Champagne cellar

To Cellar or Not To Cellar?

What is the true ageing potential of Champagne? This endlessly fascinating question is one that has long kept the Chelsea Vintners team occupied. As a team we are split, with some of us preferring the bright, fruit-forward freshness that young Champagne is best known for, and others seduced by the more complex, intense flavours that come with long-term cellaring.

Cellaring champagne is nothing new. Winston Churchill famously aged his collection of 1911 Champagnes, and the iconic caves below the streets of Reims are home to an incredible archive of Champagne of all ages. However, Champagne’s true ageing potential remains hotly debated amongst drinkers and professionals alike.

A Memorable Tasting

The question arose once more when Chelsea Vintners’ Jon Higgs and Chris Wood attended a particularly memorable Champagne tasting. On offer were some incredibly rare vintages ranging from Dom Pérignon 1959 to Krug 1990 (a famously good year for many French wines) and a Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2002. Chris and most of the other lucky attendees felt that the 1959 and 1990 were still amazing, with sumptuous depth and complexity but also an extraordinary amount of life still in them. However, Jon was a little harder to convince, describing one or two as “lacklustre, and a little flat”. An excellent example of how different our individual interpretations of wine can be!

Attitudes also vary amongst the producers of Champagne themselves. Many leading houses release their Champagnes to market as soon as they believe they’re ready to drink, whilst others craft their wines specifically with long-term ageing in mind. Champagne designed to age will spend several years on the lees before it is disgorged and corked, and many more continuing to mature in the bottle. There is even a style of Champagne known as ‘late release’ which spends an extended time ageing on lees and is disgorged just before release. These wines age rapidly and are designed to be at their best on release with no need for further ageing (sounds good to us!). Some fabulous example of late release Champagnes include Bollinger R.D. and Dom Pérignon’s P2.

Is Older Really Better?

The reality is, like any other wine, the enjoyment of aged Champagne is simply a matter of taste and circumstance. It all comes down to the palate of the drinker and whether the occasion itself calls for cork-popping freshness or something broodier and more mature. However, there’s no doubt that aged Champagne is one of the most sought-after fine wines in the world today and a truly spectacular way to celebrate a special occasion. We can’t think of a more special birthday experiences than enjoying a bottle of Champagne from your birth year!

Whether you prefer an unctuous, aromatic 1959 Dom Perignon or a bright, bubbly Cristal 2002, one thing is for sure …. there is no right or wrong way to enjoy Champagne! We think that the immortal and much-quoted words of Champagne legend Mme Lily Bollinger sum things up perfectly “I drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it — unless I’m thirsty.”

The debate around our favourite Champagne continues in the Chelsea Vintners office … what better reason to carry on with our tastings?

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