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Cristal Rosé was first born a hundred years after the original Cristal, in 1974. It is an intriguing and particular prestige cuvée rosé, as it has the palest colour, yet a contrastingly fleshy, fruity, well-built palate of amazing freshness. Its secret is in the 60 per cent Pinot Noir from two hectares of Roederer’s own old-vine vineyards in Aÿ, Bonotte-Pierre-Robert and La Côte du Moulin, which are now cultivated according to biodynamic principles. It is these ripe, concentrated grapes that give the wine its delicate hue via the saignée, or bleeding method. Then 30 per cent of Côte des Blancs Grand Cru Chardonnay from Le Mesnil sur Oger and Avize is added to give spine and elegance.
I have written about what Louis Roederer’s magician, more prosaically known as the chef de cave, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, has done with biodynamics, so I won’t repeat myself here.
Suffice to say that it is just one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle that makes these wines so utterly compelling. Lecaillon, who has been chef de cave since 1999 after stints in both Tasmania and California, also works closely with clones to combat climate change.
Production of the Rosé is only 10 percent of the “blanc” (surely, a nicer term than “standard”). It comes from just four parcels: Goutte d’Or and Villiers from Aÿ for the Pinot Noir and Montmartin in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for the Chardonnay (I believe that the fourth parcel is Chardonnay from Aÿ although sources provide slightly varying information).
It has apparently been made from these same vineyards since the very first release. The blend is typically 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay. All have been 100 percent biodynamic since 2007. Dosage is just 8 grams/liter, the lowest ever for a Cristal Rosé.
That typical blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is exactly what this wine disgorged in January 2019 is. As with all Louis Roederer Rosés, it was made using the saignée method with a slight variation on theme – a nod to assemblage, if you like.
The Pinot Noir spends five to ten days in a cold soak. As the juice begins to ferment, it is added to the already fermenting Chardonnay. The team at Louis Roederer has always believed that this allows for a more thorough infusion. Impossible to argue, given the results.
The first Cristal Rosé was from the 1974 vintage, a very curious choice as it was anything but a lauded year. Nineteen seventy-one and 1973 were both well regarded, and then came 1975 and 1976, both wonderful years; 1976 in particular has established a stellar reputation, though it was a very hot year and I am much more of a fan of the 1975s. But 1974?
No matter. So limited was its production that I suspect the chances of many of us ever trying that wine are slim to non-existent.
This 2012 incarnation is indeed a wine from heaven. For me there is focus, length (incredible length), pristine balance, and what they call the wow factor. Those intangibles that just lift a wine above those around it, thrilling and leaving the fortunate consumer entranced.
This is such a wine. Florals, citrus zest, rose petals, a hint of raspberries. Elegance dancing with generosity. 100 points. How could one give it anything else in good faith? A very special champagne.
The next most exceptional vintage since 2008. A truly difficult growing season saw severe frosts in the winter. March brought warmth but early budbreak made the vines vulnerable to spring frosts. Overall, the early growing season was wet, and mildew became a serious issue. However, conditions improved dramatically in the later summer months. An August heatwave resulted in a rapid accumulation of sugar, but fortunately the nights remained cool, which helped to preserve acidity. Although yields were low (averaging at 9,210 kg/ha) due to frost, hail and disease early in the season, the 2012 harvest was exemplary in its maturity, acidity and grape health. A rare high acid, high sugar September harvest with impeccable concentration of flavour and refreshing vibrancy. Pinot Noir is the superstar of the vintage, though Pinot Meunier excelled too. A vintage that promises great longevity for the finest cuvées, it was widely declared by producers. However, Krug decided to invest in its reserve wines on this great year, and no Vintage was produced. The quality of 2012 is universally high, with the greatest releases so far including Louis Roederer Cristal and Cristal Rosé, Bollinger La Grande Année and La Grande Année Rosé, as well as Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Rosé.