The history of champagne is full of enterprising widows. Louise Pommery was already a widow at the age of 39 and she probably would have proudly smiled in her grave if she had found out that she was going to give her name to the prestige champagne that was created in her honor in 1979. Pommery, currently owned by Vranken, was founded in 1856 and is today one of the largest champagne houses with their 5.6 million bottles a year. Given that most equivalent champagne houses launched their prestige champagnes during the 50s and 60s, it is a bit surprising that they waited until 1979 before the giant in Reims stepped onto the prestige stage. The reason is said to be that the monegasque Polignac family for a long time was against this novelty, stating that the vintage wine was already perfect.
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1979 HENRIOT ‘RÉSERVE BARON PHILIPPE de ROTHSCHILD’ | Epernay | Champagne | France | Henriot | 50PN 50CH | RJpoints 95(95)
TASTING NOTE ‘The Baron’s own Champagne from 1979 is similar to the ’81 for the most part. The fruit may be a touch richer in this wine. Previously this wine appeared clumsy and low in acidity. Today we know better. The concentration is magnificent, almost like a ’76 at the same time the wine enters with a new floral and citrus-fresh Chardonnay side. Completely wonderful! The equal proportions of Pinot and Chardonnay give the wine balance. Baron Philippe is always a heavier and more full-bodied Champagne than Baccarat. Slightly less impresive, when last tasted.’
RJ ON HENRIOT Joseph Henriot is one of Champagne’s most powerful men. After having been the boss of Veuve Clicquot for many years, he returned to Henriot in 1994. Today the firm is run by his modest and extremely competent son, Stanislas Henriot. Winemaker is Laurent Fresnet. The Henriot family were established as growers in Champagne by 1640 they started their own Champagne house in 1808. The firm’s strength has always been the high-class vineyards they owned in Côte des Blancs. Today they only own twenty-five hectares of vineyards in Chouilly, Avize, and Épernay. The total proportion of Chardonnay obtained from the firm’s fine contracts with growers is more than 20 percent; it dominates the house-style with its clean, elegant, fresh citrus fruit. The Henriot family has always had strong ties with Charles Heidsieck, and still shares offices and wineries. With Clicquot, on the other hand, they share a cellar. The firm’s biggest export market is Switzerland, where Henriot’s dry, classic, slightly discreet Champagnes are a great success. The firm did well at the Millennium Tasting. Personally, I like these elegant classics more and more. Some of the most drinkable wines in the world has got the Henriot Label. Very close to 5 stars.
DEUTZ ‘BRUT CLASSIC ROSÉ’ │AŸ │ DEUTZ │100PN │RJ 81(86) │TASTING NOTE ‘A new non-vintage rosé champagne with depth if as yet a rather too young Pinot character with 8% Aÿ Pinot for colour. Cherry and beetroot dominate over raspberry and strawberry up to now, but time will change all that and a warm vanilla-draped beauty is going to show itself in due course.’
2005 AGRAPART ‘BLANC DE BLANCS MINERAL’ │ AVIZE │ AGRAPART │100CH │RJ 92(94) │TASTING NOTE ‘Made from old vines at Cramant and Avize. Fantastically buttery and round. Especially so with regard to the comprehensive aroma. Love at first sight and more directly so than with Agrapart’s wines from 2002. Not as multi-facetted however but totally dependent upon its plumpness, intensity and charm. One of the bull’s eyes of the vintage.’
Monday morning, the cold and the snow got back to Sthlm … Let’s cheer up. We need a reason to open a great bottle of champagne today … Let’s celebrate St Patrick’s Day!
2006 LOUIS ROEDERER ‘CRISTAL’ | Reims | Champagne | France | Louis Roederer | 60PN 40CH | RJpoints 95(97)
TASTING NOTE Just fantastic from the start. A colossal power and beautiful rumbling pinot maturity. It’s like chewing on the ripest grapes from Aÿ and Verzenay. At the same time ultra stylish down all the unmistakable cristal essence, peach and mango sweetness, pineapple coconut, vanilla and unreal sprightly acidity and citrus flowery. Many similarities with 2002, but with a clearer pinot touch.
RJ ON CRISTAL
Cristal, just the name makes most of us burst into an enjoyable smile. Either we feel a historic reverence before the Russian tsar witch we have gratitude for the magical wine or that we associate the proudest of all champagne bottles and everything in its glittering wake. Think about all the classic film scenes which have been glorified by the clear bottle with its golden wrapping. Cristal is now the foremost choice in Hollywood when illustrating a luxurious situation, even thou Hip-Hop stars recently got pissed off that they did not get recognition from Louis Roederer despite their Cristal worship. However the symbol has already become so strong that it is impossible for the stars to get their fans to change to another brand.
That a music movement has appreciation for this world famous wine is well in order. What’s worst is when I was in Saint Tropez and saw young jetsetters squirting Cristal from magnum bottles in known racing drivers fashion just to show of their economic muscles, and unwittingly exposing their minimal brain capacity.
The history behind the mythical wine derives from the time when Russia was the largest export market for many of the famous champagne houses in Reims. Foremost reputation among the most powerful Russians had Louis Roederer. But the Russian tsar Alexander II was not satisfied with serving the same champagne as his subjects, so he called Louis Roederer to a meeting where it was decided that he would get his very own remarkable and fantastic bottle to show his guests. In 1876 he placed a special purchase order for the first transparent Cristal bottles with a flat bottom, which at that time were made of genuine crystal.
The wine was incomparably sweet and caused Roederer certain sales problems after the Russian revolution as they had unpaid invoices and a stock of sweet champagne that no one wanted. Rumors flourish frequently that there may still be bottles left from the days of the tsar in Russia, or on the bottom of the sea in sunken ships. How ever nothing suggests that any such bottles exist. After World War II Roederers management felt that it was time to renew the Russian connection when they wanted to find an equivalent to Moet & Chandons successful prestige champagne Dom Pérignon. It was an easy decision to reintroduce the tsar’s old bottle in a modern shape filled with a bubbly dry wine.
The wine is made since 1970 solely in stainless steel tanks with grapes from their own vineyards in Aÿ, Verenay,Verzy and and Cumiéres, mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Avize and Le Mesnil. It´s style is ultra sophisticated with a wild silky softness in combination with a nutty fireworks backed by exotic fruitiness in a caramel filled body. When Cristal is at it´s best I discover tones of everything that makes life worth living. In short one of the most perfect classic champagnes the world has to offer. Cristal Rosé is an even more expensive and uncommon product which has been cast in a similar form, but in it´s lovely figures it moves slightly more to strawberries with cream. It gets it´s color from contact with peelings from Pinot grapes which have grown on old grape vines in Aÿ. Composition of grapes is most often 70% Pinot Noire and 30 % Chardonnay. To me this rosé wine is without a doubt the worlds foremost rosé all categories.
How is the quality today seen from a historical perspective? In august 2007 I updated my already voluminous testing register of this fantastic wine at an extremely extensive Cristal testing at the great and now starred Solleröd Kro north of Copenhagen. A private Danish real enthusiast that performed the same type of testing last year of Dom Pérignon had collected the wines during thirteen years. The whole event was superbly conducted. The Scandinavian testing group enjoyed a wonderful day with colossal quantities of first class food and Cristal in equal amounts.
Winner this time was found among the middle aged wines. Most impressive where vintage 1979 and 1982, taken into account that older vintages cost a fortune purchase should be made among the younger vintages. It should how ever be mentioned that vintages 40-, 50-, and 60- when in perfect condition, are worth every penny. Below you can see what I consider be the quality of almost all vintages that has been produced during the beginning years of 2000. The left column reflects today’s status and the right its potential top ranking.
What then is the greatest Cristal ever made? If you want to learn it so I would suggest a dinner preceded by the 1988 Cristal Rosé and Cristal Rosé 1979 followed by a generous serving of duckliver with the 1949 and 1955. I hardly think that the old tsar would turn in his grave.