Louis Roederer Cristal 2008: Supreme Elegance And Ethereal Grace
by Ken Gargett
Individual champagnes rarely seem to attract the pre-release anticipation (which is probably about as frenzied as wine lovers get) that we sometimes see with other wines – for example the 2015 Domaine de Romanée-Contis or the 1982 first growths if we go back in time.
For champagne, perhaps the 1996 Krug was the last release that really generated serious excitement before it hit the market with retailers noting a volume of orders far outstripping initial supplies. Champagne houses will often moderate their releases rather than offer everything in one large dump, which meant that if you had the money and a little patience you did not miss out.
I doubt that any champagne has created such interest since then – until we come to the 2008 Louis Roederer Cristal (recommended retail around AUD$430/USD$320).
The 2008 is an exceptional vintage in champagne and, of course, Cristal is always one of the finest available, so it does not take much of a leap of faith to assume this wine would be special. Quite how special is another matter.
The year 2008 saw a dry, cool summer, the type the champenois categorize as “continental.” The wines are considered “dense, powerful, and very concentrated.” Those cool summer temperatures contributed to the intensity of the wines, imparting what they term a “saline freshness.”
It is the best vintage since 2002 and possibly as far back as classics such as 1996, 1990, and 1988 (chef de cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon notes the comparison of the 2008 Cristal to those from 1996 and 1988).
The next in line for great vintages of champagnes will be the 2012. And that will be the next Cristal.
That alone is interesting. For the first time in its history, Louis Roederer swapped the order of release from the usual chronological progression. The warmer and more forward year 2009 was released before the 2008, which has really benefited from the extra ageing.
Cristal is released more often than almost any other prestige champagne from the top houses. This is because Louis Roederer has 240 hectares of its own vineyards, which ensures that in almost every year it can find sufficient quantities of quality grapes.
That said, there will be no 2010 or 2011 Cristal. No surprise for 2011 as it was a distinctly unexciting year, but 2010, while not truly exceptional, was decent.
Prior to 2008, this decade saw Cristals from 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. After 2012, look for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. There will be no 2017.
As yet, I understand no formal decision has been made on 2018, but such is the excitement in Champagne over this latest year (the best since 2012 and perhaps further back again) that it is impossible to imagine it will not be released.
The 2012 will be the first Cristal which is 100 percent biodynamic – the 2008 Rosé and 2012 Blanc des Blancs were also fully biodynamic. The 2008 was approximately 40 percent from biodynamic vineyards.
This house, like most, likes to ensure supply up to the time it releases the next vintage. The estimated production for Cristal of 400,000 bottles may seem like a lot, but consider that it will be eked out over possibly three years for the entire world. Grab it when you can.
The technical information for this wine is that it is a 60/40 split of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sourced from Grand Crus from the Montagne de Reims, the Marne Valley, and the Côte des Blancs. All of the vineyards form part of the Louis Roederer estate, which is rather rare as the majority of houses would need to source from outside their own holdings. Dosage is 8 grams/liter, 16 percent malolactic fermentation, and 20 percent vinified in oak.
One of the “complaints” (a strong word) pertaining to Cristal is that it is released too young, that it would be even better with more time on lees. No such concerns here as the 2008 spent eight to nine years on lees and another one or two maturing on cork. The vibrant acidity demanded the extra time. Even so, it is as fresh and youthful as one could imagine.
This is a wine of supreme elegance and ethereal grace with notes of kumquat and nectarine, spices, and glacé lemon. It is already showing wonderful complexity. The flavors explode on the palate, with a mineral undertow and some bracing oyster shell acidity, but they always remain balanced and refined.
It is a complete champagne, beautifully structured with great length and certain to age magnificently.
Chef de cave Lecaillon is not just one of the finest makers in Champagne but one of the best wine makers found anywhere on the globe. He is not prone to exaggeration or hyperbole, so when he says that in his 30 years at Louis Roederer this is his best Cristal, take notice.
He has also described it as “the most Cristal of Cristals.” There could be no higher praise.
For more information, please visit www.louis-roederer.com/en/news/unveiling-cristal-2008.