Aging champagnes/ buying drinking aged champagnes- help please

Since I became impassioned with champagne about 20 years ago, most of my exposure was for newly released bottles that challenged the question as to how long should they be stored and when should they be opened.

In the 3 wine groups I have been associated with for over 25 years and in a few other instances, I’d be occasionally exposed to a champagne that was 30+ years old and it seemed to me that they were not nearly as enjoyable, refreshing and vibrant and very similar to all other “older” wines that had been effected by the aging process that I explained as being oxidized leading to more Sherry like, nutty, caramel, butterscotch and sweet stone fruit notes with an emphasis on sweetness in many cases.

There are some on this board who have raved about champagnes as old as 100 years and I’ve wondered whether I would have experienced those wines as they did and given them such glowing reviews. The oldest I remember having is a 53 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne and it was undrinkable. I've had a few Dom Perignon from the 70s that were 20 + years old and they were very good {the 76 was fantastic}, but none recently so I do not know how they have aged, but am skeptical. That skepticism was bolstered by recent disappointments with an 85 Cristal Rose and 86 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rose as posted in a current separate thread.

The best bottle I’ve had was an 82 Cristal 2 years ago and it was spectacular. That's it. A couple of bottles out of over 100. Not good odds. And believe me, I have tried and tried to gain the love, but seem to be relegated to drinking champagnes younger= currently those from about 2000 on. My stash of bubbly from the 90s has been extremely disappointing, especially the 96 Krug. A few 95 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne were stellar and then the 96 Comtes was caught up, but recent bottles have disappointed. Bottles of 90, 95 and 96 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame were totally gone after about 15 years. Perhaps the 96` Salon has shown the best of all and I have a few bottles remaining and am hopeful they are still decent, but thinking of opening them sooner than later.

OK, I know there are a lot of considerations about provenance, but given the perfect scenario, what can any of you state about aging champagne, drinking windows, reliable producers, magnum or larger formats, reliable sources, vintage vs. non-vintage, etc.?

I’m hoping Ray, Brad and Francois will chime in here and am grateful for all who contribute.

Cheers,
Blake

I’m really glad that you posted this, Blake. I’ve been wondering the same about really old Champagne and have to think that at some point, it becomes more of an academic exercise than an experience of pleasure. I’m looking forward to the responses from those who know.

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Thanks, Blake. Really looking forward to reading this thread as it matures. I’m more aware of the big houses’ tenures, and less so those of growers (with the exception of Vilmart). Who are the other grower/producers which have significant experience?

Trust your own experience. You have more than enough evidence that older champagne is not for you. “A couple of bottles out of over 100. Not good odds” I would advise you to focus on Champers that are more in your wheel house. It is easy to get hooked by the idea that all wine should be aged but if you don’t get value, move on. For me, 15 years is about my limit for sparkling wine. YMMV.

Magnum, magnum, magnum is where you need to start. Provenance seems to matter more with champagne than other wines - I’ve heard champagne described many times as more fragile and susceptible to heat/light than other wines. I’ve no idea whether that’s proven or even capable of being proven but I very very rarely buy aged champagne and never at auction. I would only buy cases Of bottles from shops or single mags where they can give me chapter and verse re provenance/storage. My 2 best buys were some cases of 81 krug from a shop a few years ago and cases of mags of 88 deutz cuve willy (for a really, really silly price) about 15 years ago.

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96 lgd was tasting young when i had it around age 15. i had an unpleasant bottle of 85 cristal but chalked it up to poor storage. i think the grande marque champagnes of this age are probably more likely to have had poor storage somewhere along the way between distribution and point of sale. i recall there being an issue with salon from the 80s being cooked by the importer?

Blake, I would be interested to know what is your current sweet spot in terms of aging Champagne?

I agree; it seems fundamentally a question of personal taste, confounded by sourcing issues

I personally love oxidative notes (butterscotch, caramel and so forth) but understand that it’s not for everyone. My suggestion is to test drive a bottle or two of Selosse, which tend to display those notes even when young-ish

Also FWIW I have had old champagnes (e.g. a 1983 Taittinger Comtes in 2018) in pristine condition without overtly oxidative notes. So storage and careful sourcing and a tolerance for the times when it doesn’t work out seems to be the ticket here

Blake, it seems like trusting your palate and experience is your best guide. I always worry when discussions about older wine on this and other boards express absolutes rather than preferences. Not everyone likes the flavors in older wine, and that’s perfectly ok. Similar to your experience I’m finding something similar with (heresy incoming!) older red Burgundy. My success rate with 25+ year old bottles has been poor. I’m sure provenance is part of it, but I’ve found many Burgs of this age acidic thin and bitter. Maybe I’ve had bad luck, but maybe I just like the 15-25 year old flavor profile more. Not to mention how glorious very young Burg is!

For me, I have had a handful of excellent older bottles (30-35 years is about my limit of experience) - but entirely Krug, Taittinger Comtes and Dom. I’m slowly going through a stash of ‘96 Krug and am reveling in its aging process. I hope to hold the last one at least another decade, but we’ll see. Probably the best older bottle of Champagne I’ve ever had was a 33 year old Krug (1982 vintage). Following a similar handful of 1996 Taittinger (last bottle popped this month for my son’s birthday) I’ve loved the aging curve but thought this last bottle was showing the beginning of decline. Other producers that I collect (Vilmart, Bouchard) I enjoy even younger. I doubt any of these bottles will last to age 20 - they are ecstatic young and show beautifully in the 10-20 year range.

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I agree with a lot of people here. It sounds like you’re just not a fan of old Champagne. I don’t have much experience with Champagne compared to most people on this board, but I do know 2/100 is an extremely low enjoyment rate. Unless you really enjoy the thrill of looking for the 2% of old Champagne you enjoy, I feel like you’d be better off focusing on the not quite as mature/old Champagne you regularly enjoy.

Also, just out of curiosity – does the frequency of your enjoyment differ for older Champagne when it’s a late disgorgement / extended lees aged bottle?

Interestingly, from a technical perspective, many of the aromas that are perceived as “oxidative” in older Champagnes are actually the result of Maillard-like reactions between residual sugars (including dosage) and amino acids liberated by yeast autolysis. There is some interesting research going on about this at the moment. So it can be very hard to parse apart these aromas; genuinely oxidative aromas; the aromas (where applicable) of élevage in barrel of vins clairs; and—in the case of a tiny handful of producers including most notably Selosse and Prévost—the aromas imparted by biological aging under flor of vins clairs.

This is more than just an arcane point: it means that Champagne matures on cork in a fundamentally different way to dry table wines. The transformation is radical and not generally linear. And, by the same token, those rare Champagnes that are made from truly ripe grapes and which don’t see any dosage (I’m mainly thinking of Cédric Bouchard’s wines here) tend to actually develop much more like still table wines.

Personally, I really love old Champagne: but I’m also very picky about it. Without perfect conservation and without being built to age, the results are not very interesting. For my palate, the retention of a more than vestigial mousse is also important, as it is a defining constituent of the wine style (though I know there are some fans of old Champagne who would disagree with this). Service is also really important: scrupulously clean glasses, and—related to my point about mousse—keeping the wine reasonably cool to slow down degassing.

I do buy quite a bit of old Champagne, but I only buy it from cold Northern European cellars and drink it in France. It just doesn’t seem to travel well. I have a bottle of early 1970s Krug Private Cuvée lined up for my 31st next week and maybe I’ll take a video of how it looks in the glass in terms of color and mousse. I bought a stash from a cellar in the Côte de Blancs and every bottle has just been pristine. Tasting these old Krugs back to the late 1940s, it was telling to see that pretty much every decade brought a step down in concentration and vinosity: not that the 1980s Krugs aren’t brilliant wines—they are—but there is a level of texture and body in the older wines that takes them to another level for my palate. This correlates quite well with the history of yields in the region: as I wrote recently in TWA (since this is becoming a longer post despite my best intentions), in the 1930s, yields in Champagne averaged 24 hectoliters per hectare. By the 1950s, that had risen to 33; in the 1960s, to over 50; and by the 1970s and 1980s, to over 60 hectoliters per hectare. Just as importantly, during the same period, the average weight of a grape cluster in Champagne more than doubled. You really can taste this in the wines in my experience. Of course, there were lots of other changes too, but this is pretty important.

As for producers with a track record of aging really interestingly for 40+ years, I would nominate Krug, Bollinger, Phillipponnat’s Clos des Goises and Lanson as some of the producers where properly stored bottles from the 1950s and 1960s are still likely to be very interesting to drink. If you want to drink wines from the 1970s and 1980s there are many more options, but—getting back to my point in the preceding paragraph—I have actually found wines from those decades to be a bit more fragile than the older but more concentrated vintages!

To me, Blake, it sounds as if on the one hand you may just not especially appreciate what can be the very toasty aromatic palette of older Champagnes, and as if on the other, you may have gotten a little unlucky with bottles that are not 100% perfectly conserved. In the US, my experience with older Champagne has been a lot of bottles which were very far removed from what they would taste like from a cold cellar in the region—more so than for any other wine. Sometimes a 90% bottle is still fun to drink if you know what a perfect bottle tastes like and it evokes it; but if you have never encountered a perfect bottle, then it may not be so pleasurable—and I think this is where some of the disconnect between wine lovers who adore old Champagne almost indiscriminately and those who don’t care for it comes from.

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I was going to give William a few more hours before a PM, but thankfully… he sensed the call. Do you have any thoughts, William, about the mid-90s Krugs (95 and 96, particularly) vs. this 70s, 80s period that you describe above?

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Tom, Generally, my maximum sweet spot currently is about 22 years although I’m drinking lots of 8-12 olds and happy with the outcomes.

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I wish I could add an objective thought here, but I just want to thank William for hitting a home run. Great post

Wow! I found this enlightening. Thank you for such a well thought out and informative post.

For sure, the butterscotch, caramel et al notes are not my fav especially when those are present in many different bottles from many different producers. I lose and miss the uniques of the wine.

I’ve had some “older” = 02 and 03 and younger Initial, Substance and Rose and greatly respect Anselome and his intention to produce high quality, terror driven bubbly sourced from quality vines and his wine making skills up until he retired a couple of years ago. However, for the price of one bottle, I prefer have choosen to spend that amount for 2 or 3 bottles of Comtes, SWC, Clos de Goisses and the like. And I like these as much or more.

To all who have responded with some good suggestions, thank you. This is truly an important aspect of my wine world of passionate living.

Yes, I prefer to buy mags and yes, my taste profile is one that is not enamored with oxidative notes any at age. And yes, I will probably still be on the lookout for that one bottle of aged champagne like the 82` Cristal that is still so vivid in my mind and on my palate. Bring it on.

Sounds like you already know your answer champagne.gif


I’m basically with you on enjoying vintage champagne on what the board would consider the younger side. Everything is a moving target to be sure, but I do love the vibrancy that champagne can bring and when it’s completely gone, I lose interest. I think what I truly love is when you get a bottle that still has the freshness but is moving into more aged flavors without them being the dominant flavors. That in of itself will vary from house to house, but I think between 10-25 years (though wide) provides a hell of a lot of that.

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Stellar post William. Lots of great info. I have much to say about many of your points and at some point look forward to sitting down with you and expanding. You do hit on a few aspects of wine drinking that is very important to me and that has to do with texture, mouthfeel and service. I’m extremely conscientious about preparing the stemware properly and keeping bottles chilled while working through them.

As to the taste profile, I actually like the toasty nuances that I find in some champagnes having had lots of Krug and Bollinger which are very toasty in general.

No doubt, those bottles that stay near their birth place have a better chance to survive and perform. I will be spending a lot of time in Amsterdam once I can get back there and will seek out sources for some bottles.

My goal is to experience 100% perfectly conserved bottles and I know I’ll be good with 90%.

Thanks so much for your input.

15 years from the vintage date, the disgorgement date, or what? 15 years from the vintage date would imply that everyone should drink up e.g. their 2006 Comtes within the next year or so, which doesn’t sound right.