Roederer Cristal Full Circle: 1993-2015


My visit to Roederer a few months ago, the first post-COVID-19, was memorable. After a survey of the 2022 vins clairs, longtime Chef de Caves Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon presented a vertical of every Cristal he has made and released since assuming his current role in 1999. It was an incredibly instructive tasting that encompassed several themes over what has arguably been the most significant period in Roederer’s long history.

Sitting down to taste through a remarkable vertical of Cristal.

We started with a comparison of the original release and late disgorged Vinothèque Cristals across the 1999, 2000 and 2002 vintages, something I had never done before. Vinothèque was one of the first projects Lécaillon took charge of after being appointed Chef de Caves. “It’s the same story, my story, the Roederer story, the story of so many families here,” Lécaillon explained. “Baby steps after baby steps, confirmed. Proof of concept, then go to the next level. It takes time. It’s an organic journey that took me twenty years. I don’t want to move too quickly in a new direction because I respect tradition as well. I am always working on finding new approaches that don’t kill what has been done in the past.”

Lécaillon re-introduced oak fermentation for some lots and experimented with various closures. “I did some trials with cork; that was my idea in the beginning,” he elaborated. “Cork adds creaminess, but it doesn’t give the precision of Cristal. So, we use stainless steel crown caps. Then, after ten years, I put the wines sur pointe to avoid excessive oxidation.”

Taking a close look at the wines in pairs was incredibly educational, as readers will see in perusing the notes. The influence of time on the lees, dosage and disgorgement dates was evident in each of the wines.

Chef de Caves Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon at the Champagne Louis Roederer headquarters in Reims.

From there, we moved into a complete vertical of Cristal starting with the 2004 and finishing with the 2015. It was a decade of significant evolution. During these years, Roederer transitioned fully from conventional to organic and then biodynamic farming for Cristal and Cristal Rosé. Today, Roederer is the largest farmer of biodynamic vineyards in Champagne. Around the same time, Roederer shifted its focus exclusively to estate-owned vineyards for all but the Collection (formerly Brut Premier). I was fortunate to follow some of these transitions in my tastings of vins clairs over the years, where Lécaillon often presented base wines from the same vineyard but farmed with different approaches, for example, conventional versus organic. Those wines suggest a new level of precision, as evidenced by a number of recent vintages that have been nothing short of sensational.

A magnum of the 1993 Cristal, from a late disgorgement, brought this tasting back full circle, as 1993 was nearly the first release in the Vinothèque program. Although the 1993 is a beautiful Champagne, it also very clearly belongs to another era. Tasting it today is like opening an old book that gracefully wears the patina of age. Ultimately proprietor Frédéric Rouzaud and Lécaillon opted to start the Cristal Vinothèque with the 1995 vintage.

A final survey of all the wines in this vertical, plus a few new releases.

Champagne Louis Roederer has been the most innovative and dynamic of Champagne’s grand marques over the last twenty-five years or so. In addition to the complete re-thinking of farming mentioned above and the introduction of the Vinothèque program, Roederer has also introduced several new offerings, including two Brut Nature Champagnes, two Coteaux Champenois and Collection, a modern-day interpretation of what used to be Brut Premier. That's an enormous amount of change in a relatively short time, but also indicative of just how dynamic Champagne is today. 

For the purposes of this small article, I have kept my introduction brief. Readers will find extensive background information on Roederer and Cristal in my previous articles, all of which are linked below.

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