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Champagne Louis Roederer launches Cristal 2015

Champagne Louis Roederer has launched the 2015 vintage of its prestige cuvée Cristal, with cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon calling it wine of “featherlight intensity in a sunny and dry year”, following an exclusive interview with db.

Cristal 2015
Cristal 2015. Picture credit: Steven Morris

Lécaillon made the comment when speaking with db on Monday this week, during which he also described the latest launch from the house as a “soil vintage”. This he said was because the Champagne displayed the chalkiness and salinity of the family’s bio-dynamically farmed vineyards that are specifically devoted to the production of its prestige cuvée, where typically a thick layer of chalk is only a few centimetres below a thin topsoil covering. The low yielding vines are also mainly at least 40-45 years old.

He also said that for the first time since the celebrated 2002 vintage, all 45 plots on the Cristal estate were used in the blend.

“All the parcels of the Cristal domain were used in 2002 & 2015. I believe we needed all the ‘power of chalk’ to contrast these ripe years. In 2018 and now in 2022 I went further, but I will tell you why and how when the wines come to the market,” Lécaillon told the drinks Business. He considers it a wine of “featherlight intensity in a sunny and dry year”.

He sees the deep roots, that the change in farming to a bio-dynamic approach has helped bring about, as being a crucial factor in the success of the 2015 harvest which was, from bud break to harvest, the hottest vintage ever (since the CIVC started keeping records), exceeding even 2003 and 1976. It was also one of the driest.

The secret for Lécaillon was to embrace the warmth of the vintage, but to use this better balance with the soil and the higher dry extract that bio-dynamic farming has allowed, to enhance the freshness of the wine. And he also employed slightly more, older oak, during the vinification process. Lécaillon has been pushing the level of ripeness reached before picking, especially with Chardonnay where he is looking for a potential alcohol level at harvest of between 11.5 and 12deg° vol.

When ripening, Chardonnay typically goes through three stages of flavours, from citrus to something more tropical, but if you take it to a third stage you get salinity and that really enhances the freshness, he says.

The 45 plots of the Cristal estate, which are all vinified separately, are spread across the seven grands crus of Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger for Chardonnay and Verzy, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Verzenay and Aÿ, for Pinot Noir, but they are rarely all used in the final blend. This means the 2015 Cristal is precisely a 60/40 Pinot Chardonnay blend, as that is how the estate divides up, although Lécaillon sees the exact proportion of each grape variety in each blend, as far less important than the inherent chalkiness of all the Cristal terroir and what that imparts to the wine.

Speaking immediately after the completion of the 2015 harvest Lécaillon said: “Harvest 2015 is a dream year! Sunny, dry, no downy mildew, no rot, 98% of our vineyards could have been organic! Last, but not least, was the cool, autumnal weather which arrived first week of September allowing us to pick, press and work the juices at an ideal low temperature to protect the juices against oxidation and loss of aromas.”

“This has all the criteria to be vintage: ripe, no rot, good balance and concentration. The wines have a real identity. As I said: analysis puts it close to 2002 but concentration and dry extract are more like one of a vintages of the late 40’s and 50’s,” says Lécaillon.

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