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  • Country ranking ?

    1 771
  • Producer ranking ?

    41
  • Decanting time

    10min
  • When to drink

    Now
  • Food Pairing

    Smoked Salmon Mousse in a Phyllo Cup

The Story

In 1876 when Tsar Alexander II requested that a special cuvée be created for his court Roederer duly obliged, creating what many regard to be the first prestige cuvée. 

 

As the political situation in Russia was somewhat unstable, Tsar Alexander feared assassination. He ordered that Champagne bottles be made of clear glass, so that he could see the bubbles and to prevent anyone from hiding a bomb within, as could easily happen with a typical dark green bottle. Roederer commissioned a Flemish glassmaker to create clear lead crystal Champagne bottles with a flat bottom. 

Originally a sweet blend, the Champagne was named “Cristal” after these distinctive clear lead crystal glass bottles.

 

In 1909, the House of Louis Roederer was regarded as the “Official Purveyor of Champagne to the Imperial Court of Russia” – a business coup that was later reversed following the deposition of the Tsar during the 1917 Revolution. Prohibition in the US caused additional financial difficulties during the early 20th century. However, the house survived these setbacks and today Louis Roederer remains an independent, family-owned business, managed by Roederer’s descendant, Frédéric Rouzaud.

 

The composition of Cristal is approximately 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay. The grapes used in the wine come from only the finest vineyards in Grand Cru villages. Lecaillon talks about the crucial role that vineyards play in quality:
“A majority of our most recent development has been in vineyard operations. We have strict limits set for crop yields and we're using vines that are 25 years old on average. We evaluate the grapes coming from our own vineyards very critically. We try to improve the vineyards that aren't performing well and keep the ones that are at the highest level of quality.

 

The grapes from our own vineyards produce wines with an alcohol content that’s an average of 1% higher than those produced with purchased grapes. There’s less tart malic acid in our own grapes. Even though we strive for the highest possible acidity, it’s absolutely necessary that this is accompanied by a ripe fruitiness. We belong to the five-percent minority of Champagne's producers who do not use malolactic fermentation to reduce wine acidity. The range of aromas is accentuated by the high-acid structure, much in the same way a salad dressing brings out the aromas in the food.
“And we stopped using cloned vines - we're only using the vine offspring from our own vineyards to ensure natural diversity. In the 1950s, -60s and -70s cloning was far too simple a solution for such a complex thing." Chef de Cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon explained

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Vintage 1971

Louis Roederer II, his son, receives the credit for developing Cristal. The Russian Tsar was absolutely taken with Roederer champagne: in 1873, some 666,386 bottles, which amounted to approximately 27% of its entire production, were delivered to the court of Alexander II. In order to formalise Roederer’s status as official purveyor to the Imperial Court of Russia, Alexander II commissioned Louis Roederer to produce a very sweet, prestige blend packaged in a real crystal glass bottle. Roederer’s Martine Charlotte Lorson told us:”The first luxury cuvée was born. From the very beginning, the bottle was clear and flat-bottomed. We later patented the bottle’s design. We have tried to change from the flat-bottomed bottle, but we can’t. Because of and thanks to the patent, Cristal’s label and appearance have stayed the same since 1928!”


And how fortunate that is, because, at least in our opinion, it is quite possibly the most beautiful wine bottle in the world, especially when wrapped in its trademark amber cellophane. Chef de Cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon explained the practicalities:
”We started using cellophane in the late 1970s, and there were still bottles with and without cellophane available in the early 1980s. Champagne is a light-sensitive product, so even though the cellophane is beautiful, it also plays a key role in protecting the Cristal from ultraviolet radiation. The amber cellophane also makes the bottle instantly recognisable, thus serving as a brand-building tool.”
The story of Cristal’s genuine crystal bottle is well-known. This is why we were surprised to discover that there is not one true crystal bottle in existence or even a photograph of one.


”Unfortunately, that’s true”, says Lorson, and continues: ”We’ve been searching high and low without any luck. But then again, Cristal was only packaged in crystal bottles for one or two years. The bottle was too weak to withstand the pressure and, because the Tsar’s champagne was so sweet, there was some post-fermentation, and the resulting losses were too much even for the extravagant Tsar.”



The 1970s were a turning point of sorts for Roederer and Cristal. Camille Olry-Roederer’s grandson Jean-Claude Rouzaud joined the house and gradually took the helm. It was a rough start, as TCA, a chemical compound that causes cork taint, infested the Roederer cellars. The young man faced an enormous undertaking. A huge volume of wine had to be taken off the market and disposed of, and the entire production facility had to be sterilised and rebuilt.
This is also the period of Cristal’s emerging popularity, when Roederer worked with an American importer to make Cristal the world’s most in-demand champagne. A key detail of this plan was to double the price. When Rouzaud was named Decanter Man of the Year in 2001, he said in an interview that one of the most significant things he had done at Roederer was to decrease the production of Cristal from one third to under a fifth of Roederer’s overall production. High price and low availability - alongside uncompromised quality - have made Cristal the most coveted champagne in the world.

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Average Bottle Price

2015 2012 2010 2005 2000
1 456€ +13.8% 1 279€ +9.8% 1 165€ +51.5% 769€ +288.4% 198€

This data comes from the FINE Auction Index, a composite of average prices for wines sold at commercial auctions in 20 countries. The average prices from each year have been collected since 1990. This chart plots the index value of the average price of the wines.

Latest Pro-tasting notes

12 tasting notes

Tasting note

color

Full

ending

Medium and Spicy

flavors

Toasty and Honey

nose

Intense and Refined

recommend

Yes

taste

Well-structured, Vigor and Elegant

Written Notes

The year was characterized by uneven weather conditions throughout the growing season. Storms in late July and a disastrous hail in August limited the yield. Continuous hot weather in September further contributed to the tiny average crop of 5 100 kg/ha. But in most cases the quality was exceptionally high despite some wines that suffered from medium-low acidity. There is nothing wrong with Cristal’s acidity, however. Developed deep golden colour and lively small-sized bubbles in the glass. The nose is intensely fruity and impeccably stylish: toast, honey, apple and caramelized sugar and some spiciness. Full mouth fell with smooth silky texture and lively elegant mousse. Great example of Cristal that is at its peak, but will keep there for at least five more years.

  • 94p
Normally the '71s are super-elegant but slightly thin. Here the elegance is complete, but the body is well built and the richness of delicious nut-toffee and vanilla notes is effusive. A fantastic wine that is among the most voluptuous one can drink.
  • 96p
There was one more magnum left, a 1971 Cristal, and it was a spectacular one. ‘Really fresh’ came from Slover, and ‘deep and thick’ from Big Boy. It was incredibly rich with a light saber of a finish, zippy and with orange marmalade and corn flavors. Its finish was extended and extensive with a super Sprite bite. Big Boy also noted ‘burnt orange,’ and there were toffee traces on its finish.
  • 97p

Information

Origin

Reims, Champagne

Vintage Quality

Excellent

Value For Money

Good

Investment potential

Below Average

Fake factory

None

Other wines from this producer

Blanc de Blancs

Brut Nature

Brut Premier

Carte Blanche Demi-Sec

Carte Blanche Sec

Cristal Rosé

Cristal Rosé Vinothèque

Cristal Vinothèque

Vintage

Vintage Blanc de Blancs

Vintage Rosé

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