How To Choose Champagne - Part 3

Bottles ageing with light reflecting at De Sousa Before a bottle of champagne can be sold by the producer it is aged in the cellars for a period which, by law, must not be less than 15 months. Any less than this and the champagne would probably be sharp and acidic (what’s often called ‘Green’), and too much of that sort of poor quality champagne on the market would give champagne in general a bad reputation, hence the regulation about the minimum ageing period.

During the ageing time the yeast sediment (this is what you often hear called the lees) inside the bottle releases natural enzymes and proteins which react with the wine causing it to develop the complex mix of aromas and flavours which contribute to a great champagne.

In general, the longer the period of ageing, the better the champagne. As we have just seen, 15 months is the legal minimum, but very little champagne is sold as young as this. Any champagne maker with the ambition to produce a good wine will leave the wine ageing for at least two years and preferably more

But why is ageing champagne so important?

Well, as champagne ages the aromas and flavours evolve and develop. After 3 or 4 years the fresh fruity and floral aromas that you find in younger champagnes give way to that lovely biscuity smell that so many people love about champagne; you also get touches of dried fruits, of cinnamon and other spices. After 6 years or more the champagne takes on even more intense flavours and aromas: coffee, toast, truffles and honey to name just a few.

So you can understand that according to what you’re looking for – fresh, fruity and easy to drink at any time, or richer, more complex and worthy of more attention to really appreciate it - you’re going to need to find a champagne that has aged the corresponding amount of time.

The question is however,

How do you know how long the champagne has been aged ?

Unless the champagne is a vintage champagne ( in which case the date of the harvest is on the label) you rarely, if ever, get any clues about the age from just looking at the label. Besides, by far the majority of champagne sold is non-vintage – a blend of wines from several harvests, so that’s another reason there’s no date on the bottle.

However things are changing slowly and that’s especially true amongst the smaller producers who don’t have a well-known brand name and need to make a greater effort to give you more information about the wine itself.

What you can find from time to time on the back label are a couple of lines that will tell you (for example) that the champagne is made mainly from the harvest in year 20XX with a smaller amount of wine from years 20YY and 20ZZ

When you come across a champagne maker who has had the good sense to put this sort of information on the back label you can tell that he or she is someone who is thinking about the customer so it’s a good sign and a recommendation in itself.

Nevertheless that’s not common and in most cases you’ll have to ask the retailer.

If you buy your champagne from a supermarket the staff are unlikely to have been trained about this stuff - let’s face it, you don’t go to a supermarket for expert advice, you go there for cheap prices and a wide selection of goods.

If you want to get some advice you need to go to a specialist wine store and they should be able to tell you about the ageing. If they do then stick with them – they know their stuff. If they don't, keep looking for another store.

I hope that this brief introduction into the subject of ageing champagne has been useful. If you have any comments or want to know more then just e-me at
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Hope to hear from you soon.

Meanwhile, look out for the fourth and final part of this short series all about how to choose champagne; coming soon and Stay Bubbly