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Wine of the Tsars

A truly legendary champagne, Cristal is the House of Louis Roederer’s most famous wine and with good reason. Discover the story of the ultimate commission.

As is usually the case with the very rarest and finest creations, Cristal came into being as the result of the combined ambition of a commissioning patron and the tenacity of a maker. In 1876, Tsar Alexander II approached his favourite champagne house, Champagne Louis Roederer, to create a new and exceptional cuvée. A longstanding lover of fine champagne, Tsar Alexander II wanted a wine for his personal consumption which would represent the absolute zenith of quality.

Unlike other champagne houses who bought the majority of their grapes from a multitude of small growers, Louis Roederer had purchased their own vineyards in the 1830s, giving them complete control over every element of the process. The Maison knew exactly which plots consistently provided the best quality grapes, and could isolate these parcels to make what was to become the original prestige cuvée exclusively for the Tsar and his court. 

The result was a stunningly pure, concentrated and elegant champagne, named ‘Cristal’ as the Tsar requested they be bottled in crystal decanters. It remained the exclusive champagne of the Tsars until the Romanov dynasty met its end in 1918 and was not commercialised by the Roederer family until 1945. To this day, Cristal is made entirely from estate grown fruit and remains a champagne of very small production. Each of the 45 plots of the Cristal Estate are on highly chalky soils located in seven grand cru villages, and over the past two decades the Maison has been converting their estate to organic and biodynamic viticulture. A noticeable outcome of this far more sustainable form of farming is that the natural freshness of the wines is enhanced.

The 2012 release was the first year that Cristal was made from 100% biodynamically farmed grapes, and it was met with great critical acclaim - as was the subsequent 2013 vintage. Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Cellar Master at Champagne Louis Roederer, believes the best time to drink Cristal is at 20 years old. This inspired the Vinothèque project, allowing Cristal to be bought and drunk, rather than bought and aged. 

A tiny production of the Vinothèque 2000, the fourth iteration of the Vinothèque project, has just been released. Lécaillon advises: “Let the wine breathe, that is the key for Cristal, let the wine open in the glass.” The eagerly anticipated release of the 2014 vintage in early 2022 will tell the next chapter in the Cristal story.

 

The full edition of PURSUIT – CUSTOM LIFE can be found as a digital flipbook here.

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