The Champagne region of France has been producing high-quality wines since the Middle Ages, when Pope Urban II reportedly said that the wines made there were the best in the world.
While full disclosure would have revealed that Urban II was a native of the region, the past several hundred years has done little to dispel the pontiff”s boast.
A Brief History of the Wine Regions
Champagne, 90 miles northeast of Paris, is divided into five wine-producing districts. A crossroads to Northern Europe, the region has been a way-station to invaders since the days of Attila the Hun. The area also has seen its share of hard times in recent history, crippled by World War I, slowed by American prohibition and then occupied by the Germans in World War II.
But Champagne has bounced back with flair and — one might even say — effervescence. The region”s champagne production quadrupled from 1945 to1966 and today more people are guzzling the bubbly than ever before.
Spread over 312 villages, champagne makes up only 2.5 percent of France”s vineyards and grows three exclusive grapes varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. The terroir of the Champagne appellation covers a total of 85,000 acres.
While Montagne de Reims is home to many of the better-known champagnes of the area, it is not the only district that produces the top-notch bubbly.
The Aube, Cote de Blancs, Cote de Sezanne and Vallee de la Marne also produce their share of great champagnes. If you”re planning a champagne road trip, you might consider the following useful bits of information (along with letting someone else drive):
- Cote de Blancs is devoted almost exclusively to Chardonnay
- Pinot Meunier is the dominant grape in Vallee de la Marne
- The Aube and Montagne de Reims are known for Pinot Noir grapes.
Champagne Vintage Charts
The easiest way to find a quality champagne year is to consult a champagne vintage chart. These rank the wines from 1-10 or 1-100. Here are some numbers and terms you will see in a typical chart:
Vintage Chart Numbers
- 10 — Sensational
- 9 — Very fine
- 8 — Above average
- 7 — Average
- 6 — Below average
- Below 6 — A present for your in-laws.
Vintage Chart Terms
- AS — Age showing
- DW — Drinking well
- ED — Early days (untasted)
- HO — Hold, slow to mature
- NV — No vintage declared
- RS — Ready soon.
Champagne, France Specialties
Some of the best-known — and best — sparkling wines come out of the Reims region of Champagne, such as Dom Perignon, Krug and Nicolas Feuillatte.
While most consumers have heard of Dom Perignon, not many know about the man himself. A Benedictine monk whose life spanned the 17th to 18th centuries, he is frequently and probably erroneously credited with the invention of champagne. Despite that fallacy, Perignon was undoubtedly a groundbreaking winemaker of renown, although the brand named for him was born long after his death.
While the British — Sacre Bleu! — and French both lay claim to the invention of champagne, even the most ardent Anglophile will agree that the French have taken the beverage to a higher level. And judging from its growing levels of consumption, no one can argue with this 19th century champagne advertisement”s sly tribute to Dom Perignon… “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!”