PREMIUM

Cristal Vinothèque: The ultimate luxury fizz?

Following the launch of Cristal Vinothèque with the 1995 vintage in 2017, John Stimpfig recently tasted the 1996, which he describes as an 'absolute, ultimate fizz'...

If you’re looking for the absolute, ultimate fizz, the recently released Cristal Vinothèque 1996 has to be a top contender.

Having tasted the wine in the company of Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon – chef de caves at Roederer since 1999 and also an executive vice-president at the group – I can tell you that it’s dazzlingly good and adds even greater lustre to Cristal’s remarkable reputation.

The 1996 vintage

It’s worth bearing in mind that 1996 was a controversial, difficult and challenging vintage in many ways. The year was hot and dry thanks to the north winds, and the vintage was highly rated at the time and on release of the champagne – but not every Champagne of that year has stood the test of time. Needless to say, this Vinothèque version of Cristal is one that has – and will continue to do so.

What is Cristal Vinothèque?

Great Cristal vintages are selected to be held back in Roederer’s deep cellars, at the Rue de Savoye in Reims, for re-release as part of the Vinothèque library. Carefully nurtured by Lécaillon, these provide the greatest possible expression of Cristal.

The 1996 has been aged for ten years on its lees on its side (‘sur lattes’), which Lécaillon describes as a critical oxidative process: ‘The ’96 was marked by very high acidity and I wanted to give the wine more texture in response to the natural acidity.’

It was then aged for four years upside down (‘sur pointe’), which has a more reductive effect on the wine to emphasise and preserve the fruit. It was then disgorged with low dosage of 7g/l and given another seven years of bottle age prior to release, giving greater softness to the mousse.

Interestingly, Lécaillon noted the great similarity between the conditions of 1996 and 2008. ‘During the course of 2008, I kept thinking about 1996. So we delayed picking in 2008 as a result of that experience and carried out some malolactic fermentation on 16% of the 2008 Pinot Noir. In ’96, we didn’t do any MLF.’

Significantly, he describes the recently released 2008 Cristal as the greatest of all time. So far…

Limited numbers

Inevitably Cristal Vinothèque 1996 does not come cheap, thanks to its rarity, quality and age – just 500 bottles have been made available to a global market. In the UK, Hedonism are retailing its allocation at £1,200 a pop.

The Vinotheque Rosé 1996 is even rarer, with just 18 bottles allocated to the UK. Hedonism are retailing their handful of bottles at £2,220 each – perhaps a small price to pay for this level of exclusivity?


Cristal Vinothèque tasting notes & scores: