If Louis Roederer Cristal 2008 was "the Cristal of Cristals", in the memorable words of chef de cave Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon at the launch of the first two Vinothèque vintages in 2018, what does that make the 2013 he is now introducing? "2008-plus". A little later he describes it as "the Cristal of Cristalsss" and "50 per cent chalk, 50 per cent sunshine", whereas 2012, he says, was a little more on the sunshine side and 2008 was more on the soil [chalk] side.
The 2013 is certainly an exceptional Champagne (scroll down for my note). All the more so when you consider the year, a growing season in which they "had to fight in the vineyards until late June". Flowering didn't take place until July and there was a lot of millerandage in the Chardonnay, resulting ultimately in harvested bunches weighing 90–100g, compared with the usual 120–140g, but this gave the super-concentrated aromas and intense flavours.
The weather was beautiful from early July and ripening continued well until September, when rain led to some rot in the Pinot Noir. The teams had to do a lot of sorting of the fruit from Verzy and Verzenay and in the end only 30 of the usual 45 plots made it into Cristal, although the blend was 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, which reflects the plantings.
In terms of analysis, both the alcohol and acid levels were very similar to 2008, but in 2013 the pH was higher (3.02 vs 2.93) because 2013 burnt off more of the malic acid. In 2008, Jean-Baptiste did a rare bit of malolactic, but in 2013, there was no need because the natural balance was there. 2013 is also the second year of being fully organic and biodynamic (2008 was 40%). Perhaps, he says, that gave an extra degree of concentration, too. 32% of the wines were vinified in oak. The dosage was 8g/l.
The initial aromas are salty, savoury and mineral with oyster-shell and chalkiness, but they quickly turn towards fruit – sweet red apple and then, even more, to apricot and peach. The aromas are very intense and pure; the palate is even more intense and incisive, and yet it's creamy textured with pincushion-fine bubbles that seem to nestle deep inside it, perfectly integrated. I’ve never had such concentrated, intense and intensely fruity Cristal; never had a young Cristal with so much apricot; and never one quite as tensile, even though young Cristal is always full of tightrope tension. There's a tantalising hint of smoky, roast-coffee and dark-chocolate bitterness on the finish. Absolutely delicious already but, with such concentration of flavour, precision, balance and riveting acidity, it's going to be very long-lived.
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Photographs by Joanna Simon