Question from Jessica: I got a really nice bottle of Champagne from a friend. Do I need to age it?Reply: What a lovely dilemma you have! The producers will always tell you to drink it right away because it encourages sales. And, that’s fair enough because sparklers are very reliably enjoyable on release. But – if you have a really nice bottle, aging can add to the wine’s complexity. Here’s how to sort it out: The least expensive Champagnes don’t have a vintage date. But that doesn’t mean it’s not any good. These wines bring several vintages together to give the producer a consistent house style. The great thing about non-vintage Champagne is that the blend includes some older wine, which certainly adds to complexity. These wines have to be bottle aged a minimum of eighteen months at the winery and it’s fine to keep them for up to five years. The wine might not be quite as fizzy down the road, but the compensation is added complexity. Vintage Champagne is only from the best vintages and has to be bottle aged at least three years at the winery and can continue to improve in the bottle for up to as much as 20 years, especially if it’s a Blanc de Blancs. The same thing applies to what are called Prestige Cuvées – wines with special names like Dom Perignon or La Grande Dame. Some sommeliers feel that these wines don’t even come into their own for about 10 years. The flavors deepen with age but, as I said, the effervescence will become more subtle. I remember talking with Hugh Davies, the owner of Schramsberg here in the Napa Valley. He recalled that his mom liked to drink 20 and 30 year old Shramsberg just for the flavors and in that case she drank it out of a wine glass rather than a Champagne flute to get the best of the flavors. So, as with so many other things in wine, the decision on when to drink it depends upon your personal taste. But – when in doubt, down the hatch! Cheers!
Photo: Eric Magnuson on Flickr CC