Does Champagne go off?
13th September 2022
A question that will depend on how it is being asked in order to get the answer we are looking for. Let me explain: Do you mean that you have a bottle stored away somewhere and you do not see a best before date on so wondering if Champagne goes off or maybe you have a bottle opened in the fridge and are curious to how long you have to drink it before the quality declines?
Champagne comes in varying styles so depending on which you have can affect, for bottles not yet opened, the performance over time. Non Vintage (NV) and Vintage (a year stated) will be the two main types you are likely to categorise in and this information will be printed on the label. Most Champagne is NV and is produced in order to be consumed sooner rather than later, three to four years being the recommended length of time to enjoy before quality is likely to decline. Vintage Champagne can be stored away for a longer period with 20 years and more being the frequent timescale quoted.
“Drink non vintage Champagne sooner rather than later whereas vintages can be stored away for longer“.
Most Champagne will have its peak performance level, ie the best time to enjoy in order to experience the finest aromas and flavours – With vintages it pays to research the winery such as their website which sometimes states the winemakers recommended time for opening. Remember also that nearly all Champagne houses will be on a social media channel or two and are always welcoming of questions from the public.
What affects the performance of Champagne? It is all about storage. Incorrect storage can shorter the period of time a Champagne can be stored before performance declines. Champagne should be stored away from any light, at a cool (touch damp too if possible) and constant temperature and ideally laid on its side with as minimal disturbance as possible.
What does bad / gone off Champagne taste like? Once a Champagne has gone past its peak performance level you are likely to see a reduction in bubbles, freshness and even a decolourisation. Flavours to look out for include wet cardboard and damp mushroom.
Can Champagne be corked? Firstly, let us discuss what does ‘corked’ mean? Quite a rare occurrence will be the case of the Champagne in the bottle reacting with the cork. Champagne will be contained within the bottle via a cork, usually made of wood (mostly Portuguese). The taint effect is via trichloroanisole which can leave a bad smell that with time can transfer to the wine, usually caused by the likes of pesticides/wood preservatives having been in contact with the wood previously.
Here we will experience the ‘wet paper’ and ‘wet cardboard’ fault that the wine will express. Sometimes this is very subtle and not easy to spot. The expression may extend into mushroom characters (though not to be confused with aged/older vintage Champagne that may express mushroom).
“Note: Vintage Champagne does not mean ‘old’ Champagne, instead it means that all the grapes used to make it were harvested of a single year (this will be the year stated on the bottle).“
How long can I store an opened bottle of Champagne? Once you have opened your bottle of Champagne it is recommended that you finish it as soon as possible so as to enjoy it whilst performing at its best. It should be stored in a fridge and ideally with a decent bottle cap to keep the bubbles safe / stop the process of depressurization! You have around 3 to 5 day shelf life once a bottle has been opened.
Does a spoon in a bottle of Champagne work to save the bubbles? This is a popular topic and one which is yet to be fully agreed on either way by wine professionals – Personally, I have found that using a (tea) spoon (ideally a silver one) place in the neck of the bottle (handle first) does help to save the bubbles!
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.