Frédéric Rouzaud, president of Champagne Louis Roederer, introduced “a new phase” of Cristal, his family’s tête de cuvée. The original Cristal was created for Russian tsar Alexander II in 1876; Rouzaud’s father, Jean-Claude, introduced Cristal Rosé in 1974. This fall, they’ve introduced a third, Vinotèque, a long-aged version in both white and rosé.
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, who has made Cristal since 1999, says the intention of the Vinotèque project is to show the wine’s aging potential. Lécaillon started on the project around the time he took over as cellarmaster; he and Rouzaud discussed the optimal age for Cristal, which they agreed to be around 20 years. Then they set out to create a different aging process, to present the wine in optimal condition at that age. Lécaillon let the wine rest sur latte (horizontally in bottle with lees) for eight years, to develop texture, then riddled the wines until they were entirely vertical, “sur pointe,” with the lees in the neck of the bottle to protect from any oxygen exchange through the cork. The wine aged sur pointe for six years. He then disgorged the wine and waited another seven years for the bubbles to integrate. “We usually use oak-aged wine for the disgorgement,” Lécaillon says. “Here we emptied a few of the bottles and used the same wine with a dosage very close to Extra Brut.”
Rouzaud describes a parallel to the work Lécaillon has done converting 80 percent of the Cristal vineyard blocks to biodynamic viticulture, and the process of aging Vinotèque. “The perfect wine doesn’t exist,” he says, though he sees the mission of this new project as an effort to take them closer.
The first release of Cristal Vinotèque includes two wines from 1995, a blanc and a rosé, both aged in the same way. They join a portfolio of wines that has regularly earned Roederer a place among the W&S Top 100 Wineries of the Year. Fewer than 100 bottles are available in the US market; the Cristal Vinotèque is priced at $995 and the Rosé at $1,995.
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