Champagne - Why is it so special?

ChampangeThe Champagne region has been considered the pinnacle of sparkling wine production for centuries, imitated in wine growing regions across the globe to varied success. Champagne is synonymous with celebration, summarized exceptionally by Napoleone Boneparte “Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat one needs it.” However a lot of people don’t understand that there is much more to Champagne than bubbly wine- the region is split into 4 sub-regions, and each has several sub-zones which usually surround villages, just like in Burgundy. And similarly, each village has its own style and flavour profile, which can be shown individually (as in Champagne Krug’s single vineyard masterpiece ‘Clos de Mesnil’) or blended to add complexity to the final wine.

So what makes Champagne so individual? Well firstly, wine labelled ‘Champagne’ can only come from the Champagne region; this was legislated in the Madrid system for the international registration of marks in 1891, and further strengthened in later legal challenges. As of 1994, even the words méthode champenoise cannot be used on a bottle of wine not made in the Champagne region. However there’s more to it than just a name- although that goes back a long way; the first people to plant vines were the Romans back in the 5th Century, who called the region Campania, which eventually became the current Champagne. One of the secrets to the wine’s individuality is the soil; almost the entire region sits on a bed of limestone chalk, which the Romans mined out for building materials, leaving huge Crayers or cellars, where the wines were stored, and where some are still stored today. The limestone soil is something you can actually taste in the wine- all Champagne has a distinctly mineral taste, kind of like licking an oyster shell, which, funnily enough, is what the limestone is made of!