A Tasting to Remember—Roederer Cristal

This past Thursday I flew out to Hollywood for a very special vertical dinner of Louis Roederer’s Cristal. K&L’s own Sharon Kelly organized the event, and 25 happy customers joined us. Dirk Smits from Champagne Louis Roederer lead us through the wines, which were paired expertly by Chef Walter Manzke and his staff at République.

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We started off the evening with an aperitif of Louis Roederer "Brut Premier" Champagne, which showed fabulously well, especially with the foie gras torchon on toast that was passed around. This non-vintage Champagne is anything but basic, and showed poise and elegance that did not fade even when the Cristal was served. It had plenty of open knit, nutty flavor on its own, and came alive with vibrant cut with the foie gras. This is excellent Champagne, and a huge value for the price.

Dirk presented the story of Champagne Louis Roederer after we sat down, and I learned that they keep their own nursery for grape vines. This allows them to control the pedigree of the vines that they plant, and is part of the top to bottom, no detail left unattended approach that yields them such great wines. Every vintage Champagne from Roederer is estate, and each plot is farmed with the wine it will go into in mind. Cristal, is in fact, an estate within an estate for Roederer, made up of the oldest vineyards that are the most perfectly exposed and on the chalkiest parcels that they have.

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The first course to come out was a lobster crudo with yuzu and matsutake mushrooms. We had both the generous, Pinot forward 2009 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Champagne and the linear, chalky 2008 with this course. It is very clear why Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon decided to release the 2009 first and hold the 2008 back, giving it more time on the lees. If you have both in your cellar, consider yourself lucky, and drink the 2009 before the 2008. The 2008 lives up to all of the hype- it is a masterful wine from the best vintage in a generation- but it needs time. The 2009 is ready to party now!

I was surprised and delighted by the pork belly dish with caviar cream and caviar that came out next. I never would have thought to put these three elements together- much less to pair with top vintage Champagne. That is why Mr. Manzke is the chef! It was fantastic, and had a synergy with the 2002 and 2000 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Champagne that had to be tasted to be believed. Again, the more famous 2002 seemed young and concentrated, while the hazelnut depth of the 2000 was really coming out. I would say this 2000 Cristal is the youngest vintage that is truly “there” right now. What a winner! As for the 2002, give it another year or two if you can.

Our last savory course was an excellent sole dish with chanterelle’s and bacon. It tasted even better than it sounds! It was truly magic with the 1999 Cristal, which is showing wonderfully developed chanterelle and truffle aromas of its own. This developed bouquet is what two decade old Champagne is all about for me, especially when it is wedded to a virile, chalky finish! I love a wine that shows both maturity and youth in every sip, and this one sure did both.

For dessert we had an Alsatian style apple and ice cream dish paired with the too often over looked Louis Roederer "Carte Blanche" Demi-Sec Champagne. This Champagne has great sweetness for pairing with rich desserts, but still feels lively and fresh. That is a great thing for the end of an evening in the October warmth of Hollywood. We get many requests for Champagne to serve with dessert, but most people are afraid of Demi-Sec. Do not fear- well made sweeter Champagne is a delight.

I feel extremely fortunate to have had the chance to drink these wines with such good food. It proves to me once again that Cristal is truly a fine wine, worth your patience for cellaring as well as your care in pairing with cuisine. Sadly, too much of this great Champagne is wasted in clubs paired with nothing but loud beats. This was an unforgettable evening, and each of the five vintages of Cristal were unforgettable wines!

Louis Roederer "Brut Premier" Champagne $39.99

2008 Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut Champagne $259.00

-Gary Westby

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Gary Westby