How and Why does Champagne go Bad?

25th November 2020

Is my Champagne corked

When it comes to Champagne we usually have high expectations and rightly so as, in most cases per bottle, it costs the most against any other sparkling wine. Unless you are on a Champagne diet, we are likely to choose this world famous sparkling wine for special occasions such as celebrations and fine dining with famous brand names such as Dom Pérignon, Moët & Chandon and Cristal gracing the bottles.

There are rare situations though that we may question a bottle or glass of Champagne with terms such as ‘is the Champagne corked‘, ‘this Champagne tastes flat‘ or ‘has this Champagne gone bad/off?‘.

What does it mean for a wine to be corked?

Many wines will be bottled via a system using a cork that secures the liquid inside. There are now increasingly popular alternatives such as the screw cap along with the likes of crown caps for less pressure style wines.

Corked wine is a phrase that many in the wine industry will use for when a wine has become contaminated due to a reaction with the cork (cork taint to be precise 2,4,6 – Trichloroanisole). It does not directly mean that the cork is old and has probably departed tiny articles within the wine, a corked wine will simply mean the wine has had a reaction with the cork compound which has changed the quality of the wine and thus delivers a noticeable character in both aromas and taste.

It is not easy to sometimes tell if a wine has suffered by a reaction with the cork. There can be varied levels of reaction causing the wine to deliver a typical character of underperformance with the likes of dampness, boiled cabbage, damp cardboard and more.

What is flat Champagne?

Most times, corked or not, when you open a bottle of Champagne it will be fizzy. It is usually only after opening the bottle that you will start to see it lose its carbonation just as you would if you opened a can of Coke or Lemonade and returned to it a few days later. Depending on how you store the wine after opening, how long you left it open without a stopper and how many servings you made thus opening and closing the bottle will determine who long it will keep its bubbles for.

Some bars / restaurants will serve Champagne by the glass and at times guests can experience Champagne not at it’s best fizz wise which usually means it is one of the last glasses poured from that bottle which has probably been in the fridge for a few days – You would have the right at this point to ask for a fresh glass / bottle.

Is corked wine / Champagne bad for you?

It is not poisonous or unhealthy many will ask. You should know that the wine and the cork are not poisonous so the only effect you will get from a corked wine will be a lesser quality in aromas and taste, sometimes this is just a tiny difference and other times the wine is too displeasing to enjoy altogether.

Corks are not poisonous themselves though if you tried to eat one the taste experience would not be pleasurable. The corkage element, ie 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, is not bad for you either – ‘While aromatically potent, its concentrations in wine are tiny, often discernible at less than 10 parts per trillion.

The only unhealthy part is the volume you drink thus most wines will have guidelines on daily consumptions. I do not believe there is a guideline on how many corks you should eat daily…

Christopher Walkey

Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.