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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Last week I bought several bottles of good Champagne and sparkling wine. When I returned home that night I left the bottles in the car, and by the time I remembered that they were there the next day and carried them in the house, they had become quite warm. I opened the first bottle tonight and it was completely flat. Did I cause this by allowing the bottles to get warm, or is this just a coincidence? I’m worried that I’ve ruined several hundred dollars worth of wine.
I have a feeling that the rest of your bottles are fine. It could be that there wasn’t a good seal on that particular bottle, which may have been aggravated by the warm temperature. I’ve only come across a few bottles of sparkling wine in my time where I’ve suspected the cork was faulty—the wine was flat and tasted oxidized, with nutty notes where there should have been fresh fruit flavors.
But let’s review what we know about how to preserve the bubbles in your bubbly. Never serve it too warm, which can make it fizz too much at first, releasing all the carbon dioxide, and then go flat quickly afterwards. Once the carbon dioxide escapes the wine, no more bubbles. Serving Champagne in the proper glass—a tall flute—will limit the wine’s surface area and allow for a steady stream of bubbles. You should also try to make sure there isn’t any soap residue in the wineglass or any fabric softener on the towel you used to dry the glass, which can also have a flattening effect on the bubbles.
Finally, some wines are just less fizzy than others. Sparkling wines made by the traditional Champagne method are going to have more continuous bubbles than wines made bubbly via carbonation. Older wines might lose some of their fizz over time, but can still be quite lovely. And the term “crémant” refers to a less-aggressive style of bubbly, with just a soft fizz.
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