WORDS KEN GARGETT
Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 2008 is a truly great vintage for Champagne. Some have claimed it is the best since 1996, or even 1990. It might even surpass those two and challenge the brilliant 1988. Like the great ’88, which snuck under the radar in its youth, this is a vintage of bright, vibrant acidity and pristine flavours.
There are many fine examples of superb champagnes from this vintage, but one which has already developed an almost legendary reputation, even at this early stage (yes, even though the vintage was more than a decade ago, in champagne terms, it is a mere pup), is the Louis Roederer Cristal 2008 ($430, but it will vary enormously as much has already sold).
The 2009 Cristal has already been released – it was a more forward style so the earlier release suited it. The next will be 2012, no 2011 or 2012, which will be the first fully biodynamic Cristal (40% of the 2008 came from biodynamic vineyards).
A 60/40 Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend, it spent longer on lees, around 8 to 9 years, than Cristal often does (personally, I usually think that it would not hurt for Cristal to be held back a little longer before release). Chef de Cave, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, has talked about this being the wine of his career. Given that he has been producing these stellar champagnes for three decades, that says a fair bit.
It comes from chalky Grand Cru vineyards – Louis Roederer has the great advantage of owning a very high percentage of its own vineyards, some 240 hectares (many Houses buy all or the vast majority of their needs from growers), allowing them access to the finest grapes – which is why it is a bit surprising that there will be no 2010. Dosage was 8 grams/litre; there was 16% malolactic fermentation; and 20% vinified in oak.
2008 saw a dry, cool summer, the type the Champenois categorise as “continental”. The wines are considered ‘dense, powerful and very concentrated’. Those cool summer temperatures contributed to the intensity of the wines and what they term, a ‘saline freshness’.
This is a wine of supreme elegance and ethereal grace. Notes of cumquat and nectarine, spices, glacéd lemon. It is already showing wonderful complexity.The flavours explode on the palate, with a minerally undertow and some bracing oyster shell acidity, but they always remain in balance and refined. It is a complete champagne, beautifully structured with great length and certain to age magnificently. For those who like a score, 99.
Jean-Baptiste has described it as “the most Cristal of Cristals’. There could be no higher praise.