Buzz: Hey, Marnie, someone told me that champagne comes only from France, and that over there they use it to make cognac. But I’ve had plenty of champagne from other places. That makes someone a liar, right?
Marnie: There’s quite a bit of confusion about that, Buzz. The trouble is that when most people say “champagne,” they mean any wine with bubbles.
Buzz: Ha! That means lots of people stole that French name, right?
Marnie: In one sense, yes. The term is allowed on American wine labels as a generic description for any sparkling wine. But outside the U.S.A., the term “Champagne” refers specifically to the sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France.
Buzz: That means we Americans stole the name, but the rest of the world still gives the French a monopoly on that word.
Marnie: Well, Champagne is the world’s original sparkling wine and remains the most respected. Many international sparkling wines are made according to the “Champagne method,” often with the native grapes of Champagne, including most of the best American sparkling wines. Technically, though, they are not considered true Champagne wines, and few serious vintners label them as such.
Buzz: OK, that makes sense, but do the French make Cognac out of it too?
Marnie: That’s a myth, I’m afraid.
Buzz: Another lie! How come none of these people get arrested?
Marnie: Well, it’s complicated. It’s true that all brandies are by definition distilled from wines, but Cognac is from France’s western coast near Bordeaux; Champagne comes from a northeastern region near Paris. The reason people get this mixed up is that some Cognac labels refer to “Grande Champagne” or “Petite Champagne.” But that’s only because Champagne is a very common place name in France.
Buzz: That’s like Springfield here. There’s a Springfield in nearly every state!
Marnie: Precisely. Just like Champagne, actually. In French, fields are called champs and the word for countryside is campagne, so it’s not all that surprising that there would be about a dozen places in France named Champagne.
Buzz: To be honest, “Champagne” is a way sexier name than “Springfield.”
Marnie: Not only sexier, but great wine! The most famous by far is the northern region surrounding the city of Reims, which makes the legendary sparkling wines. But there’s another Champagne region just south of Cognac, so it has given that name to the best subdistrict for making brandy.
Buzz: This is why everyone loves or hates the French. They look good. They taste good. But it’s complicated.