LONDON – Cristal Champagne: the most magic name among bubbles. For me, the most romantic of all Champagnes – well, 37 years of marriage was founded on it. The house of Louis Roederer created Cristal for Tsar Alexander II, but now we can all indulge in it. It is made from Grand Cru vineyards owned by Roederer, with the Chardonnay from the villages of Avize, Cramant, and Le Mesnil, while the Pinot Noir comes from Verzenay, Verzy, Beaumont, Mareuil and Aÿ. The recipe involves bio-dynamics, old vines, low yields, with around 20% of the wine fermented in 100hl oak casks, but a key ingredient is the brilliance of Chef de Cave, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon.
Chef de Caves Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon with a 2005 bottle of Cristal.
Jean-Baptiste crossed the Channel recently, bearing a bevy of these beauteous, translucent bottles. I did not always spit, although the occasion was billed as a 'tasting.' The youthful 2006 had that almost saline, 'maritime' bouquet of young Cristal, sparkling Spring-like on the palate. The 'oceanic' 2005 was all sweet hawthorn, orange and nougatine, mouth-filling stuff, while the 2004 displayed lingering intensity, silkiness and fabulous harmony of acidity and ripeness.
Then came the stunning 2002, where I was moved to write (yes, I was still doing that) words such as wonderful, creamy, marzipan, caramel and perfect. I can take a lot of this. The 1999 was gorgeous, with a nose of white chocolate and a huge lavender honey, nutty, rich taste. Then the intoxicating 1995 was wheeled on, with its toasty, smoky persistence, marrying freshness with a touch of orange liqueur. I nearly did a double take when we arrived at the 1990, as the bouquet was of sea shells, even sea urchins, a particular weakness of mine. What a sleek, lanolin smooth Cristal – I cannot wait to drink it on a beach!
A Louis Roederer wine cellar.
We were in different territory with the 1979, with its notes of tobacco, heather and coffee, liquid marshmallows and a real honeysuckle finish to it. And, finally, the ultra-rare Cristal Rosé 2005 was ushered in, all strawberries on the nose, with purity and volume, richness and balance on the palate.
The world seemed a better place when we emerged, blinking into the daylight, or what passes for that in a record rainy patch of British weather. One cannot drink Cristal every day, but it remains the treat to end all treats and, above all, a miracle of Champagne-making at the highest level.
A 2004 vintage of Louis Roederer Cristal.