Champagne by Any Other Name

Most of us love Champagne. If not as something to drink on its own or with dinner, at least to toast to someone we know for their birthday, anniversary, graduation, new job, new home, new baby or any other celebratory occasion.

And we all know what Champagne is. It’s that delicious wine with all those bubbles, that not only taste good, but feel good as we swallow it.

But have you ever gone into a wine store and asked for a bottle of Champagne for about $10? What was the reaction? What happened when the dealer said “no, Champagnes run from about $30 and up into the hundreds of dollars.” Perhaps you replied “but I had one last week that I bought for $10. It was think called Prosecco or Cava or something like that.” Then the dealer says “Ah, but that’s not Champagne. Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. If it comes from anywhere else, you must call it by another name.”

If a wine with bubbles may not be Champagne, then what is it?

If your dealer says that you want isn’t Champagne, but a different kind of sparkling wine, are you ignorant about wine or is the dealer simply being rude to you? Neither is true. That is completely irrelevant. Officially, Champagne is a trademark of a specific region of France called Champagne. Technically, Champagne isn’t a type of wine, but rather a type of wine only from the geographic region of that name. And it’s trademarked. So wineries must abide by the trademark laws of France and other countries. Wine retailers may feel they also have to protect a trademark (though different countries may have different rules about this).

So if it’s a trademark, am I committing a crime by using the wrong name when asking for a bubbly?

No. You as a consumer don’t have to give a fig about that. Unless you are in the wine industry where your government or employer may insist on respecting trademarks, you can call any sparkling wine a Champagne if you so choose. It’s not your job to protect a company’s trademark.

Have you ever gone into Costco and asked for their Kirkland brand of Kleenex? Or made a xerox copy on your Sharp copier? Or gone into the UPS store to fedex a package to Los Angeles? If so, you are not following the correct use of Trademarks. All of these instances are violations of the trademarks of Kleenex ™ Xerox ™ and FedEx ™.   Nor as a consumer should you have to follow them. The manufacturer, the store, the merchant may be required to do so, but you do not. You can, should you feel that trademarks must be respected. But you are at liberty to do so or not.

Are there real differences between Champagne and similar wines from elsewhere?

There could be. Champagne itself is made from the grape varieties that the government in that area insists upon. It is made in a style that is also demanded. Other countries and other regions can follow this exact process or it can create a sparkling wine in a different way using different grape varieties. So a wine from another area can taste different or taste the same. Pricing can be the same or different, though outside of Champagne itself, prices are usually lower. But if you buy on taste, rather than on price, you may get a wine of greater quality for a far lower price. And yes, you can tell your family and friends that you brought some Champagne to be shared and enjoyed.

The purpose of wine is to be appreciated, not something to be lectured about.

Don’t feel intimidated by wine merchants or sommeliers. It’s fine and may be desirable if you wish to be educated about wine law, winemaking, wine regions, how to taste wines, what goes into each wine. But it’s also fine if you don’t care. It’s your choice.  Too many people fret about wine. Wine is pleasure. It can also be education, but that’s up to you.

Drink what you like. Eat what you like. Be who you like to be. Trust your instincts and your palate. But if someone in the wine industry corrects you on what your wine is called, cut them some slack. They are only doing their job. But you don’t have to do it for them.

 

 

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