Full Circle: 1993-2015
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | DECEMBER 06, 2023
My visit to Roederer a few months ago, the first post-COVID-19, was memorable.
After a survey of the 2022 vins clairs, longtime Chef de Caves
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon presented a vertical of every Cristal he has made and
released since assuming his current role in 1999. It was an incredibly
instructive tasting that encompassed several themes over what has arguably been
the most significant period in Roederer’s long history.
Sitting down to taste through a remarkable vertical of
We started with a comparison of the original release and late
disgorged Vinothèque Cristals across the 1999, 2000 and 2002 vintages,
something I had never done before. Vinothèque was one of the first projects
Lécaillon took charge of after being appointed Chef de Caves. “It’s the same
story, my story, the Roederer story, the story of so many families here,”
Lécaillon explained. “Baby steps after baby steps, confirmed. Proof of concept,
then go to the next level. It takes time. It’s an organic journey that took me
twenty years. I don’t want to move too quickly in a new direction because I
respect tradition as well. I am always working on finding new approaches that
don’t kill what has been done in the past.”
Lécaillon re-introduced oak fermentation for some lots and
experimented with various closures. “I did some trials with cork; that was my
idea in the beginning,” he elaborated. “Cork adds creaminess, but it doesn’t
give the precision of Cristal. So, we use stainless steel crown caps. Then,
after ten years, I put the wines sur pointe to avoid excessive
Taking a close look at the wines in pairs was incredibly
educational, as readers will see in perusing the notes. The influence of time
on the lees, dosage and disgorgement dates was evident in each of the wines.
Chef de Caves Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon at the Champagne
Louis Roederer headquarters in Reims.
From there, we moved into a complete vertical of Cristal
starting with the 2004 and finishing with the 2015. It was a decade of significant evolution. During these years, Roederer transitioned fully from conventional to organic and then biodynamic farming for Cristal and Cristal Rosé. Today, Roederer is the largest farmer of biodynamic vineyards in Champagne. Around the same time, Roederer shifted its focus exclusively to estate-owned vineyards for all but the Collection (formerly Brut Premier). I
was fortunate to follow some of these transitions in my tastings of vins
clairs over the years, where Lécaillon often presented base wines from the
same vineyard but farmed with different approaches, for example, conventional
versus organic. Those wines suggest a new level of precision, as evidenced by a number of recent vintages that have been nothing short of sensational.
A magnum of the 1993 Cristal, from a late disgorgement, brought
this tasting back full circle, as 1993 was nearly the first release in the Vinothèque
program. Although the 1993 is a beautiful Champagne, it also very clearly
belongs to another era. Tasting it today is like opening an old book that
gracefully wears the patina of age. Ultimately proprietor Frédéric Rouzaud and
Lécaillon opted to start the Cristal Vinothèque with the 1995 vintage.
A final survey of all the wines in this vertical, plus a
few new releases.
Champagne Louis Roederer has been the most innovative and
dynamic of Champagne’s grand marques over the last twenty-five years or so. In addition to the complete re-thinking of farming mentioned above and the introduction of the Vinothèque program, Roederer has also introduced several new offerings, including two Brut Nature
Champagnes, two Coteaux Champenois and Collection, a modern-day interpretation of what used to be Brut Premier. That's an enormous amount of change in a relatively short time, but also indicative of just how dynamic Champagne is today.
For the purposes of this small article, I have kept my introduction brief. Readers will find extensive background information on
Roederer and Cristal in my previous articles, all of which are linked below.
© 2023, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.
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