Champagne is joyous, giddy-inducing pleasure born in chalky white soil drenched in blood.
By law, Champagne can only be made in Champagne region of northern France, northeast of Paris, framed by town/cities of Epernay, Ay, and Reims. It is the northernmost wine producing region in continental Europe.
It also is the heart of Europe. The Marne, the river running through Champagne, is the stuff of war legend. The French-British “Miracle on the Marne” in 1914 stopped the German thrust into France and changed history. The “War to End All Wars” would be a slaughterhouse, much of it in Champagne, and its dénouement set the stage for more horrors to come later.
In the middle of Champagne, a pyramid ossuary contains bones of more than ten thousand unknown solders dedicated to the “Armies of Champagne.”
Hauntingly, vines of Champagne reflect military order. There are strict rules on every aspect of how vines can grow: cordons no less than 24 inches off the ground, strict limits on foliage, and much more. Champagne vineyards resemble marching soldiers. The aim is to ensure quality of Champagne, but you cannot ignore the irony.
The rules begat another hallmark of Champagne—place takes a backseat to brand. You buy Champagne for the name on the label: Moet & Chandon, Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Cristal, Krug, Taittinger, Charles Hiedsieck, Perrier-Jouet, and others. And you pay top dollar because they are good, but even more importantly they impress you and your guests. Bottle label identifies you as an apex predator on the sparkling wine savanna.
You can purchase affordable, superb sparkling wines from around the world—Italian Prosecco and sparkling, Spanish cava, California and New Mexico sparkling leap to mind. But Champagne is different. It, literally, is to die for.
• Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne NV: Fresh, light, crisp, fizzy aplenty. Easily available, entry-level Champagne—entry level in Champagne world. $43
• Champagne Charles Heidsieck Rosé Réserve NV: Heidsieck is Dom Pérignon without inflated price. $78-80
• Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Champagne Brut NV: Lovely color evolves from raspberry into salmon-pink in glass; iconic, instantly recognizable dumpy bottle. $77-100
Last round: Wine wisdom: Never trust people who refuse to drink Champagne.