The Tb points given to this wine are the world’s most valid and most up-to-date evaluation of the quality of the wine. Tastingbook points are formed by the Tastingbook algorithm which takes into account the wine ratings of the world's best-known professional wine critics, wine ratings by thousands of tastingbook’s professionals and users, the generally recognised vintage quality and reputation of the vineyard and winery. Wine needs at least five professional ratings to get the Tb score. Tastingbook.com is the world's largest wine information service which is an unbiased, non-commercial and free for everyone.
Wine Spectator scored this 98 points saying "This vivid Champagne has upfront and linear definition, thanks to rapierlike acidity, with finely meshed flavors of ripe black cherry and mandarin orange fruit, raw almond, anise and cardamom spice as well as a touch of honeycomb, which all unfurl and expand on the fine, creamy palate. Sleek acidity continues through to the finish, with additional racy character provided by a streak of minerally saline and chalk, which gains momentum through the midpalate and rings out on the well-cut, lasting finish. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Drink now through 2040."
Wine Enthusiast Magazine awarded this a Cellar Selection and scored it 97 points saying "Still young, with toast aromas, while shining with white fruit flavors, the latest release of Cristal is a Champagne that is just setting out. It has a dry, tight core of intense flavors that are shot through with minerality from the pure chalk soil of the 45 individual parcels in the blend. Drink this wine from 2025. Organic."
James scored this 97 points saying "An enlightened expression from a season of extremes, this has intensity, ripeness and depth of fruit that is underpinned by chalk soil-derived structure and freshness. Complex nose with lemon and grapefruit aromas, as well as closed red apple, blood orange, light biscuit spices and toasted hazelnuts. Super fresh. The palate starts pithy and fleshy with pink grapefruit, blood orange, red apple, sliced strawberry and nectarine. Expansive and mouth-filling build that is driven by concentrated fruit, Then it tightens and turns to a more mineral edge, before smoothly honed phenolics finish it long. It is 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay, 32% oak fermentation in those same proportions, no chaptalization, no malolactic and a dosage of 7g per liter. From organically farmed grapes. Very complex, it strikes a natural balance and is very drinkable already, though will develop well for more than a decade in the cellar."
Jeb Dunnuck scored this 96 points saying "It’s always educational, and a treat, to taste the latest vintage of Louis Roederer’s flagship Cristal Champagne. This cuvee is sourced from 45 separate plots covering just under 200 acres spread between the villages of Verzeny, Verzy, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Aÿ, Avize, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, and Cramant. The vineyards are farmed either organically or biodynamically and are planted to a 60/40 split of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Each parcel is vinified separately and for the 2014, only 39 parcels made the final selection, with the blend being roughly 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. The wine has the malolactic fermentation blocked and is brought up in a mix of 32% oak and 68% tank. This was a warmer year that saw fabulous springtime weather, a slightly cooler, rainy summer, and a great end of the year. The 2014 fits in nicely in recent vintages and has a style all its own, showing a fleshy, round, nicely concentrated style reminiscent of the 2012 yet not quite the precision of either the 2008 or 2013. Gorgeous and classic Cristal stone fruit, chalky minerality, white flowers, almond paste, and subtle toast emerge on the nose and it hits the palate with medium to full-bodied richness, a supple, almost creamy texture, terrific balance, and a great finish. It’s surprisingly approachable yet I’ve no doubt it will evolve nicely given its mid-palate depth and overall balance. It’s beautiful today and a terrific Cristal to enjoy over the coming two decades or so. It’s unquestionably more approachable than either the 2013 or 2008, but not far off qualitatively."
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
This is one of the earliest releases of a prestige cuvee from the major houses (Louis Roederer used to release Cristal after just five years, but Lécaillon has extended that to the benefit of the wine). Some houses have not yet released their standard 2014 vintages, so in terms of an assessment of this vintage, early days. It certainly was not a year that enjoyed the benefit of the sort of hype that blessed 2008, 2012, and 2018, but champagne vintages do have a history of sneaking under the radar.
The 2013 is a perfect example: 2012 was a glorious wine and its merits were shouted from the rooftops; 2013 was expected to be, if released, a solid effort. Instead, it was a mindbogglingly good Cristal for many – and this includes Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon – I believe topping the ’12.
I have tasted several Cristal vintages over recent years and covered the wonderful history of the wine in depth, so there is little point in rehashing here. But how did the wine fare in 2014? Could it match the 2012 or 2013? The most important point here is that they are all different and it really does come down to personal preference in many cases.
Louis Roederer has dubbed the 2014 vintage a “weather waltz,” a lovely term but it does suggest that conditions might have not always been optimal. The house noted “clear, sharp contrasts! The spring was sunny and dry and ended with a heatwave in June; summer was autumnal, cool, and rainy; September was hot, sunny, and very dry . . . weather we would usually associate with the month of August.”
Lécaillon has described the spring as “beautiful, dry, continental” followed by “a very oceanic summer with lots of rain, twice as much as usual, mainly in the Côte des Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne, much less rain in the Montagne de Reims.” Fortunately for Louis Roederer (important to remember that these conditions, while applying across the region, will have been handled differently by different houses and others may not have been as successful), the vintage was saved by a “beautiful September that changed everything.”
This allowed Lécaillon and his team to harvest the grapes “as late as possible to benefit from the sunshine of the last moment. Northeasterly winds dried the atmosphere, so we had a beautiful concentration of flavors, which we waited for. We delayed harvest and picked Cristal as late as possible: we wanted the extra concentration, the extra ripeness, the extra-dry extract that is so important for the texture of Cristal.” He says that this delayed harvest, to ensure phenolic ripeness, allowed them “to get the sunshine into the Cristal.”
In the end, the vineyards were harvested over a seven-day period. The grapes had a potential alcohol of over 11 percent, so no chaptalisation – adding sugar to the unfermented grape must with the goal of increasing alcohol content – was considered.
If we look at thoughts on the vintage outside those from Louis Roederer, the general consensus seems to be that this was a vintage in which Chardonnay excelled and the best vineyards in the Montagne de Reims gave forth some very fine Pinot Noir. If there is an issue with the vintage it is that the rains in the Marne led to some dilution.
This could have been a concern for Louis Roederer, but certainly does not appear to be so thanks to rigorous site selection for the final composition. It all means that the vintage is highly regarded in general but not as an overall superstar. That does not mean that there won’t be some truly stellar champagnes produced.
Louis Roederer’s Cristal 2014 comes from what the house terms one-third “La Rivière” (the Marne), one-third “La Montagne,” and one-third “La Côte.” The main Crus included are Verzenay, Verzy, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Aÿ, Avize, Mesnil-sur-Oger, and Cramant. The final composition – Lécaillon is careful to note that Louis Roederer does not blend Cristal, but rather composes it – is 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay, which, coincidentally or not, largely reflects the division of grapes in the vineyards.
As noted, Louis Roederer has 45 discrete plots available for Cristal, but that does not mean that 45 are used every year. For 2014, only 39 of the plots made the cut (up from 30 in 2013); three plots from Aÿ (that issue of dilution mentioned above) and three plots from Avize were excluded. For Louis Roederer, the conditions in Montagne de Reims meant all plots from there were included.
Lécaillon starts by blending/composing all 45 plots and then works backward, seeing if the removal of any improves the final wine. The aim, as he says, “is the purity of Cristal.” He believes that winemaking in the twenty-first century is all about the “purity of fruit, place, and terroir.”
Lécaillon believes that the 2014 is “an extreme style of Cristal, more intense, more radiant, so much energy. A bit more of everything.” He sees the exuberance as similar to that of 2012 and the freshness as similar to that in the 2008. In discussing texture, he uses words like “delicate, elegant, integrated, all together.” As for the aging potential, he sees the wine growing more and more minerally with time in the bottle, but believes that the freshness will stay.
Thirty-two percent of the wine was oak fermented, which was the same as the percentage in 2013. Dosage was seven grams/liter and there was zero malolactic fermentation. It spent seven to eight years on lees. Disgorgement for the bottle sampled was on June 3, 2021.
The 2014 marks the first time Louis Roederer has used “jetting” (it has been used with the Rosé but is now part of the process for both the Blanc and the Rosé). Jetting is the process of oxygen management, whereby a fraction of wine is injected under high pressure into the bottle immediately before the cork is inserted. This helps to expel any oxygen in the neck of the bottle. It is also popular with houses such as Bollinger.
The process is considered to improve consistency and to enable the winemaker to use less sulfur dioxide (SO2), although not all use SO2 at this stage. Lécaillon has made comments in the past suggesting Louis Roederer would not persist with the technique, but with the 2014 he believed it would assist in taming the exuberance. Whether we will see it for future Cristal releases remains to be seen.
The price will vary, not least because bottles sold on premises will not be gift-packed. Off premises, expect £275 to £300 (AUD$450 to $505). Markets will vary but availability should commence by mid-March. I understand that we will, in due course, see a 2015 and a 2016 Cristal, but not a 2017.
Lécaillon has some really interesting insights when it comes to discussing dosage. He stresses that the type of sugar is vital and has conducted many trials over the years as they need the type of sugar that will “respect the wine and bring something to it.” The final choice was quite light in style, organic cane sugar.
For those wondering – and weren’t we all? – there will be a 2014 Cristal Rosé, but it will not be released until next year. More time needed.