The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 46 of 124

46 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2015/2016 { cover story } The Champagne Sniper There is no room for dogma at Cristal. Nothing happens by chance, yet neither is there anything formulaic and predictable—there always seems to be a space left for a touch of genius or creativity. When it comes to malolactic fermentation for example, Jean- Baptiste calls himself a sniper : It's used if it's needed but never on more than 12% of the wine. Then there's the question of texture. Cristal is built on the lees. Most people work with clear wine, but at Cristal the cloudier the juice, the better they like it. There's very little racking—just once after pressing to get rid of the solids—and then all wines are kept on total lees for up to 8 months until bottling, and all the while the lees are gently turned once a week to give the all-important texture. Uniquely in Champagne, the pressure in the bottle is adjusted each year according to the character of the wine. When the fruit is really ripe and the wine wonderfully creamy, the pressure is reduced. The same is true across bottle sizes: the larger the bottle, the lower the pressure. Seventy-five percent of the Cristal estate is now farmed biody - namically and the plan is to get to 100% by 2020, but Jean-Baptiste insists he's not obsessive about biodynamics. " Fifteen years ago we started trials and within three years the improvement in the vines was so marked that we knew that something good was going on." There's another, equally important, motivation behind the use of biodynamics: "I want my team to be involved at a personal level. Working biodynamically requires a keen sense of observation and connection with the soil, so what better way to empower the team and make sure that they're in touch with the vines and understand as well as participate in a common vision?" The Jewel in the Crown The next stop is Aÿ where in mid-slope on a broad, south-facing hillside lie some of the most coveted vineyards in the whole of Champagne. At the heart of the slope are a few plots that are Cristal's jewel in the crown where the Pinot Noir for Cristal and Cristal Rosé are born and indeed the grapes are as immaculate as the vineyard itself: intensely black, perfectly formed. The average age of these vines is 45 years, but many are much older. It's a long-term project and it will be 30 years before a newly planted plot is ready to harvest for Cristal Rosé. Jean-Baptiste won't get to make those wines, but he's happy to plant for his successors. The yield from these old vines is minuscule—as low as 20 to 25 hectolitres/hectare, or even less for Cristal Rosé (many vignerons in Champagne expect three times that)—but the concentration of the juice is ample compensation. The Somms' Reactions June Rodil: "After being awestruck with the reality that I was tasting a wine that had been so remote to me in my Champagne-drinking days, I took a moment (or many moments, rather) to wrap my mind around what was happening in my glass." Diego Ruiz de Porras: "Louis Roederer is all about the wine- making history! The quality of a great Champagne lies firstly in the quality of the grapes used for its elaboration." Pierre Lassere: "Cristal is the authentic expression of a unique ter- roir, captured in time, inside a bottle dancing with reflections of gold."

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