The 2014 Cristal is another in a long line of gorgeous wines from Roederer and long-time Chef de Caves Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon. A dazzling, vibrant Champagne, the 2014 impresses with a stunning combination of fruit density and linear energy that brings to mind a hypothetical blend of 2012 and 2008. At times, the bubbles feel totally wrapped up in waves of creamy, resonant fruit to the point the mousse is barely perceptible, especially with aeration. The flavors are bright and finely sculpted, leaning very much into the citrus, floral and mineral end of the spectrum. The blend is a classic: 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay taken from 39 of the 45 parcels that comprise the Cristal estate. In most vintages, the Pinot components are roughly equally split between Verzy/Verzenay and Aÿ, but in 2014, Lécaillon favored Verzy and Verzenay, two north facing villages in the Montagne de Reims (where rain was less problematic) known for conferring saline energy and vibrancy. Rain was much more of an issue in the Vallée de la Marne. Consequently, some of the Pinots in Aÿ were diluted and did not make it into the blend. Chardonnays were sourced from historic plots in Avize, Mesnil and Cramant. About 32% of the lots were fermented in wood, the rest were done in tank. As always, all of the malolactic fermentations were blocked. In 2014, the growing season was marked by a good spring followed by a cool, wet summer and then very favorable weather in September. I vividly recall that there was not much enthusiasm for the vintage at the outset. Today, though, opinions are starting to change, at least with regards to some wines. Since 2012, Cristal has been made entirely from organically-farmed grapes, an approach Lécaillon adopted in order to achieve a more ideal and parallel relationship between sugar and phenolic ripeness. “Champagne is always a battle between picking too early and rot,” Lécaillon has often said during our tastings. One of the other benefits of organic farming is that it naturally lowers yields. As Champagne fans know, the great wines of the 1950s and 1960s were made at a time when yields were in the 5,000 kilo per hectare range. Then, in the 1980s, widespread planting of higher-yielding clones led to an entirely different situation in the vineyard. Today’s permitted yields are 11,000 kilos per hectare, with some variation in years that present unusual growing conditions. With organic farming, yields for Cristal are in the 7,000-9,000 kilo per hectare range. Another innovation at Roederer has been a focus on higher-density plantings with newer vineyards, an approach that encourages low production per vine. But back to the wine. The 2014 Cristal is a riveting Champagne. Don’t miss it.
- Antonio Galloni (2022)