Like most wine drinkers, I know what I like. But the extent of my knowledge goes as deep as “white wine should be kept cold, and red wine at room temperature.” It’s not surprising that the bottle of Prosecco I was given for my birthday has been stored on its side in my fridge. Little did I know that was the wrong way to store sparkling wine, and also that Champagne shouldn’t be stored in a fridge for longer than a few days before drinking. There are a specific rules for storing Champagne and sparkling wine, and it should come as no surprise that the proper way to store Champagne and sparkling wine is different. That’s because there are a few differences between Champagne and sparkling wine that you should know about.
The first thing you need to know about Champagne is that only grapes grown in France’s Champagne region can actually be called Champagne. Like whiskey, Champagne has to be made in the traditional way to be labeled real Champagne. More specifically, the second fermentation must occur in the actual bottle that it will be served from. Otherwise you’re not drinking Champagne at all. You are probably drinking champenoise, or sparkling wine, which is cheaper and almost (but not quite) as good. The most popular sparkling wine, other than Champagne, of course, is Prosecco, which hails from Northeastern Italy.
When it comes to tasting, Champagne tends to be drier, yeastier, and fuller-bodied. Sparkling wine has more carbonation, especially in the cheaper varieties, thanks to carbon dioxide injections, and is usually sweeter unless it's marked as brut (unsweetened), which is definitely the way to go (and the most Champagne-like). Another important thing to note is that sparkling wine has more humidity because of that carbonation. This is important for storage. If you didn’t already know this, refrigerators are excellent at drying things out. This is why, unless you plan on drinking it within a few days, Champagne should be kept out of the fridge. If the cork dries out, it releases carbonation and also changes the flavors. That’s also why Champagne should be kept on its side—to keep the cork moist. You also run the risk of your fridge vibrating the bubbles and changing taste and texture.
Sparkling wine also doesn’t want to be stored in the fridge, but can withstand refrigeration longer than Champagne. Sparkling wine should be stored upright because the cork will get too moist and allow oxygen in that will make the wine too fizzy and spoiled. In both cases, and really for any wine, you want to keep them in a dark, temperature-controlled room that stays around 55 degrees or cooler. Now you have a reason to clean out your closet. And don’t worry, if you are celebrating for one, buy yourself a Champagne stopper (especially if you're drinking sparkling wine) or make the best pancakes ever with the leftovers.