Tasting Champagne With a Living Legend
I honestly cannot think of anything that I find more interesting and fun than tasting top class wines with the person who actually made them (although buying a new handbag comes close). No matter how deep the knowledge of a Master of Wine, wine critic or Master Sommelier, it rarely competes with the depth of knowledge and insight coming from the wine maker himself. This depth of insight into a specific wine or vineyard can only be gained by getting your hands dirty and ‘living and breathing’ your vines and wines. A few weeks ago we were fortunate enough to be invited to a memorable tasting with one of the great wine makers of our time, Jean Baptiste Lecaillon from Louis Roederer.
Louis Roederer was founded in 1776 and has a very solid reputation for excellent quality champagne. It is one of the very few family owned Champagne houses and is today managed by Frédéric Rouzaud who represents the 7th generation of the lineage. As perhaps you know, most Champagne houses own very little vineyards, instead they buy in grapes or wines from growers. At Roederer however it is different, they own 75% of their need which mean they have full control of both viticulture aspects as well and wine making decisions, something they feel is key to quality. They are also one of very few houses that practice Biodynamics, something that can be very tricky in a marginal and humid climate as Champagne. In good years they make 6 different champagnes but in the yachting industry it is of course their top Champagne, Cristal, that gets most of the attention.
Cristal was first created in 1876 for Tsar Alexander II of Russia and is viewed by many as the first prestige champagne in the world. The Tsar was already a big fan of Louis Roderer, but requested a “super cuvée” to be produced for him and his court. He wanted his Champagne to be noticeably different in look to the standard green champagne bottles of the time, and asked for a clear bottle to be fabricated for him… it was originally made out of crystal. The political situation in Russia in that period was very unstable and the Tsar had a very real fear of being assassinated. As a precautionary measure he also requested that the bottom of the bottle be flat so that no bomb could be hidden under it!! The unique transparent flat bottomed clear bottle design is still used by Cristal today. However, transparent glass is not ideal for wine storage as the UV light speeds up the process of oxidation, which is why each Cristal bottle is wrapped in a yellow protective plastic film (in case you wondered).
But Cristal is only representing 10% of the yearly production of Roederer. Here are notes of the other wines made by this impressive Champage house.
N.V Brut Première
After the Brut Premiere we had the pleasure of tasting three wines from the highly rated 2008 vintage. This was a year with a slightly worrying start with a rainy and cold spring which made flowering problematic. But then came an excellent summer, dry and not too hot which assured a slow ripening with high aromatic potential in the grapes. September was sunny and dry resulting in perfectly ripe and healthy grapes with excellent concentration.
Tasting note: "This is one of my favorite non-vintage house champagne that I find consistently is offering great pleasure at excellent value. Rich, ripe and complex nose with baked apples, toast, notes of honey, white pear with a smoky/mineral sensation. Palate is intense, broad with a firm crisp acid yet silky structure and a broad solid finish."
2008 Vintage Louis Roderer
Tasting note: "Open inviting aromas of creamy lemon tart, oatmeal cockies, toasted almonds, fresh mushrooms. Complex and rich. Palate is showing a lovely silky texture, excellent depth and fruit concentration combining minerality and baked apple, broad firm acidity and lovely lingering finish."
2008 Blanc de Blanc
Tasting note: "A slightly reductive style with a restrain nose of lemon pie, tonic water, quince and a beautiful minerality. Palate is fine and tight with a brisc acidity which is fully in balance with the elegant citric/almost floral fruit quality of this wine."
2008 Rosé Louis Roederer
As perhaps you have heard, most rosé Champagne is made by blending in a bit of red wine to achieve the desired color and style of the wine, this is generally between 10-20%. At Roederer however, they do a ‘rosé de maceration’ which means that they will leave the red grapes in the wine and will let them macerate for a few days and then ´blead the wine off its skins´ when the right balance is attained.
Tasting note: "A beautiful fleshy, ripe opulent nose revealing creamy aromas of sweet red fruit, blod orange, toasted hazelnuts and mountain flowers plus wet stones. I love this nose! Palate is also generous and vibrant with a fabulous fruit density combined with a crisp frim acidity and an almost waxy texture- a long broad finish."
Tasting note: "Elegant, tight and focused nose giving way to fresh almonds, pollen, very light toast and brioche and citrus. Restraind yet colmplex. Palate is tranlucid, like liquid stone, very intense minerality in a steely and tight structure. Arrow like somehow with a phenomenal concentration and finish."
Tasting note: "2006 was a warmer year than 07 which is something that can be sensed in the wine. This wine is riper and more open and even a year ago was much more accessible than the 07 is now. The nose is complex and generous with aromas of brioche, white fresh almonds, honeysuckle and toast. The palate is equally generous yet still in a tight focused structure. Opulent fruit quality combined with the crisp firm acid and fine minerality gives the palate a lovely concentration and depth. Long broad and comlpex finish."
There is a fairly recent tendency among Champagne houses to release back vintages that has spent extra-long time on lees (the yeast bed created by the second fermentation that creates the bubbles in Champagne). Dom Perignon has received plenty of media attention for their P2 and P3 Champagnes with the P standing for Plenitude. The theory behind it is that the longer a Champagne spends on the lees the more complex it becomes. Next year we will also see Roderer re-releasing 1997 Cristal. It has spent 10 year on the lees and another 10 years after disgorgement (when you remove the lees from the bottle). According to Lecaillon this is the perfect combination. Personally I had difficulties understanding this wine, it was a bit backward but still intriguing. Hopefully when it is released it will show greater charm and accessibility.
Tasting note: "A fairly restrained, mineral and slightly reductive nose with sailine characters. Almost Chablis Grand Cru like with its smoky, dense minerality. After a few moments in the glass though, creamy notes of baked brioche, truffle oil and grilled almonds adds to the complexity. The palate is focused and precise with almost a waxy texture. Crisp and firm acidity further improving the firm power of this wine. Very long length. Will be interesting to re taste this one when released! Will give my score then."
2006 Brut Nature
After having experimented with extra-brut cuvées (those with less than 6 g/l of sugar) in 2003, 2004 and 2005, it was not until 2006 that the house decided to make something with zero dosage, marking the birth of Louis Roederer Brut Nature. This is a collaboration between two friends, the owner Frederic Rouzaud and the designer Philipp Starck. Starck only drinks Champagne none-dosé (according to the star himself) so hence the idea.
Tasting note: "Love this one! This champagne possess an intriguing combination of a razor sharp structure, crispness and firmness yet keeping a light creamness, elegance and a silky texture. Freely expressed it is like a light creamy merengue lemon pie with elegance, fluff, minerality and persistence and razor like focus."
Thank you Roederer for a lovely tasting!