You have to admire the french

Over the last few hundred years, the wine producers of a very small area of the north eastern corner of the country have managed to convince the world that the sparkling chardonnay they produce is one of the greatest luxurys imaginable and worthy of amazingly high prices.

In a stunning example of sustained marketing they have fought for their right to keep control of the word 'champagne' stopping any other producer from using the word.

That is why in Italy the equivalent drink is called 'Asti Spumanti', in Spain it is 'Cava', in Germany it is 'Seckt' and in the English speaking world it is 'Sparkling Wine'. Due to hype, marketing and international trademark law nobody but the french can produce champagne and everyone else has to brew alternatives; heavy with all the baggage of inferiority that those alternative labels imply.

Which is a pity, because some spanish Cava is in taste, far superior to almost all Champagne. The same is true for a number of Australian sparkling wines. Well, in blind tastings that might be true, but nobody I know would choose a bottle of Cava over a bottle of Krug champagne to present to friends at a party. The french right to keep the name champagne to themselves was so important to them, that it was actually written in to the codicils of the Treaty of Versailles in 1918. As I said, you have to admire the french.

There are some 9000 registered Champagne producers in the region about 100 miles to the east of Paris, growing mostly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes. These are then pressed, blended and bottled. It is made fizzy through the addition of a little yeast and extra sugar (just a few grains) at the bottling stage.

As with all french wine regions there are different classes of producers based on whee they grow so you can find permier cru and grand cru champagnes. However, the cachet of individual brands (or 'houses') is the key indicator of price.

Famous champagne producers who can commang high prices include: