When the holiday season rolls around, everyone (at least everyone I like to associate with) starts to stock up on bottles of bubbly and flavorful wines. It’s the perfect time of the year, ripe with celebrations and other merry moments than can best be capped with a bottle of Moët or some Chandon.
So with some guests at the dinner table, you step down to the wine cellar to find your best champagne bottle and open it up and start pouring it around. Some champagne with the appetizers, maybe even moving up to something of a higher quality later on with the main course, and maybe even finish off with a vintage bottle from one of your favorite vineyards.
But as the guests start to depart, you’ll see that loads of the champagne you opened are still half full. Uh oh! So you place the bubbly in the fridge or another cool space to store the bottles of champagne and then come over here to the internet to investigate. What do we do? And will those bottles of champagne go bad? And what’s the shelf life of a bottle of champagne?
So follow along as we explain whether champagne can indeed go bad, whether it can expire, how does champagne keep, and a variety of other questions with their accompanying answers. And so without further adieu, please read on further as we address these many questions and considerations.
The shelf life of a champagne
Champagne is a light and crisp white wine that’s loaded with bubbles that rise to the surface upon opening. The official beverage would be one that comes from the region of Champagne in France, but we’re here to talk more about the process that the technicalities of the definition.
Essentially what makes this product so special is that the wine is fermented in vats and then fermented a second time, with the later version developing within the bottle. This allows carbon dioxide and bubbles to build up over time. However, the amount of time needed to develop varies on the quality of grapes used for that batch, as well as the consistency of the grapes from which harvest.
Normally, bottles of champagne can be aged for ten to fifteen years. That being said, magnums of champagne provide the best aging opportunity and will help the wine blossom into one with long-lasting bubbles. Within a magnum can, the flavor complexities of a champagne bottle can mature for two to three decades when well stored.
If you’re wondering what a magnum of champagne is, as opposed to a regular bottle, know that it’s twice the size. The bigger bottle holds about 1.5 liters, while a standard bottle of wine is 750 milliliters. Because more wine is stored in a magnum relative to the equal amounts of air that sits between the liquid and cork of a standard bottle, the maturing process is slower. This stronger ratio of sparkling wine within amongst the air encapsulated means that the aeration and maturation process is a more gradual development, potentially improving the taste as well. And while we’re back to a standard 750 ml bottle, there still sit two different types of champagne: vintage and non-vintage champagne.
What’s the difference between the two, and what makes vintage champagne unique?
Vintage champagne has grapes that have all been harvested from that specific year’s harvest, whereas non-vintage champagnes use grapes harvested from various years in a combination. Because all the grapes come from the same harvest, this means the vintage variety is of a higher quality and thus, a more expensive product. If your wine has a year printed on it, it’s a vintage bottle of wine. If there is no year printed on the champagne’s label, it is a standard bottle of champagne and comes with a shorter shelf life.
What’s the difference between champagne and regular sparkling wine?
The process and bottling production differences between the two styles give slightly different qualities. Of course, all champagne needs to come from the region of France, but that’s not the only difference. Before you open the top, sparkling wine usually has the same shelf life as a bottle of non-vintage champagne. But once you open it, the carbonation will go flat in about one or two days, which is also on par with a non-vintage bottle.
Does champagne go bad when it is unopened and refrigerated or cellared?
The short answer is yes, but it depends on the quality and years of your wines. It’s unfortunate that an unopened bottle could lose its fizz and flavor but it’s true. Even if it’s stored in a cool and dry place, safe from the standard hazards impacting a wine’s health, it can still be impacted.
That being said, it would be a number of years before you see this kind of result. For vintage champagnes, you’ll have around 5-10 years before it starts to lose its fizz. And that mark isn’t from the date on the bottle but when you bought it from the store. Normally vintage champagne lasts 4-5 years in the brewhouse improving and maturing its flavor before it’s even brought out to be sold. Non-vintage Champagnes will expire a bit more quickly than their older brothers in the market. Approximately the shelf like of champagne from this sector is about 3-4 from the date of purchase as they’re aged 2-3 years before being sold.
All this is more of a reason to encourage the consumption of our favorite wine and carbon dioxide lovechild. So don’t leave your unopened bottle of champagne to be consumed once your children have children, but feel free to pop it open on any warm occasion.
How long does champagne last once opened?
Once a bottle of champagne is opened, the oxidation will start to impact the flavor effectively immediately. Oxidation is the process of aeration as the previously untampered wine within the protected bottle starts to chemically react to the new space outside the confines of the glass.
Additionally, champagne loses its bubbles in a quick short-term drop. This happens with both regular and vintages bottles of bubbly, so don’t fret. You want to consume as quickly as possible, but there will still be another couple days when the bubbles will linger around before it turns completely plat. This isn’t to say that the maximize the quality of a champagne’s consumption, you need to chug it in a few minutes flat. We’re just saying it’s certainly best to be finished at the event where it’s been opened. However, there are some ways you can continue the shelf life a bit longer.
Once the bottle has been opened, you can try to prolong the life of the wine by using a champagne stopper or any other sort of sealant. A champagne stopper is essentially acting as a cork, protecting the wine on the inside of the bottle to the airflow and chemical oxidation process impacted by exposure to the outside air. By using a stopper you can hope to protect the champagne’s bubbles and flavor palate but it’s a bit of a limited effort. Any champagne sealer isn’t going to be of much use, unfortunately. I suppose you can extend the life by one day, maybe two, but the half-life of champagne glass is far small than wine or a standard glass of white.
There’s a maximum of three to five days when you can drink champagne after opening it while still enjoying the crisp flavors and fun bubbles. An unopened bottle of champagne is quickly impacted once the ceremonious pop, so be sure to have enough glasses available at your special occasion.
Does champagne get better as it ages?
If you’re hoping to hold out on your bottle of champagne until the perfect moment, well, go ahead. But we’re just saying, unlike red sines, Champagne doesn’t get better with age after you purchase it. Especially with non-vintage champagnes. Unlike a quality red wine, which you can look at like an investment that will improve in quality and flavor profile throughout its maturity, champagne is ready to drink upon arrival. It’s already been properly aged at the storehouse where it comes from, so it’s ready to drink once it’s being scanned through the checkout aisle. The appropriate number of years that it needs to mature has already passed, and it won’t rise much further. That’s the case for non-vintage wines, where the quality is lower and the amalgamation of various harvests has reduced the role of the flavor palate to one of a standard baseline.
That being said, some sommeliers would argue that vintage champagne does get better with age, as long as it is stored in a cool and dry place. Some magnum bottles can be aged for as long as 20 years developing their aroma and flavor complexities. However, this comes at the repercussion of the bubbles. If you wait that long to pop the bottle, the carton dioxide process will have been strangled for so long that the bubbles would be weaker and limper. So while we maybe wouldn’t recommend waiting that long, it can be done. But know that one of the main reasons people drink champagne is because of the fizzy bubbles and aromatic release of a bottle.
How to tell if champagne has gone bad
Unfortunately, there’s no direct way to tell without opening the bottle of champagne. And while it’s not that it goes bad, but a flat bottle of champagne kind of defeats the purpose of the item. This would be like if you played tennis without the net. There are two predominant factors you are looking for in a glass of champagne, and how to see if the bottle has gone bad: bubbles and flavor.
Champagne is designed to be a super bubbly beverage. When you open up the bottle, if there’s not that fantastic pop we’ve all learned to listen for, it’s probably too old to be enjoyed. Of course, you could continue to sip on the stuff without the fun fizzy movements within, but that’s not really what you buy a bottle of champagne for.
The flavor also will be impacted when a bottle of champagne goes bad. Normally champagne has a crisp, citrusy quality to it. This is what makes it such a fantastic partner to light hors d’oeuvres and salty appetizers. Over time that flavor will soften o a more mellow, yeasty tone. Some appreciate the richer qualities that can arrive, but they would certainly be in the minority.
What happens if you drink bad champagne?
While champagne never really goes bad, unless it was improperly stored, a stale bottle just won’t provide much enjoyment. So know that under normal circumstances it’s perfect to drink the bottle once the bubbles are gone and the flavor tones have shifted, but it’s not going to be such a fantastic experience. So don’t let the party end there, and pop open another one!
How to Store champagne
You may think that it’s best to store champagne in the refrigerator. After all, it’s consumed cold, so why not just leave it there the whole time? Wrong. Because the environment inside a fridge tends to be rather dry (that’s how it’s able to stay cool) it can negatively impact the cork of the bottle. The cork is the door between the bottle’s contents and the outside air, and just as you wouldn’t want to step out of your house for a vacation with your door ajar, you want to take the same precautions with your bottle of bubbly. Essentially, a dry area can cause the cork to dry out and shrink a bit, which would loosen the hold it has around the bottle’s lip. Once the bottle lip is a bit more moose, it, unfortunately, can accentuate the oxidation process in a bottle of champagne.
So for long-term storage, do yourself and store your sparkling wines and champagnes out of direct sunlight. Somewhere with a consistent temperature is ideal, but not too hot. Throw it in the fridge a day or two before to bring the temperature down a bit, but not much more than that. Of course, you can also go the opulent route with a bucket of ice if you really need to cool it in a hurry. Once you throw it in a fridge for the short-term, try to keep the bottles standing upright. This helps with the bubbles and fizzy consumption once you pop off the cork. But for long-term storage, especially vintage wines, it’s best to store them on their sides to prevent that cork from drying out, as we mentioned earlier.
Also, if you need to keep your champagne cool in a hurry, you can throw it in the freezer. Though only for about 15 minutes, because the added pressure and contrast between the inside and outside could lead to a messy situation. But if the bottle was stored somewhere room-temperature or a bit cooler, it should be okay in there for several minutes. That being said, it’s not such an effective form of cooling your bottle, so it would be better to use an ice bucket or something where it’s enclosed in cold water. This will bring down the temperature faster than being around cold air like inside a freezer shelf.
While a refrigerator is too cold to store long term, we did mention that it should be held in someplace cool. The best long-term storage temperature for your wines should be between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 7 to 10 degrees celsius. Also, you always want to keep champagne and really any bottle of wine away from sunlight and light in general. This causes the liquid to oxidize and can negatively impact the flavor. This is part of the reason that high-quality champagnes are bottled in dark green or black bottles.
Once you’ve popped the cork off the bottle top, that same piece previously used to protect the bottle won’t work well a second time. In fact, due to the oxidized pressure build-up, it may not even be able to be fastened back onto the bottle. SO to help keep your bubbly stay fizzy, consider investing in a bubble stopper. It’s a hinged tool that allows you to seal the bottle from the outside, so the bubbles stay in and the air stays out. Also once your bottle has been popped, do your best to keep the champagne cool, like back in the fridge.
Bonus tip: Learn more about the different varieties of champagne with this awesome video!