Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

The Origin of Champagne

A Celebration of French Bubbly

by Alain Gayot

Moet & Chandon underground wine caves, where Champagne is aged in a constant cool environment. Photo courtesy of Giulio Nepi.

True Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine

Whether natural or engineered by people, there will always be bubbles in Champagne. La Méthode Champenoise, the traditional way of making Champagne, is more than 260 years old. With a little bit of help from ingenious monks like Dom Pérignon and Dom Thierry Ruinart and the accidental discovery of the second fermentation (or possibly a direct pipeline to God?), Champagne has become internationally known as the wine that sparkles. Kings, emperors, czars and rock stars have always been intrigued by earth's second "soft" drink (the first being water).

If you want to find out all the secrets of Champagne making, the best way is just go straight to the source, Reims and Epernay in Champagne, France, and witness it for yourself. The process is so involved that despite the latest technologies for manufacturing and storing, bottles should sell at twice their current market price. Just witnessing the storage in itself makes the trip worthwhile. Les Crayères (chalk pits), more than 250 of them excavated by the Romans some 1,800 years ago, host millions of bottles of slowly maturing wine. Among the more authentic and striking caves to visit are those of Ruinart and Pommery. Champagne styles vary from house to house and within a house; from the Rosés to the Grandes Cuvées via the Millésimes you will establish your preference.

The invasion of sparkling wines from California has revolutionized the market. Several Champagne houses have established outposts not only in America, but also in Australia and South America, which are now producing very decent wines. Moët & Chandon started it all in Napa Valley in 1973 with the development of Domaine Chandon. Previously, Jack (now deceased) and Jamie Davis at Schramsberg established their glorious product in the Valley, but today they produce a fraction of Chandon’s output. Mumm Cuvée Napa, Piper Sonoma, Domaine Carneros and Roederer Estates are now fixtures in the American-produced sparkling wine panorama.

Remember, if it comes from California, it is not Champagne. The phrase “California Champagne” is often misused. In the United States and some South American countries, it is legal to use the term “champagne” for sparkling wine. However, many American sparkling wine producers instead indicate that their product was made by the French Méthode Champenoise. For something to be a true Champagne, it must come from a certain area of France, the mere 70,000 acres called Champagne. Everything else is just sparkling wine.

We've compiled sparkling wine lists for all tastes and wallet sizes

Top 10 Prestige Cuvées
Top 10 Rosé Champagnes
Top 10 Mid-Range Champagnes
Top 10 Value Champagnes
Top 10 Budget Champagnes
Top 10 Cheap Champagnes
Top 10 Sweet Sparkling Wines
Top 10 Sparkling Wines
Top 10 American Sparkling Wines
Top Champagnes & Sparklers by rating

Learn all about Champagne and sparkling wines with our handy guides

The Origin of Champagne
Champagne 101: The Basics
How Sparkling Wine is Made
Prestige Cuvées: Guide to Champagne
Celebrities' Favorite Champagnes
Recommended Champagne Books
Wine Tastings and Events
Food and Wine Pairing
72 Hours in Champagne, France
Sparkling Wine & Champagne Features

(Updated: 11/27/13 SG)

Craft breweries are a trend on the rise, with thousands opening worldwide. To help, we've compiled a list of our ten favorite brews you need to try.

Whether straight up or mixed into an Admiral Schley Punch, share a cheers to the American spirit by trying one of our top ten bourbons.