Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, holding a bottle of 2008 Cristal

Waiting for vintage Champagne is like baking a cake. Except this cake has to spend about a decade in the oven — and you won’t know what it really tastes like until its ready. When it is though, it’s cause for celebration. 

For Champagne house Louis Roederer, the most recent “cake” to come out this metaphorical oven is its 2008 vintage of Cristal, its flagship cuvee. The vintage Champagne was originally created in 1876 for Tsar Alexander II of Russia; and was not available commercially until 1945.

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While 2009 has already been released, the 2008 vintage — marked by cool yet sunny spells — demanded more time, but also resulting in a greater payoff, having been considered the best expression of the best the house has to offer.

Cristal’s 2008 vintage

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Louis Roederer’s cellar master for 30 years, has declared this the “the Cristal of Cristals” — the strongest representation of what a Cristal should be: “finesse, finesse, finesse”.

What does “finesse” taste like? The James Suckling 100-pointer wine has all the marks of good bubbly: toasted brioche, autumn yellow fruits, candied citrus, toasted almonds, and a very slight lift of what we found to be similar to fermented rice — all underscored by fine chalk and salinity.

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The wine is made with 60 percent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay all sourced from Louis Roederer’s own vineyards — the house picks the berries at higher levels of maturity than usual in the Champagne region; making for a concentrated, pure wine. The Champagne also spent 9 months on lees, and been made with the house’s lowest dosage yet at 8 grams/litre.

It’s intense and powerful, but focused and elegant; with plenty of potential for further ageing for at least 30 years. Lécaillon compares the potential of the 2008 Cristal to other outstanding vintages like the 1988 and 1996 — both of which are showing very well right now.

If you’ve got the patience, Lécaillon suggests decanting the 2008 when you do pop one open in 30 or more years time, explaining that he doesn’t normally suggest decanting the young Champagnes; but a vintage (like the 2008 Cristal in a couple of decades) should be allowed some time in a separate vessel to open up — treat it more like a fine wine than mere bubbles.

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Cristal is distributed by Grand Vin and is now being served at Fish Pool at NCO Club