Champagne Louis Roederer’s Cristal 2004 [June 2011 Tasting]

Roederer is one of the leading ‘Boutique’ Champagne houses, which became popular for their celebrated ‘Cristal’. Cristal became chic with celebrities, athletes, and hip hop artists.

Originally founded in the late 18th century, Roederer’s consumers were predominately from the Russian community. In 1876, Tsar Alexander II, a great fan of Louis Roederer’s champagne, asked Roederer to “go one step further” to produce, for his personal consumption, a wine unique in quality and bottle. Roederer created an exceptional white crystal puntless bottle to house the best selection from the seven finest vineyards of his estate, thus creating the very first Prestige cuvee of Champagne.

Eight champagne enthusiasts gathered at Toronto’s LCBO Avenue Road Location on June 22, 2011 to taste Louis Roederer’s Cristal 2004.

Grape Varieties
55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay (20% of which is matured in oak casks with weekly batonnage).

No malolactic fermentation occurs. Cristal ages an average of 5 years in the cellars and rests 8 months after disgorgement. Dosage between 8 and 10 g/l.

In the Glass
Unique golden color, combined with an ultra-fine, persistent, soft effervescence.

Ultra-energetic, rich and persistent bead.

On the Nose
The nose is intense and bursting with gorgeous aromas typical of great Pinot Noir grapes. Scents of sweet baked apples, white fruit, pollen, citrus with some mineral nuances.

The bouquet is rich and sweet, almost generous, remaining precise and impeccably refined.

On the Palate
Full and creamy, revealing concentrations of juicy fruits: peach, apricot, mango, with hints of grilled hazelnuts. There is a sophisticated touch of acid with some lively minerality.

The overriding impression is one of a true harmony of flavours, senses and silky textures.

Absolute sensuality!

Serving Suggestions
Nothing compliments Cristal better than caviar, oysters and lobster.

My rating: 95/100

The Wine Advocate rating: 97 Points
Wine Enthusiast rating: 97 Points
Wine & Spirits rating: 97 Points
Parker Points®: 96+
Wine Spectator rating: 93 Points

Moët & Chandon Drops Dosage in Brut Imperial

Moët & Chandon will be lowering the dosage of its market-leading Brut Impérial from 12 grams per litre to 9 g/l according to its chef de cave Benoît Gouez.
 This follows the decision by Dom Pérignon’s chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, who recently gradually lowered the sugar levels on the prestige cuvée champagnes. Geoffroy said, “There has been a strategy of lowering the dosage in the last 10 years and we are now between 6 and 7 g/l.”
 This decision by the biggest brand in the region follows a global trend towards adding less sugar to the world-famous fizz.
Partly explaining this development is kinder weather in Champagne, giving riper and more complex fruit with less reliance on a conventional dosage of between 10-12 g/l.
Michael Edwards from Drinks Business states “Even climate change skeptics cannot deny that, since 1990, harvests have progressively begun two to three weeks earlier than in the ’70s and ’80s – in better-tended, eco-friendly vineyards, under warmer autumnal skies.”
As for the right level of sugar, opinions vary, but a balance appears to have been struck between 6-8 g/l, ensuring there is enough sugar to enhance the Champagne’s aromas but also protect the wine from premature oxidation. (this is an important statement as sugar helps the wine from premature oxidation.
Philippe Thieffry, senior winemaker at Veuve Clicquot, says “If the Champagne has a moderate dosage – 6-8 g/l – and is well protected by SO2, it will release the same bouquet as one traditionally dosed at 10-12 g/l; it will not suffer oxidation.”
Below 6-8 g/l however, and Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, vice-president at Louis Roederer, says “you reach an oxidative stage that quickly changes the fruit and aromas of the wine.”

TOP CHAMPAGNES IN BUSINESS AND FIRST CLASS – announced last month at The Business Traveller Cellars in the Sky Awards

The Business Traveller Cellars in the Sky Awards have been running since 1985, with a record number of 36 airlines taking part this year. Blind tastings took place over two days on November 4 and 5 at the Grosvenor House, London, with five judges independently scoring. The judges included:

• Charles Metcalfe, TV wine presenter and co-chairman of the
International Wine Challenge;

• Sam Harrop, Master of Wine and winemaking consultant;

• Derek Smedley, Master of Wine for more than 40 years,
consultant and co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge;

• Peter McCombie, Master of Wine, accredited tutor for the Wine and
Spirit Education Trust and consultant; and

• John Worontschak, leading winemaker and wine business development

Business Class Sparkling

1. Qatar Airways – Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle 1996;

2. Etihad – Henriot Blanc Souverain;

3. and
4. (JOINT) British Airways, Qantas and Singapore Airlines –
Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve AND LAN – Louis Roederer Brut Premier; and

5. Jet Airways – Dom Pérignon 2002.

First Class Sparkling

1. Qantas – Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1999;

2. United Airlines – Henriot Brut Millésimé 1996;

3. (JOINT) Qatar Airways, All Nippon Airways and Cathay Pacific –
Krug Grande Cuvée;

4. Thai Airways – Bollinger 1999; and

5. Malaysia Airlines and Jet Airways – Dom Pérignon 2002.

Participating Airlines:

Aer Lingus, Aegean Airlines, Air Astana, Air Canada, Air New Zealand, Alitalia, American Airlines, All Nippon Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, El Al, Etihad, Emirates, Finnair, Gulf Air, Iberia, Jet Airways, Kenya Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Korean Air, LAN, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Oman Air, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, South African Airways, TAM, Thai Airways and United Airlines.

Liz Palmer

Fine-tuning Champagne….without a dose of sweetness…

Dosage, or the addition of a judicious amount of sweetness into a finished Champagne just before release, has been an important part of the region’s winemaking process ever since Champagne was invented as a sparkling wine. Today, however, many producers are reducing the level of dosage in their Champagnes. Some are choosing to dispense with it altogether.

It ties to a recent trend in Champagne – the proliferation of zero-dosage cuvées, also referred to as non-dosé or brut nature. At their best, these Champagnes offer a scintillating liveliness and clarity of expression, showcasing their winelike fruit flavors and emphasizing their chalky minerality.

At Larmandier-Bernier, Pierre Larmandier has been making a brut nature called Terre de Vertus since the 1995 vintage, sourced from parcels that yield exceptionally ripe grapes. “When we first created it,” says Larmandier, “we found that the wine was already harmonious as it was. It didn’t need any dosage.”

Emmanuel Fourny of Veuve Fourny also specifically selects old-vine parcels and parcels prone to high natural ripeness to make his Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature. “For a brut nature you need more substance,” he says. “My goal is to get a natural roundness and richness through a selection of vines and a selection of terroir.”

Not Just About Sweetness

Dosage is typically thought of as a measure of sugar: Add more if you like a sweeter Champagne, use less if you prefer a drier one. This view is oversimplified, though, as the overall harmony of a Champagne relies on the interaction of the dosage with the wine’s other components.

Most notably, Champagne’s naturally high acidity can be overly aggressive; historically, dosage has helped to bring it into better balance.

Tasting the finest examples of undosed Champagne, you realize that the region’s elite growers have actually succeeded in creating an entirely new style of Champagne. These can be a joy to experience: the unmitigated minerality of the Terre de Vertus; the seamless harmony and grace of Franck Pascal’s Sagesse; the vinous intensity of the wines of Vouette et Sorbée.

Champagnes like these are derived from a different paradigm than those made in the classical style, striving for a different type of expression. Traditional Champagnes by houses such as Louis Roederer or Bollinger, or grower Champagnes like Vilmart and Henri Billiot, use the dosage to balance the wine’s other components and amplify the fruit flavors, creating a rounder, more generous and often more complex wine. Non-dosé Champagnes, on the other hand, tend to thrive on a sense of transparency and a sleek, unadorned minerality.

Achieving Harmony

To be successful, a non-dosé – or undosed – Champagne must have sufficient depth and presence to achieve harmony without added sugar. This means the grapes must be riper and more concentrated.
“We have seen a progressive decrease in our dosage almost equally in parallel with our improvements in viticulture,” observes Jean-Hervé Chiquet, owner of the Champagne house Jacquesson.

When the balance isn’t right, though, and particularly when a non-dosé Champagne lacks the depth from the vineyard to back it up, the acidity can feel steely and harsh, and the fruit meager, flattened and inexpressive.

It’s possible to create a properly balanced Champagne that doesn’t include added sugar at all. But most of the time, simply reducing the level of dosage on an existing brut cuvée doesn’t work; the balance of the wine is lost. The final acidity should be appealingly vital and brisk rather than piercing, with the ripe depth of fruit playing the ameliorating role that dosage otherwise does.

Dosage is a hotly debated issue in the region. Even among Champagne’s elite growers, not all agree that non-dosé represents an ideal solution.

“I’m not necessarily a partisan of zero dosage,” says Francis Egly of Egly-Ouriet, who believes that small amounts of dosage bring his wines into better balance. “I compare it to cooking – you need to find a balance to bring out the best in a dish. Sometimes a Champagne will have a slight bitterness that disappears with just a touch of dosage.”

What’s important to remember is that dosage is much more than just a sweetener. “Dosage exists as an agent for harmony and balance,” says importer Terry Theise. “Many Champagnes are low in pH and can be shrill or bitter without dosage.”

It’s not always easy to achieve that harmony. Sometimes it can seem as if wines are being forced into a lack of dosage out of fashion or ideology rather than allowed to naturally find a balance on their own.

Ultimately, the question that wine drinkers should ask isn’t whether a Champagne contains dosage or not, but whether the wine is harmonious.

“The point, always and forever, is to taste, and be guided not by some doctrine you’ve promulgated,” Theise says, “but by your palate and your simple wits.”

The Chronicle

CHAMPAGNE PROCEEDS WITH CAUTION :: Shipments are up, but the industry sets limits on grape yields for the 2010 harvest

People looking for signs of economic recovery watch unemployment figures or housings sales or retail figures. In the wine industry, many look to Champagne sales. Demand is increasing for Champagne in the United States. Imports from the region nearly doubled in the first two months of 2010, compared with January and February 2009. The industry is still a long way from the boom times of just a few years ago, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Nonetheless, Champagne producers are proceeding with caution when it comes to the bubbly supply. The Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the industry’s regulatory body, set a maximum yield of 10,500 kilograms per hectare (4.7 tons per acre) for this year’s harvest. It’s a compromise between the region’s grapegrowers, some of whom bottle and sell Champagne themselves, and the merchant houses that purchase grapes for the bulk of their production. For growers, more grapes mean more money, while for producers, more grapes mean more wine to sell in an uncertain market when inventories in their cellars are already high.

“The growers wanted more, not only those who sell grapes but also those who produce and sell their own Champagne because they have done well so far and they do not have much reserves,” said Daniel Lorson, the CIVC’s director of communications. “On the contrary, the houses and the [cooperatives] wanted a lower level—below 10,000 kilograms per hectare—so the level that has been set is a compromise.” Last year the yields were limited to 9,700 kg/ha (4.33 tons/acre).

Despite the limit, the estimated crop level for the 2010 harvest is 14,000 kg/ha (6.2 tons/acre). That guarantees a complex scenario for the region come harvest time. Each producer is allowed to harvest grapes in excess of maximum yields and set aside the wine for use in future years, but the amount of reserves is currently limited to 8,000 kg/ha. Most big producers already have the maximum allowed stock of reserve wines or are close to the maximum, thanks to slower sales in the past three years.

So what happens to the surplus grapes? “The 10,500 kg/ha limit is based on the needs of the region as a whole,” said Sam Heitner, spokesperson for the Champagne Bureau, the representative of the CIVC in the United States. “The CIVC updates this limit every year based on the supply situation. Some years it has been higher and other years it has been lower.”

“As a decision on the amount allowed to go into the reserves will take place at a later date, we cannot provide the total harvest per hectare today. However, it is common practice in years with low harvest limits for the Champenoise to pick the best grapes out of each parcel to go toward the limit and the reserve wines and then leave the remaining grapes in the field to nurture the vines.”

The decision to limit the harvests both last year and now this year has stabilized grape prices. Stéphane Coquillette, a small grower in Chouilly, said he was pleased with this year’s increase over 2009 yields but, more important, the stability in the price of grapes.

Louis Roederer’s chef de cave, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, echoed Coquillette’s sentiment. “At Roederer, we think 10,500 or 11,000 kg/ha was the right decision, with a stable price for grapes, as our crop estimation in our vineyard is 11,500 kg/ha,” he said. “If everything goes well [with the weather], every grower should reach the maximum 8,000 kg/ha reserve qualitative individuelle at the end of harvest 2010.”

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, owner of Champagne Taittinger, said there were still a few details to work out regarding the CIVC’s decisions, but he did not elaborate. Taittinger was, however, pleased with the increase in demand for bubbly. “As far as Taittinger is concerned, shipments for the first six months of the year are very good all over the world,” he said. “I think that the quality of the wines, the identity of the brand and the efficiency of the distribution network are paying. The value of the dollar versus the euro is helping obviously.”

The strength of the dollar against the euro recently has certainly helped sales of Champagne in the U.S. Xavier Barlier, vice president of marketing and communication for Maisons Marques & Domaines, Roederer’s U.S. subsidiary, also cited this as a factor in his Champagne house’s recent success.

The CIVC’s Lorson, though optimistic, remains cautious. “At the moment we are enjoying growth. We do not know if it is a steady recovery,” he said. “The situation is better than a year ago, because the destocking is over in most of our export markets. But the consumers are still trading down, which is not good for those who had based their prosperity on premium and superpremium cuvées.”

There is still a long climb for Champagne to reach 2006’s peak of 23.2 million bottles shipped to the U.S. “Our industry is very much dependent on the global economic situation, today more than ever,” said Lorson.

Wine Spectator