Yesterday at Champagne Philipponnat, we were finishing up tasting a few wines when Vianney Gravereaux, Philipponnat’s export director, pulled out an old, unmarked bottle from the fridge. It was obviously a Clos des Goisses, from the bottle shape, and obviously made before 1990, as that’s when they changed the bottle. It had already been open for about a week, disgorged by hand last Wednesday, and there was only about a quarter of the bottle remaining.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that this wine ought to be completely oxidized and undrinkable. I mean, come on—a week! I wouldn’t expect any champagne to be alive under such conditions. Yet Charles Philipponnat, insatiably curious as always, poured some into his glass and encouraged me to do the same. (That’s Charles in the background, by the way, making sure that this particular bottle of 1998 Clos des Goisses is fit for our consumption.)
Astoundingly, the wine was not only still alive, but actually really, really good. I’m sure it was better a week ago, and it of course didn’t have any bubbles left, but the flavors were still remarkably lively and focused, rather reminiscent of an old Chablis in its fragrantly waxy, secondary fruit and pungent minerality. It wasn’t overly oxidized at all, which I could hardly believe, and if I weren’t trying so hard to behave in a polite and civilized manner, I would happily have drained the rest of the bottle. Charles invited me to guess the vintage, which of course isn’t easy with a bottle that’s been open for a week, but due to its relatively light body and intense minerality, I thought 1980. Before I could say it, though, he blurted it out, and it was indeed 1980, although I get no credit. (It doesn’t count if you don’t say anything.)
Curiously, Charles said that with a proper dosage, the wines become fatigued after two or three days of being opened, whereas kept on its lees and disgorged à la volée, as this bottle was, the wines stay fresher much longer after opening them. “I think it has to do with the oxygen introduced with the dosage,” he says. It all sounds counterintuitive to me, but it’s hard to argue with the proof in the glass. It's also not something you get to experiment with every day. But it's interesting.