“I am drinking the stars!” exclaimed Dom Perignon when he accidentally made the very first champagne in 1693. He was making wine, but couldn’t get ride of the bubbles. Now, champagne is a must-have at any respectable wedding, birthday celebration, or New Year’s Eve party. As a whole, consumers are drinking more champagne than ever before. There is a huge trend right now built entirely around pink champagne. It can be easy to down several bottles of bubbly in the shared company of your friends, but on those cozy solo nights, you may only be able to finish a partial bottle. In that case, how do you store that leftover champagne? Will it go bad? Maybe you have had a few bottles sitting around for a while and are wondering if they are still good. After all, you paid good money for that stuff! Remember, “Champagne” is only from the Champagne region of France. Everything else is just sparkling wine.
Vintage vs. Non-Vintage
When you are trying to tell whether or not your champagne is still good, you first need to know whether it is vintage or non-vintage. There is a major difference in the shelf life of these two varieties of champagne. Vintage champagne is expensive because it is made from the grapes of a single year’s harvest. The way to tell if the champagne in question is a vintage is to see if there is a year on the bottle. Non-vintage champagnes are less expensive and include grapes from multiple year’s harvests.
Vintages have a shelf-life double that of non-vintages, which can last about four years. However, any champagne, once opened, immediately starts to oxidize once the bottle is opened. Like soda, champagne will start to loose its bubbles and go flat in a day or two. Champagne won’t turn rancid, but it certainly won’t taste as bright once it has been opened for too long.
Signs of Expired Champagne
In order to tell if your champagne is past its prime, you have to open it. The two tell tales of bad champagne are a lack of bubbles. You can’t have champagne without the bubbles! The bottle won’t even pop. The flavor will also be off. Champagne should taste like citrus, not like yeast. While drinking expired champagne isn’t going to hurt you, it isn’t a very pleasant experience.
How to Store Champagne Properly
Your champagne will last much longer and retain its full flavor and bubble count when stored correctly. Champagne brands should always be stored sideways and away from bright light. If you store bottles upright for too long, the cork can dry out. Keeping the temperature in which your champagnes are stored consistent is very important.
Why Store Champagne Sideways?
Some experts will claim that both vintage and non-vintage champagnes can be stored upright. However, doing this can cause the cork to dry out, crumble, and fall apart into the champagne. A dry cork can also cause your champagne to age prematurely. For short-term storage, say, before a big party, it is fine to store your bottles upright for convenience sake.
Other Factors to Consider
Champagne stored in a warmer environment will mature faster, while champagne stored in a cooler environment will develop slowly, adding nuance and brightness to the flavor. An 80% humidity is key to properly storing your champagne. This is why it is not recommended to store your champagne in the fridge. The air in the fridge is very dry and can take vital moisture away from the cork, breaking the airtight seal and causing your champagne to oxidize. The fridge environment is very volatile for a delicate drink like champagne. Champagne is sensitive to light and vibrations that will occur every time you open and close the fridge. Light causes champagne to oxidize which is why many high-end champagnes are bottled in dark colored glass. It is also very important to note that champagne has a delicate flavor profile and can take on the flavor and smell of whatever it is next to. Don’t store champagne next to chemicals or strong foods.
Champagne Storage Methods
If you are faced with a bottle (or six) of half-opened champagne after the party is over, you don’t have to pour it down the drain just yet! There are a few ways you can preserve leftover champagne, as long as you use it within a day or two. If you want, you can buy some bubble stoppers. Bubble stoppers are hinged and help keep bubbles in, and air out, longer. Some people insert a metal spoon into the bottle to bring the cold of the fridge into the bottle. This option won’t stop your champagne from oxidizing or going flat.
The Dream Cellar
Not everyone can be Nick Parker, the dad and owner of a huge Napa vineyard from the Parent Trap. In a touching scene, he woos his ex-wife back into his life with their wedding anniversary wine from his personal cellar. Okay, that’s not exactly what happened, but you get the point. Cellars can be very expensive and space-consuming. Most of us are just looking for a way to mimic a cellar for a few bottles of champagne.
Let’s be perfectly clear on one thing- a basement is NOT a cellar. As they are, basements are meant for storing things and running away from storms. Basements are problematic for many reasons. The biggest issue is the temperature fluctuation. The freezing temperatures in the winter and heat of the summer is too unpredictable for champagne. Considering the type of things that are usually stored in basements, like gas, oil, paint, rat poison, and other harmful substances, the basement is really just unsafe to store anything that is for human consumption. As mentioned above, your champagne may take on the aroma and taste of these substances.
However, if you are ready to go all in with champagne as an investment or hobby, there are communal wine lockers that will store your champagne for you. This may be totally well worth it, considering some champagnes will sell for thousands of dollars a bottle if they have been properly cared for. Ensuring the integrity of the label is another reason not to store your champagne in the basement. The dampness of the air can cause labels to peel and grow moldy. This crushes the value of your champagne. No one wants to drink from an ugly bottle. That’s why so much time and money is invested into label design in the first place!
Wine Racks and Wine Fridges
If you have a good place in your home to store your champagne that meets the aforementioned criteria, you will want to get a wine rack to ensure the safety and proper sideways storage of your champagne. Horizontal wine racks are your best option. Look for a sturdy one made of wood or metal that holds enough bottles to store your collection. There are some really beautiful wine racks out there. Some of them can even be mounted on the wall to save space.
Wine fridges are made to store and properly age your bottled treasures. They are light-free, vibration-free, and best of all, they can be temperature controlled for what’s inside. Wine fridges are life-saving for champagne collectors because they don’t take up anywhere near as much space as a cellar. There is also no risk that your champagne will take on the smell and taste of whatever may be lurking in your fridge-yuck. Wine fridges are dedicated storage solutions for your collection that help your champagnes develop beautifully and fully. Another advantage of using a wine fridge is that your champagne will already be cool and ready to serve when unexpected guests come around. Many wine fridges can be built right into your kitchen space. Most of the time, they are built in under the counter like a dishwasher would be.
Whether you are a first time buyer of champagne trying to plan for the inevitable waste after the party or a seasoned expert on the finest champagnes, learning to properly store and care for opened and unopened bottles is essential in getting the most out of the money you spent on them. Champagne is truly an art form. It should be treated with utmost care and respect. Getting to know this bright beverage can give you great insight into the detailed world of gastronomy, culture and the champagne-making process.
Champagne is so amazing because it is super versatile. You can make mimosas with it on Sunday for brunch. It taste great with just about anything you can think of. Pasta, eggs, mushrooms, nuts, and even chips are all complimented well by this bubbly beverage. If you want to be known as the host with the best champagne, consider investing in a few bottles and properly storing them. It can be a very intimate learning process that will leave you prepared for any celebration to pop the bubbly. Properly storing your champagne will ensure that you get the right taste every time.