By Rick Riozza

The great news that’s just come over the wine wires is that Cristal—the “jewel” of the Louis Roederer Champagne line, which became the “bling-bling” sparkler of choice by hip-hop devotees following the blitz of mentions in rap songs in the 1990s, then dropped by Jay-Z and others when the Roederer company reportedly expressed their consternation that such a “culture” brought “unwelcome attention” to its brand—is back on top.

In 2005, Cristal champagne ranked 8th behind other brand names when it came to “high-end” recognition. It was the bee’s knees for opulence—just mentioning having the stuff made you sound rich and maybe aloof.  The problem Cristal (and Dom Perignon for that matter) had with real wine lovers was that they were so high-priced, and, one could possibly get the “same” or similar quality in a less expensive wine.  Of course, that’s hardly a problem on the scale of meaningful things, but the point was that people without certain discriminating palates, were carrying-on like wine connoisseurs just because they could afford to buy and drink Cristal. (Definitely snootiness on both sides of the aisle—you think?)

Actually Roederer produces an array of great Champagne—13 different types, from Brut premier (very dry) to Blancs de Blancs  (dry) to Carte Blanche demi-sec (sweet)—but I’m specifically talking about the Cristal.  And honestly the “Cristal” has had magnificent vintages—but in some years, perhaps not as good, and they were still charging $500 a bottle.  So the brand somewhat suffered because of the Jay-Z thing and the realization that it was kinda over-priced for some of the quality.

And in a strange reversal, a lot of wine enthusiasts kinda looked down on Crystal, naming so many more Champagne as preferable and certainly cheaper. In other words, they would never think of having Crystal—even if they could well afford it!

Well—why don’t we all just get along and for this New Year, let’s celebrate that Roederer has produced a bitch of a good champagne in their latest production of Crystal.  Whoops! Pardon my French—I think that language was a remnant of some rap song or something like that!

Anyway—just the other day, a distributor from the east coast thought he’d do the right thing and  sent me a bottle of the Louis Roederer 2004 “Cristal” Rose Champagne for a review.  This famous Champagne House has been making champagne for the last 200 years and Crystal for the past 100.  Only in 1974 did the house begin to make a Rosé.

The harvest of 2004—as they say, “it was a very good year”. A generous year, yielding both quantity and quality.   A cool moderate spring, just the right amount of rainfall during the growing cycle and despite a cold and rainy August, September was dry and sunny ripening the grapes perfectly.  By the 20th of that month, the vineyard team found the grapes as “stellar” combining maturity and freshness!

60% Pinot Noir – 40% Chardonnay. The Rosé is made up from old vine Pinot Noir grapes from the finest of the Aÿ vineyards, organically grown, which lie on a limestone block with clay and limestone soil that provide a crystalline purity of acidity corresponding perfectly to the Cristal style. The pristine Chardonnay is from Avize. Cristal Rosé is matured 6 years in the cellar and rests for 8 months to perfect its maturity.

This 2004 Crystal Rosé is pastel pink in color with bright, slightly orange glints. Fine, light bubbles in a long-lasting flow. The bouquet is delicate and subtle, with elegant fruitiness (red fruits: strawberry, ripe fig), zesty hints (citrus fruit: lemon and orange) and juicier nuances such as vine peach. There is a deep, slightly sweet burst of aromas.  One can simply breathe this in all night.

In the mouth, the bite is young, spring-like and energetic like eating fresh wild strawberries from a field, it becomes full-bodied and silky, but based on very mineral freshness. The second taste has airy fruit tones and great aromatic purity, displaying the discrete power of this great cuvée. Cherry notes appear, other berries come about, a bit nutty, a few traces of Danish pastry and lightly roasted dried fruits hint at its enormous capacity for change as it will continue to age in the bottle.

Quotes are coming in from the wine world: “Clearly imbued with the Cristal style, this wine has purity, fruit, finesse and incomparable harmony. In three words: proud, rich, and luxurious.”

“Levi Dalton at Convivio (NYC) compared this wine to the pianist who hits the right keys at the right moment. He’s referring to the precision of the wine, which is astonishing. There is no singular flavor, but rather a resonant chord, a series of oppositions that create the invisible intensity of an electric current, the power of the charge balanced by the elegance of the flavor and the structure of the wine. You could describe it as light and brisk, or bold and intense; either way, you’ll still be tasting it ten minutes later.”

“It has the bliss of great Burgundy and the delicate length of Champagne, lasting for minutes. It should last for decades in the cellar.”

I’ve mentioned this before, that be it just once a year, or, even just once in a lifetime, we’ll venture out to a really expensive wonderfully delicious wine where we follow our vino hearts to culinary sensibilities we might have missed otherwise.  This 2004 Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé, $500 to $600, is a treat for a lifetime.  Cheers & Happy New Year’s

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