CHAMPAGNE: for the anointment of kings

Champagne is a sparkling wine produced by inducing in-bottle secondary fermentation of the wine to effect carbonation. In the European Union, the name is legally protected by the Treaty of Madrid (1891), which reserved it for the sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France and adhering to the standards defined for it as an Appellation d'origine contrôlée; the protection was reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.

The winemaking community, under the auspices of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, has developed a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for all wine produced in the region to protect its economic interests. There are more than one hundred houses and 19,000 smaller vignerons (vine-growing producers).

The wine first gained world renown through its links with French kings. Royalty from throughout Europe spread the message of the unique sparkling wine  and its association with luxury and power in the 17th-19th centuries.

There are no tricks to recognising a good champagne – a good champagne is one you like!

The leading manufacturers put huge amounts of energy and resources into creating an identity for their wine. Through advertising and packaging they sought to make the wine synonymous with luxury, festivities, and even rites of passage. Their efforts proved coincidental with the rise of the nouveaux riches looking for ways to spend money as evidence of upward mobility.

More than 15,000 families cultivate 90% of the AOC land. Some of them make (either themselves or in co-operative groups) the wine from their vines with over 6,000 full-time employees and extra help from seasonal workers (over 50,000 for the grape harvest for example).

Although the 'main' vineyards are clustered around Reims and Epernay, those produced by smaller vineyards, such as in the Cote des Bars, have their own, justified, following, too. Don't overlook these.

The most renowned vineyards are on the Montagne de Reims, along the valley of the Marne, the Côte des Blancs and the less well-known but no less delightful Côte des Bars in Aube-en-Champagne. Many of the most renowned producers have cellars in Reims, and offer guided tours and dégustations, notably:

Mumm  34 r. du Champ-de-Mars.
Piper-Heidsieck  51 bd Henry-Vasnier.
Pommery  5 pl. du Gén.-Gouraud.
Ruinart  4 r. des Crayères.
Taittinger  9 pl. St-Nicaise.
Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin 1 pl. des Droits-de-l’Homme.

A number of the vineyards offer champagne tasting courses, and the opportunity to study the mystique of this fascinating wine.

Alcohol consumption can be dangerous for your health; consume in moderation.

L’abus d’alcool est dangereux pour la santé, à consommer avec modération.

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