Champagne and the AOC
Because champagne represents and is consumed by the upper echelon, it is understandable why wine producers in other regions make similar sparkling wines. However, in order to protect the quality of wines, French wine producers must adhere to strict guidelines as outlined in the "appellation d'origine controlé," or AOC. These guidelines apply to both wines and champagnes. The Institute National de L'origine et de la Qualité has established certain guidelines as a way to limit poor-quality wines and champagnes that may come from mediocre lands and vineyards, and to establish consistent uniqueness and authentic characteristics from varying regions. If a wine producer or champagne house wants to boast being among the best, it can apply for AOC status, which will be stamped on the label of its bottles. The criteria for being a top producer aren't so easy to come by and include the following: acceptable land usage, proper region climate and soil quality, variety of grapes used, alcohol level of the wine and taste.
Bottles bearing the AOC mark have been scrutinized by a panel of tasters that sample all wines applying for this prestigious accolade. So, when you see a champagne bottle bearing the words "appellation d'origine controlé," you're drinking a bottle that has passed all criteria and quality requirements. This AOC process contributes to the high price tag on champagne, but ultimately ensures that what you're drinking is bona fide extraordinaire.
Although French law dictates that champagne must be produced in the champagne region, other notable European countries have relentlessly dipped into making sparkling wines. Spain produces a variety called cava. England also produces sparking wine. The country's proximity to the sea allows the grapes to ripen during July. This allows the wine to achieve the perfect levels of sugar and acidity, which ultimately create the bubbles. Expanding the boundaries of areas in which Champagne can be made from France to include vineyards in Great Britain is something the French government is entertaining. As of this writing, a final disposition has not been issued.