Champagne is the most mercurial of French wines…but Does Champagne age?
A fallacy out there that implies that’s in the minds of some wine consumers is that Champagne doesn’t age.
The legend says that it does… As far as the best cuvées are concerned.
For example; just like in other northern marginal climates of classic vineyards like Chablis and Germany’s Mosel or Rhineland, Champagne has the possibility to be complex and long-lived especially when the weather is variable and diurnal.
The importance of acidity in harmony with the minerality of great terroirs, plus extended lees ageing which is important because it acts as a protective storage, can often result in vintages that can live for 10, 15 or 20 years – and for even half a century in outstanding years.
The general feeling is that most fine Champagnes in the three main categories – prestige, vintage and non-vintage – benefit from additional ageing in consumer’s homes which reveal more intense flavors.
So. the feeling is that Champagne really is suitable for laying down to varying degrees.
Normally, the focus on flavors in Champagne’s ageing cycle is made professionally at two key stages:
First stage, before disgorgement, when the wine stays fresh and tight, gradually enhanced by its contact with fine lees, which add complexity to the youthful flavors and gives a protective freshness to the wine. Champagne ages differently from still wines. Its’ ageing in contact with the lees is in an atmosphere saturated in CO2. Champagne evolves more slowly than still wines
After three to four years on lees for Non Vintage, five to eight years for vintage and more for prestige, it’s time for the second stage… disgorgement of the sediment.
Disgorgement of the sediment ensures ideal maturation through further bottle age as well as the development of more intense wine flavors such as dried apricot, sour dough bread, toast and spices like cumin in aged Chardonnay; leather, liquorice and that delicious whiff you get in the the coffee shops.
…In mature Pinot Noir you get notes of kirsch and fermented cherries especially in good Champagne rosés.
The question also comes up whether blanc de blancs have the capacity to age longer than blanc de noirs, or is it a case of considering wines individually?
The answer is in the soil; the terroir. Chardonnays on slopey shallow soils over chalk sub-soils like those of the Côte des Blancs where many popular Champagne houses are from give wines a capacity for long ageing. Also, the use of (malolactic fermentation or none) supports the capacity for wine evolve slowly.
Great Champagne is the most mercurial of French wines, its character changing very unpredictably when least expected. It’s part of the danger and excitement. In steering its journey to beautiful maturity, you may think the wine is going to turn right, but quite often it actually turns left. I guess that is just part of the enduring fascination of ageing Champagne.