It would be fair to say our long-awaited Champagne Cristal dinner, held this week at Outlaw’s at the Capital Hotel, did NOT disappoint. With its luxurious, opulent beginnings – Cristal was first created exclusively for Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1876 – and its modern, perhaps slightly unwelcome ‘bling’ connections of more modern times, we had to pitch this event carefully. With our interest firmly in what’s inside the bottle, we were looking for a venue and cuisine that would allow the true quality of the wine to speak for itself and the vintages to show at their best; Nathan’s stunningly sourced fish and brilliant cooking techniques did exactly this. The room was clean, bright and simple and the food a perfect backdrop to the wines which were, to a bottle, absolutely gorgeous. In fact the only bling on show was an extraordinary –and as it turns out, rather famous – Swarovski crystal-covered Mercedes parked outside the hotel...
Back in the Cadogan suite, the charming and effusive Mark Bingley MW talked us through the history of the House of Roederer and more specifically of Cristal, including the extraordinary revelation that the famous lack of ‘punt’ in the base of the bottle was due in no small part to the paranoia of Alexander II, who was convinced that someone might try and hide an explosive device in a traditionally deep bottle punt (not unnecessarily paranoid, as it turned out – Alexander was indeed eventually assassinated by a bomb, although not one in a bottle!)
The wines were a knockout, so over to the various members of the team to pick a favourite...
Lucy Stewart, Tastings and Events Coordinator “The 2006 was still very youthful but utterly charming! It had a wonderful rich bouquet with an intense, complex and broad palate. There was a lovely purity of fruit with a mineral edge. If it’s this good whilst still relatively youthful, I can only imagine what a fabulous wine it will be with maturity.”
Simon Eddleston, Private Sales Account Director “The 2002 fired from the glass – stunningly smoky, multifaceted, nutty and completely engaging. Although still relatively young (with many decades of pure joy ahead), it’s just about irresistible already – rich yet supremely refined and oh-so complete. Just about as perfect as great Champagne can be.”
Anneka Swann, Private Sales “The 1996 took our table by complete surprise with an unsung vivaciousness leaving us gasping for more. Still displaying the fruit, florality, and acidity of youth, and embracing well the integration of aging, the 1996 Cristal is a wine that is at once both delicate and powerful. Honeyed citrus blossoms and new season apricots contrast with an earthy minerality and fresh pastry essence. This wine will continue to evolve in the cellar, and whether now or then, will remain completely ‘moreish.’”
Philippe Guittard, Buyer “It’s always great to compare and contrast two great back-to-back vintages and for me, 1995 was the winner here. Fabulously rich but with beautiful balance, real complexity and a heavyweight finish that just seemed to go on and on – it’s hard to imagine Champagne getting much better than this.”
Tom Chadwick, Private Sales Account Director“Cristal needs age and with age comes all the wonderful hallmarks that go towards the rich tapestry of Cristal that you learn about the moment you join the wine trade. This was my first proper experience of drinking mature Cristal and the 1990 stood out with aplomb! It seems to have everything going on: grace and elegance, yes, but matched with generosity and depth too. The developed characteristics are shining forth and to drink now you can’t go far wrong – Christmas day drinking? You’d have tiny Tim smashing down your door!”
Cristal 1989 and 1983
Giles Cooper, Head of Marketing and PR “I simply couldn’t choose between these so I will choose both (my game, my rules). If Selosse Cuvee Substance is Montrachet with bubbles, then the 1989 is mature Grand Cru Chablis with bubbles... incredible richness but backed by an oyster-shell, stony elegance that keeps it in perfect harmony. Retains its linear shape through its fine but firm spine of acidity, allowing the toasted lemon, hazelnut and brioche characters to work on the palate without ever becoming cloying. Stunning wine. We had two quite different bottles of the ’83 – the first more oxidative and toasty, but still with good acidity and clarity of fruit, the second extraordinarily young tasting and fresh. Assuming the second was a ‘better’ bottle, it’s really something quite amazing to taste a 31 year old Champagne which is so bright and balanced and clearly with so many more years ahead of it. What a finale!”