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How long can you keep champagne for?

Growing up, there was a permanent feature of my parent’s living room – a Jeroboam of Mercier champagne.  It sat, ornament-like, at the side of a feature fireplace we never lit.  It had been a gift, and like many ‘special’ gifts, it had never been opened.  There had never been an occasion that seemed to warrant it.

I discovered later that they had decided to leave it behind when they moved house.  Perhaps correctly, my folks decided that it wouldn’t be in any fit state to drink after all those years, and it made a better ornament than it did a drink.

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The thing is, champagne can age.  In fact, Vintage champagne is often intended to.  They might lose a little fizz, but they gain in body, character and complex flavours.  Most champagnes though are Non-Vintage, which means they are a blend of several different years, and should be consumed within around 3-5 years of release.  There are – as with all things – exceptions to the rule: Krug Grand Cuvée is a multi-vintage wine that bucks the trend and develops over many years.

Read More: Why You Should Drink Vintage Champagne

A couple of weeks ago, while browsing through Twitter on an idle Saturday, I spotted a question.  A friend of mine had dug out a bottle of Bollinger he had held on to for many years.  Fifteen years, in fact.  He was asking if anyone knew if it would still be drinkable.

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I’m firmly of the opinion that Bollinger NV tastes better after a few years in the bottle.  There’s a saying in the wine trade that you should buy next year’s champagne the year before.  But fifteen? There are very few Vintage champagnes that could see this length of time and be better for it – Charles Heidsieck 1995 perhaps.  Vintages like 1996 certainly.  But a lowly Non-Vintage?

Curiosity got the better of me.  I had an idea of what to expect, so I made him a deal.  He would open it, taste it, and tell me how it went.  In return, I’d send him a fresh bottle for his troubles.

True to his word, I got an e-mail the next morning.  Here’s how it went:

“This evening we decided to open a bottle of Bollinger which must be about 18 years old or more. It was given to me in 2001 for my 21st Birthday and at that time I decided I wanted to keep it.

When I moved into my own house in 2005, the bottle came with me. I was going to open it to celebrate moving in, but for some reason I didn’t.  11 years later, I was having a Spring clean and came across the bottle in a cupboard alongside old tins of paint and tools.

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My other half wanted to throw it away, but I was intrigued by how it would be after all these years. I’d managed to resist drinking it for 15 years and thought it would be a shame to just throw it away without opening it.

I made him keep it as we cleared everything else out, and Googled: ‘How long can you keep champagne for?’

The general answers were that if it has been stored correctly, it would mature but should still be drinkable.

I took to Twitter and asked the same question. A few people responded saying that if it had been stood up all that time the cork would have dried out, or it would have gone bad.

Ruari responded to my tweet and advised that it would be very mature and have a ‘developed, oxidative’ style. When I told him it was a Bollinger he said it was potentially drinkable as Bollinger tends to age well. “Expect really nutty, toasty flavours,” he said.

At the end of the day, I thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ So I put it in the fridge to chill.

After dinner this evening we decided we would crack it open. I nervously unwrapped the foil and we had to prise the metal cap off of the cork. The usual ‘POP!’ didn’t happen as it had obviously lost some of its fizz over the years.

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Once the cork was out I sniffed the bottle. It smelt like champagne, but very concentrated. It almost smelled like Tequila, a honey-esque aroma. I was intrigued to taste it.

We poured two glasses, and as it filled the glass it was a very intense colour, much darker than a usual champagne. It was almost like pouring honey. We both took a sip and at first were unsure on the taste, was it good or not?

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A second sip, and it tasted familiar like champagne but it was so concentrated, not really something you could sit and drink on a saturday night. We felt that you could probably make it easier by adding Chambord to make a nice Kir Royale, but we didn’t have any. We switched to drinking a nice crisp chilled Chardonnay and begrudgingly poured the rest of the Bollinger down the sink.

It almost seemed a waste but I am so glad i managed to taste the bottle I had held onto for so long It was given to me for such a special occasion and deserved to be tasted after all this time.

I’m probably never going to taste an 18-year-old Bollinger again, and for that reason I feel privileged to have done so.”

There is a little part of me that remains slightly jealous.  Perhaps masochistically, I’d love to know what it tasted like.  Not to know if it’s any good, but just to understand on a winey-intellectal level what happens to really old Non-Vintage fizz.

The moral of the story is simple – if someone gives you a bottle of champagne as a gift, drink it with them there and then.  The perfect moment, the perfect occasion, is now.

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A big thanks to Paul for gamely taking part in satisfying my curiosity.  If anyone else has tried something similar, I’d love to hear about it!

In the meantime, if you fancy a bottle of something a little fresher, check out our fantastic range of Vintage and Non-Vintage champagnes here.

  • Andrew Moore

    I got a bottle of nv Veuve as a reward when I was working at the accountants E&Y in 1995, I held onto it for longer than I intended and through various house moves, until finally we opened it one rainy Saturday afternoon in 2001 in Germany with very low expectations… I’m delighted to say that it was delicious – a little less sparkly for sure but concentrated and with very nice layers of complexity, a real pleasure and a nice surprise !

    • http://blog.majestic.co.uk/ Ruari Cathmoir

      That’s awesome Andrew! A nice surprise – I’ll take that as a sign that 6 year-old Veuve NV is good drinking. 🙂

  • Moneymaverick

    I know this is an old article but hopefully someone will benefit from my experience. Before becoming a dad, in the period 1999 to 2008, i start building a large collection of vintage wines and champagne, mostly Italian and French wines and the both Vintage and Premium vintage champagnes. My partner is a non drinker so I would only open a bottle when I had guests for some special occasions. After moving house, and the first few years of storage in a proper cool cellar, i had to locate my collection in the only place I found that was away from heaters, and that was in the cupboard under the staircase. After my son was born, and more after two more children came along, toys and other stuff start blocking my access to the wine racks and therefore never touched them again. A couple of months ago, I won a bottle of Dom Perignon 2008 at work and decided to put it down in storage and take some old bottle to open up. I found several 1996 champagne, including 4 Moet, 2 Veuve, a Cristal, and a Dom Perignon as well as a Krug NV. So I took two of the Moet 1996 and put them in the fridge ( as well as 2 bottle of White wines from 1998 and 2001 as well as a bottle of Red 2003-nouveau – more later),
    The first bottle of Moet 1996 was open that week end. The sparkling was there but not as prominent as newer champagne, the color was very dark amber, almost honey like. However the taste was disappointing: almost bitter, burnt at first. I ended up cooking a risotto with it which was ok. For NYE just gone, I was invited to a party and I brought over the other Moet 1996 that was in my fridge as well the other wines mentioned above. Unfortunately, it was a very similar experience, definitely past it’s best. Surprisingly, the other wines were still very drinkable. The Red 2003 Gragnano ( a slightly sparkling red wine, meant to be a nouveau, and the two whites (Falerno del Massico Bianco 1998 and Ravello Bianco 2001) were still very drinkable, having lost most of the fruitiness but acquired very complex flavors (sherry like for the whites). So my conclusion is that Champagne Vintage is definitely more susceptible to storage temperature then other type of wines, and will crack open the rest of my collection over the coming months. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/655d00eaaa9e3c77dd24ad632c7e5cd27096c5b768f0be05483fc3e09a5dda9c.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/89fa206aa96fb25ff8eed4b67b327bb091e107c580886d6d2d1206052d67d47d.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0fa3c03d0bb2a9646ec3d0df0ce683763bd8064217b89a7ec4a7b55e2bb02971.jpg

  • Zia Wiltshire

    Hi, I had to join in on this group chat, as I am about to turn 38 this Saturday the 7th July and I have two bottles of champagne from my 18th birthday (20 years ago!!!) that we have held onto awaiting for a big occasion to celebrate and open them but I felt it has never arrived, so we are going to open both bottles this Friday night in canary wharf with lots of family and friends.. I can’t wait to try them as I am so intrigued to what they are going to taste like.. I really hope they are ok and no-one is ill from them. I’ll keep you updated.
    Thanks
    Zia, pictures will be on instagram: ziawiltshire

  • Stephanie Hickman

    I have a bottle of Bollinger I got 11 years ago for my 21st. Funnily enough we were talking about opening it this weekend to celebrate getting and moving into our new family home. I’ll keep you posted on the taste. Fingers crossed 😊