Champagne is a region of France, and only wines which come from this region can properly be called "Champagne". Similar drinks from California, Massachusetts, and the rest of the world should be called "sparkling wines".
Champagne's signature bubbles were included by accident! Back in the 1700s, wine was supposed to be flat, like most wine is today. Bubbles were an error in the process, and the monk Dom Pérignon worked hard to remove them. Instead, he found methods of blending and clarifying the drink, and soon it was sought after by French aristocracy. The rest, they say, is history!
Champagne is made using the Methode Champenoise, which requires two fermentations. You can read all about the Champagne "Methode Champenoise" Process if you'd like!
Champagne is stored for drinking just like any other wine - at around 55F, in a dark, damp location, stored on its side to keep the cork from drying out. Champagne should be served at about 45 degrees. A few hours in the fridge should bring the temperature down, but never store any wine for more than a few days in the fridge. Serve your Champange in tall, narrow-necked glasses, called flutes. Do not use wide-brimmed glasses - they cause the drink to quickly lose both bubbles and flavor.
There are different types of Champagne. Brut is the driest, and the "standard". If you want to get a "great" Champagne, go for a Brut. Extra-dry is less dry than Brut. Sec is sweet, and Demi Sec is even sweeter.
Vintage bottles are, like most wines, from a single year's worth of grapes. Unlabeled or non-vintage bottles are from a blend of years.
For related wines, note that Spain calls it's wines of this type Cava, or Cellar. South Africa uses thes term Cap Classique or Cape Classic. Germany has Sekt, and of course there's always Asti Spumanti from Italy!
Champagne / Sparkling Wine Links