One of the most anticipated wines of the year is finally with us – Louis Roederer’s flagship champagne, ‘Cristal’ from the fabled 2012 vintage ($400). This is special for a number of reasons.
It is the first Cristal to be 100% biodynamic. Always seems a little bizarre that the man behind this style of viticulture was a committed teetotaller. Roederer have been a leading proponent for biodynamics in Champagne for some time now. They have already released several wines made under these principles, and the famous 2008 Cristal was part BD, but this is the first fully BD Cristal. Their trials began in 2000, the year after current chef du cave, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, took over. Cristal comes from 45 discrete parcels from the House’s own vineyards. All of these parcels have been converted to biodynamics.
They could hardly have picked a more exciting vintage. 2012 has been described by Jean-Baptiste as “one of the most challenging and complicated years ever experienced in Champagne. However, difficult conditions often lead to great things… The low yields, due to the unpredictable weather, combined with continental conditions towards the end of the season, gave us unusual levels of maturity, resulting in rich, full-bodied and structured wines worthy of the greatest vintages in Champagne.”
In the early days after harvest, the quality was already evident to Jean-Baptiste – “somewhere between 1959, 1990 and 2002”. Subsequently, he noted that it is “probably better than 1996 and close to 1990 on average, but in some special locations it could well better than that – closer to a 1947? The quality is outstanding. It is a great vintage.”
Pinot Noir was particularly successful.
For many, Cristal is the epitome of great champagne, the essence of elegance, the quintessence of class. It is released more often than most prestige cuvees, but Roederer are able to do this as they control a very high percentage of their own vineyards (rare in Champagne). This century, we have seen 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 (which was released before the ’08, as that wine needed all the time it could get, such was the style of the vintage). Now we have 2012. This gap of three years is the first time that has happened since 1993 followed 1990.
2012 Cristal is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. 32% was vinified in oak barrels. No malolactic fermentation. Dosage is just 7.5 grams/litre, the lowest ever for Cristal. The 45 parcels which contribute are located in seven different Grand Cru villages.
2012 offers an enticing golden hue, with a minute bead. Opens with alluring stonefruit, toast and hazelnut characters. White peaches, orange rind, tropical notes, cinnamon, guava and vanilla. Wonderfully intense and yet immaculately balanced with great length. The texture is seductively silk and satin. Vibrant acidity, a champagne with a great future ahead. More approachable than the 2008 at this early stage. A fabulous champagne. For me, 98.
If you must compare 2012 with 2008 – invidious, as they are very different – it will come down to personal preference for styles. I love them both but, if forced at the point of a gun, I’d give it to 08, 99 to 98. But I’ll never say no to either.