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Cristal 2009 Champagne taps into spirit of the 60s

Cristal 2009 has a lot in common with vintages of the 1960s and represents an early example of how biodynamics can subtly affect its style, according to the man responsible for making it at Louis Roederer.

Cristal 2009 is the first time that Louis Roederer has skipped ahead to launch a vintage of its top vintage Champagne beyond the natural chronological order of things.

The ’09 has arrived ahead of the 2008 and, having been available on pre-order for several weeks, was officially launched last night in central London*.

See our rating and tasting note of Cristal 2009

‘I think the 2008 needs more time on lees,’ Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, chef de cave and executive vice president at Roederer, told Decanter.com ahead of last night’s event.

He has been slightly surprised by the 2009’s development.  ‘It’s still a baby, but we have expression of fruit and it’s more approachable today.

‘It’s not open because it’s going fast, it’s open because of the opulence of the year.’

It also has elements of a bygone era, Lécaillon believes.

‘I would compare to maybe 2002 and 1989. It has this kind of richness. But, if you want older you have to go back to the 1960s, with wines that have that kind of concentration.’

A ‘nightmare start’ to the year in 2009 led to a stormy July, but that gave way to warm, sunny and dry weather for much of August and September. It fits Lécaillon’s description of a ‘continental’ vintage.

That also makes it one of the three vintages every decade in which Lécaillon believes Champenois actually get to choose their own harvesting schedule – rather than ‘rush against botrytis’.

But, it’s impossible to speak wine with Lécaillon without mentioning biodynamics,. And he believes efforts to convert the grand cru vineyards feeding Cristal have helped the wine to open up.

Lécaillon said the change of viticulture, including stopping herbicides and re-ploughing the soils ‘gives you an extra ripeness while maintaining the acidity at the same time’. It comes from balance in the soil, he said.

‘The texture is new, and that is biodynamics.’

Around 40% of the Cristal 2009 is from biodynamic vineyards. As that percentage rises in future releases, will we see the effects more and more?

‘Time will tell, but it’s what we see happening in the viticulture,’ said Lécaillon.

Frédéric Rouzaud, Roederer’s CEO, said that the pair recently did a vertical tasting of another well-known French wine from vineyards that switched to biodynamic in 2003 and 2004. ‘We saw the wine move the same way,’ he said.

Wine first, Champagne second

Lécaillon added of Champagne, ‘I think we come back to the wines we were making before the 1970s. We had hundreds of years of biodynamics before chemicals. We come back to a Vin de Champagne and not a Champagne.

‘What I mean by that is it has to be a wine first. Some people push bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, but now they realise that we have to make a wine and then the bubbles add something extra.’

Oak also plays its part in the modern Cristal. Around 16% of the 2009 was vinified in oak. That is on the light side, with 20% to 30% a more normal range.

‘Rich vintages don’t need so much oak,’ said Lécaillon. ‘When I see it coming in quite ripe and quite fruity, I prefer to go stainless steel.’

*Awaiting new pricing information.

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