A total guide to Champagne aging & short-term storage
Understanding the basics of long-term champagne storage will not only prepare you to properly care for your bubbly bottles, but also fine wine of any style. And you don’t have to be a serious collector to get the jist of these pointers, or have a fancy cellar to enact them. Even the smallest, most modest spaces can accommodate the storage requirements for your collection — be it one bottle or many — and ensure that you, at least, have done all you can to preserve the quality of your champagne.
How to Properly Store Champagne for Long-Term Aging
Once you’ve determined where to house your champagne it’s important to try to keep a consistent environment according to the following principles.
- Maintain a cool temperature, ideally 50-55℉: If your place of storage is on an upper floor, or if you have particularly tall shelving, remember that heat rises. Keep tabs on temperature swings during cold seasons when the heat may be on, or warm seasons when the ambient temperature is high. In the case of high shelving, rotate bottles every now to different levels.
- Keep out of light: Wine exposed to direct — natural or artificial — light runs the risk of lightstrike (in French “goût de lumière”) which can severely damage it.
- Aim for some humidity exposure: Grapes grow in humid earth and their wines are raised in humid cellars; even in bottle a wine still does well when the conditions in which it is made are replicated. Up to 70% is tolerable, but best aim for a bit lower so mold growth isn’t tempted.
- Position properly: Okay, this is a subject of some debate. There are producers and champagne-o-files who argue that the pressure contained within the bottle will keep the cork moist, but we’re still going to err on the side of recommending storing champagne at an horizontal, or at a slight downward angle. The objective of this position is to keep the cork moist with the wine so that it doesn’t degrade or completely dry out – especially important for a vintage bottle. For shorter term aging of unopened champagne this is not vital, but if you’re planning on holding anything for five or more years, definitely adhere to the forward angle advice.
Where to Store Champagne Bottles
If you’re blessed with a wine cellar, good on you! Your storage space is already defined. For those of us not, the options are not limited. A cool, dark location may be offered in a basement or garage (ensuring they are free from mold or microbial issues), a pantry, cabinet, or closet, a root cellar if y’all gardeners have got one, or even a cardboard wine box with separators (though, in this case, make sure the humidity is not too high). The place options are vast, and as long as you mind the following guidelines, your wine will be stored in the best possible conditions.
In terms of vertical storage, there’s a world of wine shelving and cabinet solutions to select from. In the long run it’s a good idea to invest in a wine rack, or configure something that will allow your bottles to rest at an angle, the wine keeping the cork moist. Some say it’s not necessary for champagne to be stored this way, but that’s a relatively new promotion. And if you’re thinking about building a collection that includes wine styles other than sparkling, having angled storage will be important.
To Drink or Not to Drink
There is a commonly held thought that champagne producers release their wines when they’re ready for drinking. This claim can be true or untrue depending on how “ready” is interpreted. Yes, the cellar masters know precisely what they’re doing, and therefore when to release, but being ready for drinking and prime for drinking are two different things. A champagne may be delicious and delightful the year it makes its way on to retailer shelves, but with the right care and knowledge, that same bottle might be out of this world impressive with just a few more years under its belt.
With that said, the question of how long to keep champagne in an unopened bottle is more subjective than we sometimes want it to be. General estimates are 3-4 years for non-vintage, 5-10 for vintage champagne; truthfully many cuvée can exceed these time frames without fading but there are many factors involved.
Legwork in the research department is always beneficial in order to make the most informed storage decisions: aim to understand house style, vintage specifics (if it’s a non-vintage, knowing the base wine year[s] is still helpful) and tech sheets of cellar specifications. And even if nerding out on this stuff comes second nature, the value in developing a strong retailer relationship cannot be understated — even if not to delegate purchasing but to have another mind weigh in on the best practices to cellar champagne.
How to Store Champagne Short-Term
Storing champagne for the short term should still take the long term storage factors into consideration. For sure avoid direct light and don’t let the wine reach high temperatures, but humidity and position are lesser concerns. The biggest mistake in short term wine storage is keeping it in the fridge. Champagne should only be chilled a day or two ahead of drinking. Any longer and the cork could become compromised or the wine could take on off flavors from the refrigerator. Another thing to note with short-term storage is to allow the champagne to rest if it has recently been imported or shipped a long distance. This kind of disturbance can render any wine a bit out of its element and it should be given a month minimum to rest from the travel.
How to Store Open Champagne
Honestly, if it’s open, we’re hoping you finish it while it’s still fresh! But sometimes this just isn’t possible and the best thing you can do to preserve champagne’s flavor and sparkle is keep it chilled and sealed with the right kind of enclosure. You’ll want to seek out a wine stopper specifically designed for champagne and sparkling wines – one that forms a hermetic seal. Once opened, a champagne bottle really should be finished the following day, but potentially can last two to three more if very well-enclosed.