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Dear Dr. Vinny,
If most white wines do not age as well as reds, why does Champagne age well, even when made with predominantly white grapes?
—Kent, Castle Rock, Colo.
Even though top-quality red wines have more potential longevity, there are plenty of white wines that age very well; some white Bordeaux, Burgundy and German wines have indisputable track records, not to mention white dessert wines such as Sauternes.
I checked with the bubbly brain on staff, Bruce Sanderson (who reviews Champagne for Wine Spectator), and he says, "Champagne can age well. High acidity and carbon dioxide act as preservatives as it ages in the bottle prior to disgorgement. After disgorgement, Champagne will develop like a still wine. If the quality is high (i.e., an excellent vintage-dated bubbly) and it is well stored, Champagne is capable of long aging. I have had Champagnes from the '60s, '50s and a 1914 and 1892 Pol Roger that were superb." (For the record, I can't verify Bruce's remarks on the 1892 Pol Roger—he didn't share any of it with me.)
A well-aged sparkling wine will lose some of its carbonation, turn a deeper color, and the flavors will evolve into dried fruit, nutty, honey and toasty flavors. But you have to be good to Champagne, as it's notoriously fussy as it ages. Keep it away from light and temperature fluctuation!
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