Appears in
Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Champagne, name derived from the Latin term campania, originally used to describe the rolling open countryside just north of Rome (see campania). In the early Middle Ages, it was applied to a province in north-east France (see map under france). It is now divided into the so-called ‘Champagne pouilleuse’, the once-barren but now cereal-growing calcareous plains east of Rheims, and the ‘Champagne viticole’ (capital letters indicate the geographical descriptions, lower case is used for the wine).

Champagne, with its three champagne towns Rheims (Reims in French), Épernay, and Aÿ, was the first region to make sparkling wine in any quantity and historically the name champagne became synonymous with the finest, although Champagne is now responsible for less than one bottle in 12 of total world production of all sparkling wine. In common with other French regions making fine wines, notably Burgundy and Bordeaux, champagne formed the model for other aspiring winemakers, especially in Australia and the west coast of the United States, employing the same grapes, and the same sparkling winemaking method, as the French originals (known now as the traditional method). This form of imitation, while flattering, became decidedly awkward for the Champenois in the late 1980s. Their response was to tighten up the regulations regarding their own wines, and thus substantially increase the average quality—although they are unable to increase the 35,000 ha/86,500 acres devoted to vines to any significant extent for fear of diluting the quality and character of the wine. See the detail of the expansion of the region proposed in 2007 in Geography below.