A question of time in a bottle

Size matters

However, of greater influence on maturation rate is the bottle size. In particular, a 1.5 litre magnum, slows down ageing because it holds twice the amount of wine as a standard bottle, but has the same neck size – ensuring an equal amount of oxygen is exposed to a much greater volume of liquid. In essence, the bigger the format, the slower the ageing.

Bollinger-Experience RD 2000

Bollinger RD 2000 was released in Jeroboams only

This explains why for instance, last year Bollinger opted to only release the 2000 vintage of its RD in Jeroboam. “Given the forward nature of 2000, bottles and magnums wouldn’t have been right for RD as they would speed up the ageing, but Jeroboams last forever,” explained Philipon when the Champagne was released.

But complicating factors aside, the Champenois know well the benefits of extended maturation on the lees, and are playing with ageing periods for different expressions – as well as bottle sizes and closures.

They are also exploring the ideal combination of pre- and post-disgorgement maturation, depending on the desired style.

The next step, already being undertaken by Dom Pérignon with its plenitude concept, is to draw the consumer’s attention to the benefits of extended lees ageing.

This won’t be easy, not just because such a process can produce a Champagne that belies its age, but also because even the educated drinker knows little about sparkling winemaking and maturation.

• This article first appeared in the June issue of the drinks business.

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