Champagne Frequently Asked Questions

How long does Champagne keep?

In ideal cellar conditions (around 50F), some fine Champagnes will keep for twenty or thirty years or more. However, it is not as long lived as Burgundy or Bordeaux.

If you do not have the luxury of a cellar, however, the best place to store it is somewhere in the dark that has a constant temperature, as cool as possible. Then your timescale for keeping is very limited. The Champenois say that you should not keep Champagne for longer that it was cellared originally, so that means from two years for a non-vintage, and from three years for a vintage. You may be lucky and not suffer from deterioration if you keep your Champagne outside a cellar for longer periods, but frankly, the better houses’ Champagnes are well aged when you buy them, so why not drink up straight away?

How much is my Champagne worth?

There is not such a great market in the re-sale of Champagne as there is with quality Bordeaux or Burgundy wines, although certain wines such as Dom Perignon and Cristal from top vintages attract the attention of collectors all over the world. A collector would be very keen to know the provenance of a wine, i.e. where it has been stored since it left the cellars in Champagne. If it has been on your mantelpiece for the last few years, forget trying to sell it!

A friend has a birthday/anniversary and we would like to get him a special Champagne from the year of his birth as a special gift. Where can we find one?

Claude Taittinger (of that ilk) told me this story a couple of years ago:

An old dear, a matriarch of the Taittinger family, was celebrating her 80th birthday. A party had been arranged at the Taittinger chateau in Reims. It was thought a good idea to toast her health with a magnum bottle of 80 year old Taittinger, “fresh” from their cellars.

The guests went silent as Claude, head of the household, reverentially opened this esteemed bottle. All eyes were on him as he eased out the cork and poured the first glass. He eyed it up, sniffed it, took a tiny sip…………..and quickly proclaimed: “I am pleased that Madame has aged far better than our Champagne!”

Apparently it was rubbish. And this from a bottle that had been in ideal conditions for 80 years. So if your friend is over 40, buy them something else! Consider an old Burgundy or Bordeaux which are somewhat longer lived than Champagnes. Older Champagnes can be bought at auctioneers such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s and at old-school wine merchants like Berry Bros. & Rudd.

How can I find out about a particular Champagne brand?

Most of the bigger houses now have their own websites. There are around 12,000 Champagne brands, yet we have only 300 or so websites listed. Who are the rest?

They can be brands belonging to small houses who make wine from grapes from their own small vineyards.

They can be brands belonging to individual members of a co-operative: All the farmers in the co-operative take their grapes to a central pressing unit and cellar, where a Chef du Cave creates the wine. The co-op then sells the wine under its own brand(s) and the members all receive their share of the proceeds. But the members can also call off quantities of those same Champagnes to be labelled with their own brand, and then sold as their “own” wine. Some co-ops have 5000 members.

They can be Marque Acheteur (buyer’s own) brands: The buyer of a supermarket like Safeway or Wal-Mart visits Champagne and orders thousands of cases from a Champagne house. It’s the same blend as the Grande Marque Champagne, and will sit next to its clone on the supermarket shelf, but at a fraction of the Grande Marque price. So they give it a different label with a different brand name.

Many houses also have an “under brand”. When a house has used the best wines for its top Cuvées, there is inevitably some left over after blending. This can be taille (third pressing), or just wine that didn’t work out so well. Or maybe the house just wants to release some Champagne quickly to improve cash flow. They would not want to prejudice their established customers by selling under their recognised brand name, so they use a diiferent label. Often these wines are sold as “Comte de ….., Duc de ….., Marquis de ……” to give the customer the impression that a French Lord in his Chateau is disposing of some of his private cellar!

Which is the best Champagne?

The one that you enjoy the most. I would not presume to tell you which Champagnes you should enjoy, although I taste hundreds every year, but I can tell you which ones suit my palate and which I feel are good value.

In the case of super-prestige and super-priced Champagnes like Louis Roederer Cristal, I believe many people are buying a dream as much as a drink, and their purchase of such wines is as much a fashion statement of conspicuous consumption as of a desire for fine Champagne.