There are two types of people in this world: those who think it’s no big deal to drink magnums of Cristal and those who do – like me, who promptly calls over friends, hands out paper and pens and says, “We’re going to take notes on this very expensive bottle of champagne I won. It’ll be fun!” Cristal, after all, is not made for us, none of us being stars, tsars, kings, psycho killers, club-owning rappers, knowledgeable about champagne or the stock market . And none of us will likely drink it again. To add insult to injury, we were also too hasty according to the experts: James Suckling suggests a drinking window with views reaching to the far side of 2022.
Here’s what else I learned. Cristal is not spelled ‘Crystal’ like I wrote in my notes, and comes wrapped in crackly orange foil in a satin-lined wooden box that goes clumpf when it shuts like an expensive car door. The colour theme is unrestrainedly gold. The cuvée was ‘composed’ by Louis Roederer on the commission of Tsar Alexander II in 1876 and presented in a lead-crystal bottle with a flat bottom. This, according to the accompanying multi-lingual booklet, was a detail much appreciated by the tsar who was afraid of bombs. Cristal is made from grand cru vines, aged for six years, disgorged and left to rest for another eight months and my bottle — a 2007 disgorged in 2015 — is composed of 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay, up from the usual 60:40 and apparently enough to make a difference. But then the x-ray machine it passed through, packed between boots and bagged wine in my luggage, also probably did, so I’m not the one to comment.
But how’s it taste? For this I must consult the pile of scribbled notes we wrote and read out anonymously that night, re-folded and put back in my beret. Here’s what we got and if this is not Grand Cru enough 4 U don’t blame me. All I’ve done is string the bits together.
In the glass Cristal 2007 shows hues of glittered angel wings in sun sheen and low-sunk candle glow tones. A million-ply Egyptian cotton-fine bubbles dance like fireflies through infinite star showers, shimmering like a back-lit galaxy or morning dew on a gossamer web. On the nose there’s warm yellow fruit drizzled with blossom honey and a squeeze of nectarine on a bed of wet spinach, and in the mouth: Vogue.
A sip is a memory of the Venetian ball the night before, a kaleidoscope of silken ghosts and fractured candlelight cast into movement by a thousand gilded mirrors. Of gown-churned chalk dust settling on heavy velvet and gold-leaf masks; upon towers of lychee, grapefruit and oyster shells, wild peaches and cut-crystal chandeliers. The palate shows strong tones of palatial grandeur, power and security; one hand spinning the globe from the sumptuous depths of a tiger-skin throne balanced by sharp-edged energy like precisely shattered diamond glaciers lightly dusted in the purest Peruvian snow.
Sebastian Flyte meets Vile Bodies hints at the deep complexity of repressed British aristocracy and the resulting texture of a molten gold symphony with a whisper of Mozart and lemon meringue still lingering in the Darjeeling air.
Suitable for all flagship occasions but best served with yachts and caviar.
Hannah’s magnum was her prize for winning the Roederer International Wine Writing Awards “Emerging wine writer of the year” award 2018.
Consult wine-searcher for more common-or-garden methods of procuring a bottle.