Cristal, the champagne of the Tsars

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cristal.jpgAt a Louis Roederer Champagne Dinner on November 16, 2010, at The Imperial 1911 Brasserie, Sommelier India Wine Magazine readers and guests had the opportunity to taste some fabulous Louis Roederer Champagne imported by Brindco Limited. Champagne is synonymous with celebration and success, but what’s often forgotten is that it’s also a fine wine in its own right, says Reva K. Singh.


Louis Roederer Champagne is characterised by an unflagging commitment to top-flight winemaking. Roederer’s vineyards are situated mostly in grand crus sites and spread across three classic Champagne districts. Unusually for Champagne houses, Roederer predominantly uses grapes from their own vineyards in their champagne with 180 hectares of vineyards contributing some 80% of their production.
Founded in 1776 (the year America won its independence from England) the House of Louis Roederer continues as an independent family business to this day and is one of the most prestigious and demand for the fabulous Cristal, probably the most sought-after prestige cuvée in the world, never seems to flag. That night, we had the distinct privilege of tasting two vintages – Louis Roederer Cristal 2002 and Louis Roederer Cristal 2004, led by Frédéric Heidsieck, Global Export Director.
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Louis Roederer inherited the Champagne House from his uncle Nicolas Schreider in 1833. A consummate marketer with no lack of ego, he gave the Champagne his own name and watched wine sales soar from 100,000 to 700,000 bottles in his lifetime. In less than 50 years, in 1872, under the stewardship of his son, Louis Roederer II, sales zoomed further to 2,500,000, a tenth of all Champagne production at that time, with Russia and the US, its two most important export markets.
Pictured above: Kulbir Singh, Reva K.Singh and Frédéric Heidsieck
Unlike other champagnes, Louis Roederer champagne comes in a clear, flat-bottomed bottle without the punt or indent at the bottom. There is an interesting story behind this. In 1876, Tsar Alexander II, who was already a great fan of this champagne with its slightly sweet composition, asked Louis Roederer to produce a wine for his personal consumption so that no one could confuse his Champagne with any common bubbly being drunk by the hoi polloi! Since he was also paranoid about being poisoned, the Tsar asked that the wine be bottled in clear glass.
So a special flat bottle was designed in Baccarat crystal that was strong enough to withstand the pressure of the bubbles and filled with the best selection from the seven finest vineyards of his estate. From then on, with the Imperial Coat of Arms stamped on the label, Cristal became the traditional champagne for the Romanovs and Russia Roederer’s most important customer, at least until 1917, when the old way of life fell apart with the Russian Revolution.
Pictured below: SI columnist, Raghu Bahadur with Reva K. Singh and Frédéric Heidsieck with a glass of Cristal.
lr3.jpg“Cristal is a wine which is only produced in the very best years from the best of the best Louis Roederer vineyards with a very, very strict selection of grapes,” said Frédéric Heidsieck. It is a blend of two parts Pinot Noir and one part Chardonnay with a lower dosage than in Alexander’s time when the champagne was three to four times sweeter. Subtle and precise, the Cristals we tasted were perfectly balanced between sugar, acidity and fruit. Also served at the dinner were an equally fine Louis Rod Brut Vintage 2004, Louis Rod Brut Vintage 2004 and Château de Pez.
Chef’s Jan’s menu did not disappoint. I particularly enjoyed the starter of Fresh cheese tartine (open sandwich) with butternut confit (preserve) and chives, the Seared sea bass fillet served on a sweet onion tart with and ‘eclat’ of olive oil and tomato conserve*. The Chicken breast with roasted barley infusion fell a little short, I thought, without a salad, but was more than made up for by the delicious Nougat mille feuille (flaky pastry) with banana butter, yoghurt cream and caramelized almonds.
Both the visitors from Louis Roederer, Frédéric Heidsieck and Export Manager, Damien Motte, are positive about the Indian market while well aware of its challenges. Two thousand cases of champagne are exported to India and the Maldives.
“Cristal is the family prestige cuvée and the oldest,” said Frédéric. “It is an old lady in the market, but is very elegant.”
* a mixture of several fruits cooked to jamlike consistency with sugar and often garnished with nuts and raisins.

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