young Champagne is lively and vibrant with peaches and apples, the citrusy tartness rounded by toasty, brioche-like richness. With time those characteristics gradually morph into increased toastiness, dried fruit, nutty character, mineral character often ramps up as may earthy truffle character, and the acidity seems to have softened. It all depends upon the wine. The thing to know about Cristal is that it usually spends five to six years aging on the yeast and is then given additional bottle time before release. The youngest Cristal now available is the 2004. The yeast contact actually helps keep the wine fresh.  

I did a quick search for tasting notes and found these comments on the 1990 Cristal from a 2010 tasting from erobertparker.com :  “The 1990 Cristal is a dramatic, sweeping wine endowed with masses of apricots, peaches, flowers and minerals. A large-scaled Cristal, the 1990 combines size with clarity and focus in a remarkably complete style that recalls the 1982. The wine remains generous on the palate, with stunning length and a finish that lasts forever.” 

And these on a magnum tasted in 2008: “From magnum, the Louis Roederer 1990 Cristal is still a youngster. Gorgeous brioche, orange rind, and citrus notes are offered in a full-bodied, unbelievably pure style that could have been 5-6 years old rather than 18. It is always remarkable how well great Champagne can age.”

The cloudiness is a worry. Have you stored it in a cool, dark place on its side all these years? And at a fairly constant temperature? The hardest thing for wine to tolerate over the years is wide temperature swings. It expands and contracts over and over, which can be damaging. 

The color is another good clue. Is it very deep gold or brown? Those are the signs of a tired wine. 

I’m afraid the only way to find out how it is, is to open it. If it’s past its prime it won’t hurt you, so go ahead and taste it. If you like it, then down the hatch! 

My favorite way to deal with iffy wine is to invite wine-loving friends over. Even if it’s shot, they’ll be honored that you chose to share this special wine with them. Just make sure you have a back-up bottle 😉

I think it’s time for me to do a post on the difference between sparkling wine and still wine. 

I hope that helps. I’d love to hear back from you after you’ve tasted it. Cheers! 

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