One of our fine local wine shops, Renegade Wines, put on a dinner featuring some champagnes of Louis Roederer Cristal. The venue was the China Pavilion, Santa Barbara`s best Chinese cuisine according to those in the know.
We were righteously greeted with a glass of 2009 Cristal upon arriving and enjoyed conversation and appetisers prior to being seated in a comfortable private dining room setting. The ambience was perfect for the delusively alluring stature of Cristal.
On hand to provide detailed information was Dirk Smits, Southern California Regional Manager for Maisons, Marques & Domaines who include Louis Roederer in their impressive lineup of domaines.
Fourteen of us were professionally served by a dedicated waitstaff supervised by co-owner Lisa Lee and our food was personally prepared by owner/ chef Peter Chen who is wine savvy and a member of a fine wine dinner group I`m part of.
Our first champagne was:
2009 LOUIS ROEDERER CRISTAL- 9.5 gpl dosage; after noticing the straw yellow colour, my next observation was that it needed to have a greater chill as it seemed closer to room temperature to me; nonetheless, it was a treat to taste this beauty; it was very youthful, extremely rich and full bodied with layers of depth and unfolding flavours which were especially enhanced due to the warmer temperature; it had an underlying streak of minerals, focused acidity and a creamy mousse; included in the taste profile was toasty brioche, mineral laden crisp apple and ripe stone fruit notes. This is very powerful with substantial structure and just simply needs time. Dirk commented he does not open Cristal until at least age 15, so 2024 for this release.
Also according to Dirk, the typical blend for Cristal is about 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, but this one is 55% and 45%, all from their oldest, mostly bio-dynamically farmed estate vineyards out of seven grand cru villages, plus Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, so he states “this is grower champagne”; another intriguing fact is they do not allow the wines to go through malolactic fermentation; he stated the only other house that does this is Champagne Lanson.
2006 LOUIS ROEDERER CRISTAL- 55% Pinot Noir. 45% Chardonnay; dosage near 9 gpl; with a proper chill, it had a yellow gold colour, was mellow and perhaps a bit tight and therefore understated at first, but in time, it had inviting aromas and distinct spicy and mineral laced pear, lemon and lime notes; to help out, there were accents of toast, ginger and smoke; an underlying vein of vibrant acidity prevailed throughout; with even more time, it expanded and all the nuances were even greater expressed; even then, it did not have the bigness and richness of the 09`; I liked it for that unexpected degree of elegance; make no mistake, this has a lot going for it, is still very youthful and requires many years before reaching maturity; I think we were just teased for where this will land later on.
2004 LOUIS ROEDERER CRISTAL- 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay; I`ve had quire a few of the 04` because I could not resist opening up the first bottle of a 6 pack and then I had to open the next one and….; it`s soooo good and has been out of the gate, but still it has not reached anywhere close to its apogee; the hallmark for me with this is its impeccable balance; having a bright yellow colour, it is dense and full bodied, complex, has layers of depth and an amazing creamy mouse and on top of all of that, there`s an element of finesse and elegance; i loved the bright acidity, streaky mineralality, amazing richness and most of all, how everything was in perfect balance; my favourite brut on the night.
2002 LOUIS ROEDERER CRISTAL- 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay from all 45 of the estate plots; I`ve also enjoyed many a bottle of the 02` and found it to be quite pleasing and generous, but still needing time to evolve; this bottle was no exception; medium straw yellow colour; like the 06`, this started out somewhat closed, but in time, it opened up and delivered big time; the weight moved from medium to heavy as well as the taste profile going from mild to full on; at its peak, it gave copious amounts of toasty brioche, super ripe apple and citrus with grapefruit most prominent; it just reeks of class and royalty; this is a grand champagne and I felt honoured to be in its presence.
1999 LOUIS ROEDERER CRISTAL- 8 gpl; 57% Pinot Noir, 43% Chardonnay; I`ve had a few 99`s in the past and all have been marvellous so I was expecting marvellous here; I`m also thinking that at age 19, this should be more evolved than what we got from the others here and moving closer to its apogee; although it had a light yellow gold colour, there was a slight oxidative note in the nose that remained throughout; the taste profile had more stone fruit character along with some honeysuckle and caramel in lieu of the ripe citrus notes I recall from the past; it was full bodied, had a viscous texture and serious acidity; I`m thinking this is a bottle variation and yet it still had redeeming qualities, I did not dump it and in fact, I`ll add more to my cellar.
2006 LOUIS ROEDERER CRISTAL BRUT ROSE- Cristal rose was first made in 1974; this one had 8 gpl; 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay, comprising 20% of wine matured in oak barrels and it was coloured with red wine rather than Pinot Noir grape skins, the saignée method; compared to the other wines, our pours were limited as there was only one bottle for the group; I stretched out small sips to get as much out of it as possible; Dirk commented you can only make good rose when the vintage has great Pinot Noir; well, the 06` vintage was just what this needed because it was a really good rose and such an attractive package with the clear glass bottle highlighting the pale salmon colour; made from the finest Grand Cru vineyards at Aÿ, it was so nicely fruity with ripe strawberry and red cherry flavours abounding from the nose through the finish; it was just like eating a bowl full of fresh, ripe cherries, delicious in a word; I loved its creamy mousse which just added more to this already ethereal experience; fabulous rose, but it comes at a stiff price which makes this considerably less reasonable for my preference to have this in my house bubbly collection to drink often.
This was a great evening. I always enjoy the Grand Marques champagne events where a representative is on hand to educate and inform. I was reminded of and learned a few things from Dirk and some personal research including:
Dirk`s 15 year hold period for Cristal-
No other Champagne house owns as many acres of vineyards in comparison to their production as Roederer.
All vintage wines come from owned land giving them “grower” or Estate status= 410 parcels.
Roederer is the largest cultivator of bio-dynamic vineyards [165 acres] of all champagne houses = 80% of all cultivated in Champagne.
Roedererr`s reserve wines go back 30 years with up to 9 vintages used in the liqueur to augment the house style.
They do not allow for ML; their dosage ranges from 8-10 grams per litre; their typical blend for Cristal is 60/40 PN/Chard.
Cristal bottles are the only flat bottles used in all of Champagne, no punt.
The Cristal clear glass bottles were made in 1867 for the Three Emperors Dinner in Paris on June 7th for the exalted 1847 vintage crafted by Louis Roederer hinself. Since the wine was 20 years old, they wanted to show off the evolved, very deep golden hued colour more significantly, Tsar Alexander II of Russia was concerned about being assassinated and wanted bottles that he could see into and that ones that did not have any false bottom to hide a bomb, thus the clear, flat glass bottles.
The cellophane wrapping is a modern addition designed to protect the wine from light.
I left this wondrous dinner with a crystal clear belief that Cristal certainly continues to be one of my go to Grand Marque champagnes.