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2008 Cristal ‘my best to date’ says Champagne Roederer cellar master

“This year will be my 30th harvest at Roederer and the 2008 is my best Cristal ever on the market,” said Roederer cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon about the latest release of Cristal, which was launched in London last night.

Lecaillon said that the 2008 expression was his ‘best to date’ and ‘the most Cristal of Cristals’

Lecaillon made the comment during an exclusive interview with the drinks business at Claridge’s hotel yesterday, a few hours before the official launch of the 2008 vintage of Roederer’s famous prestige cuvée.

Continuing, he told db that is “the most Cristal of Cristals; it represents exactly the vision we have of Cristal,” having previously said that the cuvée was aiming for elegance, not power.

“The vision of Cristal is to capture a sense of place of the chalkiest terroir in Champagne, Cristal is elegance, elegance, elegance, it is not about power, it is more mineral than fruity,” he said.

Cristal 2008 follows the launch of the younger 2009 vintage last year – which was a riper, richer expression, and hence released earlier – and that followed other releases from this century, which included 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Stressing that the 2008 was his best on the market, he implied that there were some first-rate vintage expressions in Roederer’s cellars that may yield an even greater Cristal in the future.

Telling db that he has made a blend for Cristal from the 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 vintages (“we missed ’10, ’11 and ’17”), he joked that the hotly-anticipated “2012 is not bad,” before commenting, “And 2013 is good too,” while describing 2016 as “a delight, a really fantastic year”.

Significantly, the 2012 Cristal release, which will be the next from Roederer, will mark “a new chapter”, as it will be the first expression that is made entirely from biodynamically-farmed grapes, although the Champagne house began the practice in 2000, gradually converting its vineyards.

As for 2008, Lecaillon compared it with two previous, celebrated vintages in Champagne: 1996 and 1988.

“For me, 2008 is a classic, cool-climate year; it was dry, but with a cool summer, which brought a lot of freshness, making it on line with 1996 and ‘88 in terms of climate,” he said, adding, “Except there is a bit more density in the 2008.”

He also said that the 2008 Cristal differed from previous vintage releases because it has had “a full 10 years ageing in the bottle,” which is two years longer than former expressions (and of this 10 years, nine were spent in contact with the lees, with the Champagne disgorged in September 2017).

When asked by db why he has kept this year’s Cristal for a longer period, he said, “Because it needed it… we saw the 2008 moving very slowly, whereas the 2009 moved more classically.

“It took time for the 2008 to calm down its acidity, it is a high-acid year, and you have to get this rounding of the acid, and only time can give that,” he said.

Indeed, he admitted to db that creating the 2008 Cristal was a challenge. “2008 was a struggle because I had in mind the 1996, and we were frustrated by the ‘96 because the wine was very good, but maybe it could have been better, we made mistakes in ‘96, and I didn’t want to repeat them in 2008, which I could see was the same type of year.

Continuing he recalled, “I remember that everyone was really happy with ‘96 because they said it was super acid, it had 10 grams of acid and 10% [potential] alcohol, so it was called ‘the 10-10′ vintage’, but I would have preferred the 96 if had been 8 grams of acid and 11%; it was too acidic, and the phenolic ripeness was not there – I always considered we picked ’96 a week too early.

“So when 2008 came with a pattern that was like ’96, I became obsessed with 2008 and made sure I picked ripe, so I waited,” he said.

But there are other elements that make the 2008 Cristal distinctive. Aside from the cool nature of the summer of that year – and the decision by Lecaillon to keep the Champagne on its lees for two years longer than usual – he also used more oak for the fermentations and allowed a greater proportion of the wines to undergo malo-lactic fermentation.

Continuing his comparison with 1996 Cristal, he said, “There was very little oak fermentation in ’96, but we used more in 2008 to give some sweetness, and there was no malo in ’96 and we allowed 16% of the wines to go through the malo in 2008.”

A further first for the 2008 Cristal concerns the dosage, which is the lowest ever added to the prestige cuvée. “We are less than 8g/l, which we have never done before,” he said, having brought this final addition of sugar down from 9-10g/l in recent history, and 12gl in the 80s.

Allowing him to drop the dosage in 2008, even though it wasn’t a hot year, was the creation of more “textured” wines, due to the decision to pick later, as well as biodynamic practices in the vineyards used for Cristal – as much as 40% of the area was, at that time, farmed biodynamically.

Finally, drawing a comparison with last year’s release from the younger 2009 vintage, Lecaillon said that the latter was “more fruity, a richer style, so Burgundian in expression, and maybe less Cristal than the 2008.”

Continuing he said, “I’m sure there will be great fans of 2009, and great fans of 2008, but maybe 2009 is more fruit than soil, and 2008 is more soil that fruit, they are absolutely two different wines, but 2009 came more easily, like 2002.”

Concluding, he said, “I’m confident that 2008 is a winner and will develop beautifully with time.”

Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal 2008: the facts

RRP: £210 (UK) – a 5% increase on the 2009 release
Blend: 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay
Winemaking: 20% vinified in oak casks, 16% underwent the malo-lactic conversion
Ageing: 10 years (disgorged in September 2017) – the longest ever cellaring time for Cristal
Dosage: 8 g/l – the lowest ever dosage

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