Cristal is the brand of exquisite, high-quality Champagne currently produced by Louis Roederer. The unmistakable “crystal” bottle has a flat bottom, anti-UV cellophane wrapper and a gold label.
Widespread knowledge of the high price associated with Cristal has given the Champagne something of an image of exclusivity in its own right, subsequently elevating demand considerably the world over.
Cristal is considered a Veblen good, which basically translates as the high price alone being enough to attract significant interest from the upper end of the market.
Cristal Champagne is viewed by many to be the very first prestige cuvee, having first been created back in 1876 for Alexander II of Russia. Political unrest was as something of a high at the time, which inspired the Tsar to order clear bottles so as to ensure nothing untoward could be hidden within or behind them. A Flemish glassmaker was commissioned by Louis Roederer to design and produce a lead crystal bottle for Champagne with a flat bottom…which subsequently led to the Champagne itself being referred to as ‘Cristal’.
Not available commercially until 1945, it was the hip-hop and rap culture from the 1990s onwards that really brought the Cristal brand into the media spotlight.
The composition of grapes within Cristal is an almost equal blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, though the rose variety contains a higher concentration of Pinot Noir and is coloured using red wine, instead of the use of Pinot Noir grape skins. The vintage for the year 2000 was made with 45% Chardonnay and 55% Pinot Noir. Annual production of Cristal is currently around 300,000 to 400,000 bottles.
Cristal Champagne has an almost unique golden color given the slightly higher proportion of Pinot Noir grapes used, excluding the rose variety than is of course. The taste is described as initially flowery with citrus and fruit notes, followed by sumptuous toasted, woody aromas. With regard to pairings, alongside the upmarket nature of the Champagne itself, nothing compliments Cristal better than caviar, oysters and lobster.
A six-liter bottle of Cristal Methuselah (2000) sold at auction for $17,625 and was estimated to contain 1,870,000,000 bubbles…but who’s counting, right?