ithinkaboutwine

Do I need to keep my Champagne chilled?

In Champagne, French Wine, Sparkling wine on September 20, 2010 at 8:28 pm

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I get a lot of questions in general about the proper storage of wine, but one misconception keeps popping up…no pun intended. The question is about refrigerated champagne. We have a pretty substiantial selection of Champagnes and other sparkling wines in the shop, most of which are kept in the cooler. We have plenty of other whites and pinks, as well as beer and Sake in the same cooler, however Champagne is the only thing that folks seem to think can’t be allowed to come back to room temperature once it’s been chilled.

In terms of temperature, Champagne should be cared for in the same fashion as any other white wine. I don’t know quite why this myth about not being able to let Champagne warm up came from, but I have a few theories:

1) Temperature sensitivity.

Champagne shouldn’t be exposed to extremes in temperature, but neither should any other wine. The conventional wisdom is that ideal cellar temperature is around 55 degrees farenheit. For serving, most white and rosé wines, both still and sparkling should be chilled to somewhere between 40 and 50 degrees, depending on their quality. As a general rule, the higher the quality of a wine, the higher the ideal serving temperature. That is of course, to a point. Please don’t put your Grand Cru Chablis in the microwave, but some very high quality whites can best be served at cellar temperature. This is because your taste buds fuction best within a certain temperature range.

Now, this temperature rule may be of special significance in the case of Champagne because of what could potentially happen if it got too hot. Neither of the following scenarios are anywhere within the realm of probability, but I have to classify them as at least plausible, and thus a possible source of this myth. First, the carbonation in Champagne could be compounded by exposure to extreme heat, and lead to cork failure. I must stress that I’ve never heard of this happening, and I do not consider it even remotely likely, however if a wine were going to get hot enough to pop it’s cork, such a reaction would certainly be more dramatic with a bottle of Champagne than with a bottle of still wine.

2) Yeast.

Since Champagne, and other sparkling wines that are fermented using the Champagne method undergo the secondary fermentation that generates the carbonation in the same bottle that eventually ends up in your refrigerator, some of the yeast could be left behind, and re-start fermentation in the bottle, which could lead to an excess of carbonation, which could lead to popped corks. This is exceedingly unlikely, though it is technically possible.

Whatever the origin of this myth, the point I wish to convey is, don’t worry about it. At least not any more with Champagne than any other wine. It’s best to keep all your wines at least under 70 degrees at all times and, if possible, closer to the high-50’s or low 60’s. Every bottle of wine will have been subjected to some fluctuation in temperature by the time it reaches your table. From the winery to the shipyard, to the importer’s warehouse, probably onto one or more trucks, another warehouse or two, then into a retail shop and finally to your house. Now, most of the people in that supply chain are wine professionals, and do everything they can to maintain optimum storage and shipping condition for your wine, but it’s virtually impossible for it to stay at a steady temperature until it gets to you.

So the moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to let a bottle of Champagne, or any other sparkling wine, warm up a little bit after having been in the refrigerator, but use your common sense. Don’t leave any wine in your car on a hot day. If you store it in your kitchen or pantry make sure it’s someplace with a cool and consistent temperature. Avoid unnecessarily frequent fluctuations in temperature; frequent changes in temperature can be just as detrimental as storing in excessive heat or cold.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about Champagne has me craving Champagne.

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  1. but small changes in temperature can be bad right before you open the wine can’t they?

  2. Penny for your thoughts on a sealed, unopened, boxed bottle of Dom Perignon (1996; anticipated maturity is now-2020+) that has been stored in a closet on its side for the last 10 years in less than ideal temps (low to mid 70s). We were planning to open it for our 10th anniversary later this month, but gather due to our ignorance, the bottle could be in a bad way by now. What are the odds it could still be any good?

    • First the good news: odds that the wine is so far gone as to become dangerous to drink are basically zero, so go ahead and open one! As I mentioned, temperature fluctuation can be as damaging as high temps, so a consistent 70-degree storage is, while not ideal, still not an absolute nightmare. I would expect the wine to show relatively advanced oxidation for its age, so basically more nutty aromas and flavors, but depending on how you like your champagne, this may or may not bother you. My suggestion: give one of them a try. If you like it, drink it. If you don’t, and you have a wine professional you trust, cork the bottle back up and take it to them as soon as possible so they can give you their opinion of its condition.

  3. Thank you very much for giving me your opinion on this. You have given me hope (and courage!). We shall do as you suggest!

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