Words by Simon Difford
Champagne is a sparkling wine exclusively from within the tightly defined Champagne region of France. It is made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier and is naturally carbonated by inducing secondary fermentation of the wine in-bottle.
The name 'champagne' comes from the Latin term for countryside 'campania' and early in the middle ages the name Champagne began to be used to describe the countryside in north east France. Confusingly, the term is also applied to the chalkier sub regions of Cognac in south west France (Grand Champagne and Petite Champagne).
The Champagne region was the first region to make sparkling wine in any quantity. While the numerous other regions of the world producing sparkling wine actually produce more than ten times as much sparkling wine, the Champagne region has become renowned for the best sparkling wine - so much so that producers in other areas started calling their sparkling wines champagne. The French have fought hard to restrict the use of the name champagne to refer only to sparkling wines produced in their tightly regulated and designated Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC). Within the EU, only sparkling wine from this region can be called champagne.
Incidentally, it is usual to capitalise the 'C' for Champagne the region and not for champagne the wine.
More on Champagne
Champagne styles and classifications
Levels of dryness in champagne
How to open a bottle of champagne and sabrage
Cellaring/storing and when to drink champagne
Busting champagne myths
The Champagne region
How is champagne made?
The grape varieties of Champagne