Can I cellar my champagne?
It’s a well understood phenomenon of consumer behaviour that the vast majority of wines purchased in Australia are consumed within 24 hours of it exiting the bottle shop, but for those who are prepared to be the exception to the rule, the rewards of patience can be considerable. These days, most winemakers craft their wares with consumption in mind in the short, if not immediate, term. Those wines that are more likely to be allowed a long-term rest in the bottle prior to consumption are the bigger reds such as shiraz or cabernet and in smaller quantities, acidic whites like Semillon and Riesling.
It may also be a simple case of economics, but it is statistically proven that wines at a higher price point are far more likely to be cellared then those at the lower end of the spectrum. So if this is normal consumer behaviour, why is it that relatively expensive champagnes are also typically consumed within 24 hours of acquisition?
Anyone who has sampled the sparkling whites of the vineyards surrounding Reims and Epernay in France will know just how good the product can be. It is typically chalky in nature, fresh, light and acidic and crisp on the finish. Typically, you’ll find characters of granny smith apples, citric edges and a yeasty dryness at the top of the palate. So what happens if we accidentally let one of these champagnes spend a decade or so laying on its side?
The aging of champagne is not common but just like other wines, the rewards can be tremendous. In time, champagnes which are made on the chardonnay grape will develop from having light delicate and creamy characters into delicious toast and biscuit richness. The colour changes quite significantly from light and lemonesque in the flute to a dark honeyed, if not caramelesque appearance.
It is certainly not easy to keep champagne in pristine condition as they can quickly go to vinegar if they are exposed to light, heat or temperature fluctuations, but if well stored, there is absolutely no reason why champagne can’t stand the test of time. A well known example of a champagne cellaring well is that of the Heidsieck champagne found in the hull of Swedish freighter Jönköping in the Gulf of Finland which was sunk in 1916 by a German U- boat. When it was discovered in 1997, it was found to contain a number of bottles of champagne still intact despite its underwater grave 60 metres below the surface of the ocean. The bottles were perfect and sold later at auction for over $300,000!
Jacquart Brut NV
Personally, I love a bit of bottle age on a champagne (I can’t say I’ve cellared too many sparkling whites) and if you have the patience to do so, a perfect wine to cellar is the Jacquart Brut NV. It’s a wine that is made predominately on the chardonnay grape which accounts for around 50% of its makeup. I find that champagnes made predominately on chardonnay (rather than pinot or Meunier) tend to do far better in the cellar. You’ll still find those hints of royal gala apple, lemon and dry toast but with time, a complexity develops which overlays layers of honey, Sao’s and arrowroot biscuit!
The Jacquart Champagne House is a grower-producer, meaning that unlike most of the big name Champagne labels, Champagne Jacquart doesn’t buy any fruit, they grow all of their own grapes. Founded by Chardonnay growers, Chardonnay still dominates every Jacquart Cuvee meaning that in their youth, there is an elegance and refinement but with time, those delicious honeyed characters will emerge.
At that $50 plus price point, there are a large number of ideal candidates for long-term cellaring but if value for money matters, it is hard to go past the Jacquart Brut NV.