One of the best wines in the world, Cuvée Prestige Cristal Roederer, it is so famous that it intimidates. Those who know it are glorifying it while the customers who never tried it are wondering if it was indeed a good wine.

This summer I had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Champagne Louis Roederer- who elaborate this cuvée since 1876- and get closer to the essence of the so prized wine of the aristocracy. It was a trip organized by Wine Scholar Guild having as guide and instructor the charming Essi Avellan MW, specialized in champagne.

By Olimpia Plesa Brandhuber, owner of OPiA. Celebrate Champagne

On 21 Boulevard Lundy in Reims, we were welcomed by Jean Baptiste Lécaillon,  Chef de Caves and Vice President of the biggest independent Champagne house,  Louis Roederer. Very appreciated by his colleagues and considered one of the most skilled specialists in Champagne, Jean Baptiste Lécaillon manages a talented team of oenologists in creating Cristal Cuvée year after year and as Chef de Caves, guarantees the integrity of the house style. Professional, gentle and precise, his philosophy is a universal one: ” One must follow his emotions and put his heart in the wine”.

Roederer owns 7 km of cool cellars below the city of Reims connected with the cellars of the neighboring houses. If you push one wall you enter at Mumm, if you push the other you are at Krug or Taittinger. 20 millions of bottles of champagne continuously improve in the darkness at a constant temperature of 11 degrees C.  Louis Roederer is vinifying biodynamic 85 of the 250 hectares of vineyards they own in the wet and cold conditions of this Nordic region.

Le Chef de Caves opened firmly a transparent bottle of Cristal 2007 and poured the golden liquor in our thin and light mouth blown glasses, Jamesse Prestige, specially developed for particular champagnes. ” Either we talk about wine in general or about champagne, I have no advice for you. Just let your heart speak, it will tell you if this were your wine or not”

Cristal is made from Pinot Noir in a proportion of 60% and Chardonnay 40% grown ine old Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, on dry white chalk where the roots strive to get the water and nutrients. In 2007, a cold and wet year saved by a sunny September, Jean Baptiste Lécaillon increased the percentage of Chardonnay to 42 %.  “Assembling means intuitions, knowledge and trials. As climbing a mountain:  you start on a side and when you are in the middle you notice you cannot get further. You go back and try again from the other side”.

Precision is a key element in crafting Cristal and Roederer champagnes. A small percentage of Chardonnay can change the profile of the cuvée essentially. But ” the secret of Cristal is the power of white chalk. The finesse comes from chalk not from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. What I want to feel in Cristal is the chalk” told us the Cellar Master.

I love the delicate and silky effervescence of Roederer style, very distinctive and particular among champagnes .” How do you obtain such fine mousse?” I asked full of admiration our host. “This is a secret” replied the Cellar Master but he laid stress on that effervescence is the second component he wants to feel in his wines, the first should be the wine itself. ” First wine, than bubbles.”

Champagne is art. The art of making wine.  Riddling in wooden wine racks- pupitre- is done by hand, with patience, by skilled people under the guidance of the master. ” The people has to connect with the bottle, to touch and feel it, to be direct implicated in the crafting of an artisanal wine .”

Cristal 2007 is unique in its finesse, dense and balanced with fresh expression of minerals. The mousse is creamy and dynamic and the taste reveals aromas of fresh citrus, ripped pears, tarte tatin and hazelnuts. Delicate and powerful in the same time, seductive, a wine dedicated to pure pleasure or sophisticate gastronomy.

Personally I find it shy and reserved, I think it can well age up to 20 years to reach its climax, like a rough diamond which needs to be grinded to get a valuable brilliant.  Very young when it is released on the market , it gets wise with time and patience.

Cristal is a kind of Champagne of a matchless finesse. It is the expression of  elegance and finesse of the people implicated in its crafting in a continuous process of perfection.

Cuvee Cristal was created in 1876 in the honor of Alexander the II, Tsar of Russia , who demanded to Roederer Champagne a unique cuvee for its court, bottled in a crystal bottle.  The cuvee keeps on with the tradition of being bottled in a transparent glass bottle to display the golden color which gets more and more intense as the wine ages. Into this transparent bottle the wine gets easily damaged by UV rays, that  is the reason the house wrap the  bottle in a golden foil which filters the UV and protects the wine. The foil has to be kept on the whole life of the champagne.

I seldom drink Cristal, but than it is celebration.  In the companion of friends who love pure chardonnay, I choose with confidence Roederer Vintage Blanc de Blancs and in the hot sunny days I love Vintage Rose. As an appetizer Brut Premier NV is always an inspired choice.

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