Log In / Join Now

Cristal Shines on Through the Years

A vertical of Louis Roederer’s prestige cuvée back to 1990 shows a flashy wine that’s no flash in the pan

Ben O'Donnell
Posted: October 28, 2013

Louis Roederer chairman Frédéric Rouzaud opened up Friday morning’s seminars by saluting the creation of the Champagne breakfast. “Forty years ago it was drunk as a dessert, 30 years ago as an aperitif and, now, thanks to you, it’s going to be drunk for breakfast. You will help me to retire early because when my family knows how I drank [Cristal] in one morning with all my friends here, they’re going to fire me!”

During this lighthearted romp through four glasses of Cristal Champagne, Rouzaud showed that he—like the generations of his family helming Louis Roederer before him—is actually in the business of wines with serious longevity.

In a seminar moderated by senior editor and lead Champagne taster Alison Napjus, a crowd of 1,000 wine lovers traveled back in time through the 2002, 1996 and 1990 vintages of Cristal, ending with the 2002 rosé, a wine so rare that 5 percent of its production was drunk that morning.

Rouzaud traced Roederer's history from 1776 through the creation of the Cristal prestige cuvée in 1876 at the behest of Tsar Alexander II through the era after World War II when the strong-willed Camille Olry-Roederer delivered Roederer into international success.

Then Rouzaud interrupted himself: “I’m a little thirsty, aren’t you?” So the tasting began. Roederer is unusual among grande marque Champagne houses in that it owns substantial vineyard holdings—568 acres. Cristal is an estate wine from 198 select acres of Roederer’s grand cru holdings, 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay from seven villages around the region.

The 2002 (92 points, $249 on release, $259 at auction) was farmed primarily using biodynamic practices, unusual in Champagne. “It’s a tool, it doesn’t work every year, it’s risky, it costs more, but it brings another dimension to the expression of our wines,” said Rouzaud, joking that biodynamics is yet another reason for his imminent termination. The wine undergoes no malolactic fermentation, to preserve the “purity of the expression.”

On to the 1996 (94, $175 on release, $297 at auction) and the 1990 (94, $150 on release, $443 at auction). Napjus noted the improved complexity with bottle age: “This 1990 is 23 years old now, and it’s fantastic, so clearly in terms of quality you should buy these wines young and hold onto them.”

The tasting ended with the 2002 rosé (90, $468), made from 70 percent Pinot Noir, farmed specifically for the wine from limited acreage. “It’s really a small grower wine from a big Champagne house,” said Napjus.

Comparing the vintages made clear the health and vigor of Cristal into the coming decades. Besides, Rouzaud added, “It makes women look more beautiful, so the men are happy, and then we make more love. So I’m very confident in our future.”

Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal 2002 (92 points, $249 on release, $259 at auction)

Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal 1996 (94 points, $175 on release, $297 at auction)

Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal 1990 (94 points, $150 on release, $443 at auction)

Louis Roederer Brut Rosé Champagne Cristal 2002 (90 points, $468)

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.