Should you Age Champagne?

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To cellar, or to drink, a question many of us ask when purchasing a beautiful bottle of wine. Champagne is unique in that it’s aged to perfection in the caves of producers in France before release. Champagne benefits from long amounts of time on the lees (the dead yeast cells) leftover from secondary fermentation. When Champagne is aging in the caves, the lees have not yet been removed, so the Champagne is becoming more complex as it ages. Before corking, the lees are removed from bottles through a process called disgorgement. And, once the cork is in place, the Champagne is gradually exposed to a small amount of oxygen, let in by the porous surface of the cork over time.

Below: Champagne aging on the lees. 

Should you Age Champagne?

Producers taste their Champagnes at all stages of development, and will only disgorge and cork them when they’ve reached their prime. Therefore, in most cases, the Champagne will taste its best, as the producer intended it to taste, 6 months to about 3 years after corking.

However, many people enjoy the flavors of a cork aged Champagne. The oxygen will open up flavors, often expanding the range of flavors present. But if you’re not starting with perfect, high-quality Champagne, aging it too long can make the Champagne taste funky. Below is our general guide for aging your Champagne, based on type.

Should you Age Champagne?

ROSÉ – Drink within 1 year after purchasing

Delicate and fruit-forward, most rosés are best enjoyed soon after they have been corked. The exceptions are vintage specific rosé Champagnes and rosé Champagnes made with the pinot noir grape. Both have the structure to generally age for 3-5 years under cork.

NON VINTAGE BLANCS – Drink within 3-5 years after purchasing

Non-vintage Champagnes are blended wines, made from a mix of recently harvested wine, and reserve wine. Most producers craft a non-vintage Champagne as their house style and most are aged to perfection in the cellars of their producer and don’t need to be kept under a cork for too long. The oxidation can eventually overwhelm the beautiful fruit flavors resulting in a mature effect.

VINTAGES – Drink within 10-15 years after purchasing

Vintage Champagne is always aged by the producer for a minimum of three years and often much longer. Vintages are only bottled in extraordinary years, when the grapes are perfect and weather conditions are ideal. Therefore, when buying a vintage Champagne, you can assume it’s high-quality, and age-worthy. Though still unpredictable, aging a vintage Champagne under cork will often open up the flavors and expand the range. Like wine, Champagne vintages are distinct and will taste different as they age. 1996, 2002, 2004 and 2008 are some of our favorite, most age-worthy Champagne vintages.

Should you Age Champagne?

CELEBRATE EVERYDAY!

Our philosophy is to pop open Champagne as often as you can, to make any occasion special! Instead of keeping your “best bottles”, waiting for the perfect moment to pop the cork, open the bottle to celebrate any day! Toast to a home-cooked meal, your spouse, a bad day, a promotion, or anything. Opening that special bottle will create lasting memories and smiles for all.

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How Champagne is Made

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Producing Champagne is a fascinating art, passed down from many generations. From vineyard to table, the process takes years! Learn the laborious and extraordinary steps of making Champagne below.


CHAMPAGNE VINEYARDS

All Champagne begins as grapes growing in vineyards located in the Champagne region of France. There are three main grapes permitted in Champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. The cool climate and soil content (regions with limestone, marl, and chalk) in Champagne creates grapes that are deliciously tart, and high in acid. Once the grapes have reached their peak ripeness, growers harvest by hand-picking every grape and transporting them back to the presses. Although the process is extremely laborious, hand-picking ensures that only the highest quality grapes go into each pressing.

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


THE PRESS & PRIMARY FERMENTATION

Immediately after harvest, grapes are de-stemmed and delivered to cuveries for pressing. Many small growers still use traditional wooden presses (pictured below), that gently press grapes into juice that is channeled to tanks underneath. Between each pressing, the grapes are mixed with pitch forks to ensure maximum juice extraction.

After pressing, the grape juice is stored in barrels, concrete tanks, or stainless steel vats for primary fermentation. The juice is tasted at various stages of fermentation to determine future blends and vintages.

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


SECONDARY FERMENTATION

After lots of tasting and blending, the recently fermented wine is often combined with older reserve wine to make a cuvée. Or in exceptional years, the wine will be bottled on its own as a vintage. Once the blend is determined, the wines are bottled with yeast and sugar to start secondary fermenation. The bottles are stopped under a temporary bottle cap that keeps the bubbles inside each bottle. The reaction of the yeast and sugar inside the bottle creates the Champagne bubbles!
How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


AGING

The Champagne ages in the bottle under a temporary bottle cap for a minimum of 15 months to be called Champagne, and a minimum of 3 years to be Fat Cork Champagne. Many producers age their cuvées for several years, and some even decades to produce complex and unique wines. The process of aging Champagne on the lees (dead yeast cells) creates more complexity and depth.

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


DISGORGEMENT

After aging is complete, and the bottles are ready to enjoy, the process of riddling begins. Bottles are slowly turned onto their necks so that the lees from the bottom of each bottle settle into the neck. Once stable, the bottles are disgorged, meaning that the lees are removed; the necks of bottles are flash-frozen so that when the bottle cap is removed, only the frozen wine (that contains the lees) is lost. Once the lees have been removed, a small dose of still wine and sugar (the dosage) is added to balance the levels of high acidity. Or, in the case of Brut Nature Champagne, the dosage will be skipped, creating a dry and acidic wine.

How Champagne is Made

 


CORKS & LABELING

Once the Champagne is complete, corks are inserted into the bottles then covered with wire cages and foil. Finally, the front labels and the Fat Cork back labels are applied by hand.

How Champagne is Made How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

How Champagne is Made

 


VOILÁ! 

The process of making Champagne is complete! Fat Cork Champagne is then loaded into cases and shipped to the United States in temperature controlled containers. Once the cases reach our Seattle warehouse, they are unloaded by hand, and stored in our cool, underground Champagne cave. There the bottles await to be sent to celebrations across the U.S.!

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Freshly Disgorged: Vintage Champagnes, Fresh Corks

 

Dis·gorge /disˈgôrj/

1) To remove the sediment from (a sparkling wine) after fermentation. “The Champagne is aged in the bottle before it is disgorged.” Late 15th century, from old French

Disgorgement – the Grand Finale! 
After base wines have been created, they are blended, bottled, and fermented again inside the bottle. Then comes the magic; the wine ages for years on its lees (dead yeast cells) and develops extraordinary flavors.

Disgorgement is the process of removing the lees from the bottle, leaving clear, beautiful Champagne behind.  After disgorgement, a small amount of still wine and sugar (dosage) may be added, and the cork is put in place.

Freshly Disgorged: Vintage Champagnes, Fresh Corks

Champagne Redon corking their bottles after disgorgement.

Disgorgement Methods
Traditionally, bottles were disgorged via a method called “A la Voile” (see Bryan’s photo above) where the vigneron would quickly remove the temporary bottle cap and place a thumb over the opening before losing too much Champagne. Now bottles are typically frozen at the necks and the lees are removed in a frozen plug.

Fresh from the Cave 
Fat Cork producers only disgorge their Champagne when it’s ready. Years of aging on the lees creates layers of complexity and beautiful aromas. Because all of that aging is done in cool caves and in bottles that are sealed by bottle cap, there is limited exposure of the wine to oxygen. And that makes freshly disgorged bottles both aged and fresh at the same time. The combination of these two characteristics (age and freshness) is the pinnacle of great Champagne.

At Fat Cork, we always display the disgorgement date (the day the bottle was corked) so you know exactly how long the cuvée aged on its lees and under cork.

 

Vintage Champagnes, Freshly Disgorged

Freshly Disgorged: Vintage Champagnes, Fresh CorksGimonnet-Oger Blanc de Blancs Millésime 1996 Premier Cru ($159) After aging peacefully in Jean-Luc Gimonnet’s cellar for almost 20 years, this Champagne has incredible complexity and character, but is still fresh! 1996 is an exceptional and rare vintage, especially with a recent disgorgement date. It’s magnificent to enjoy right now, but will also age under cork for another decade.

Freshly Disgorged: Vintage Champagnes, Fresh CorksPerrot-Batteux et Filles Cuvée Helixe Millésime 2009 Blanc de Blancs ($67) Perrot-Batteux is known for producing elegant Chardonnay from her ideal location in the south of Champagne. This particular cuvée is from 2009, which provides a wonderful maturity. Containing only Chardonnay and being recently disgorged provides a light and lively taste, with a pleasant acidity.