CRISTAL 2006 was a very warm year, characterised by contrasting rainfall patterns. Following on from an unusually cold and rainy August, a warm, dry September hastened up the ripening process producing distinctive, rich, complex grapes.
55% Pinot noir – 45% Chardonnay – 20% wines matured in wood (oak barrels) with weekly batonnage – no malolactic fermentation. Cristal is a blend of grand crus from the Reims mountain, the Marne Valley and Côte des Blancs. Matured for 5 years in cellars – 8 months’ resting after disgorging.
Dosage varies between 8 and 10 g/l depending on the vintage.
This concentrated, dense, ripe, fresh and long Cristal 2006 is unhesitatingly made using full-bodied, smooth Pinots and fresh, elegant mineral Chardonnays. The ripeness of 2006 harvests makes it possible to achieve a distinctive culmination of matter and purity, richness and softness.
Glistening colour with light amber highlights, indicating a year of very fine ripeness.
Soft, almost timid bubbles, in a fine, slow and steady flow.
There is a rich bouquet with confit fruit (lemon, orange), white flowers (lilies) and lightly roasted nuts (hazelnuts and almonds). On airing, the dominant fruitiness becomes intense, almost explosive: a sabayon of vine peaches, apricots, melon and mango.
The mouth features a rounded, complex ballet of fruit. The texture is incredibly concentrated, giving the impression of biting into a ripe, fleshy fruit. The palate is enveloped by this depth of juicy, creamy, silky fruit, which soon makes way for a pure, sharp, graceful freshness. A transition follows from ripe fruit to a clear, light, delicate environment. Ripeness, softness and concentrationarise from freshness and mineral quality, transforming the ripe fruit into a slightly sharp citrus flavour; the warmer notes make way for flowers, citrus zests and nuts. After this rapid succession of flavours, there is a lasting impression of harmony: the aromas, flavours, slight bitterness and freshness come in just the right proportions, intermingling to form a perfectly integrated yet complex whole. A few hints of tatin tart and Danish pastries add a final touch to the already complex range of aromas.
An impressive wall of bare bottles dominates the Reims cellars this spring of 2014. It is perfectly rectilinear. "Forty-two thousand bottles of Brut Vintage 2012 gazing down upon you," says Vincent Kramer proudly. The technique of arranging the bottles thus, like a work of contemporary art, is called entreillage, or stacking.
A wall like this doesn't build itself; considerable skill is involved. The stackers first lay the base of the stack. At least two stackers are needed to build both ends at the same time. Otherwise the stack collapses. The wall is then filled and built up one bottle at a time. Boards are placed at the front or the back every three or four rows to align the bottles perfectly straight. Boards are also placed upright. No spirit level or plumbline is used to ensure the wall's evenness; nothing but an ordinary ruler – and the stacker's keen eye, of course.
The beauty of this construction, other than its obvious visual appeal, is that it is functional and practical. Any given bottle, even one right at the bottom, can be removed (or, heaven forbid, explode) without disturbing the 41,999 others, each under 7 bars of pressure.
After three to five years of ageing quietly on their side, the bottles undergo riddling: time to take down the wall. At least it will have elicited our admiration for a few years. Build, dismantle, build: it's a perpetual work of art. Here's to the next Brut Vintage wall.
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
2006 was a very warm year, characterised by contrasting rainfall patterns. Following on from an unusually cold and rainy August, a warm, dry September hastened up the ripening process producing distinctive, rich, complex grapes.