Last week, we held a once in a lifetime tasting and masterclass of fifteen Louis Roederer Cristal Blancs from 1988 to 2013 – six from magnum (including one Vinotheque) and one from Jeroboam. The tasting was hosted by Essi Avellan MW & Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon at none other than 67 Pall Mall.
Essi Avellan MW – The masterclass was presented by Essi Avellan MW, who just last year completed her comprehensive book on Champagne. Finland’s first Master of Wine, Essi is the author of several wine books and is a reputed wine judge for the Champagne & Sparkling World Wine Championships. Recently Essi has re-written Tom Stevenson’s Wine Encyclopedia and the fourth edition is now published and available to buy. Read about Essi Avellan’s Champagne book here.
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon – Born and raised in Reims, Champagne, Jean-Baptiste graduated from Montpellier’s Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique, after which he joined Louis Roederer in August 1989. Lécaillon is the Executive Vice-President and Chief Winemaker at Louis Roederer – a post he has occupied since 1999.
The fifteen champagnes were served open (i.e. they were not blind tasted) and 40 of the evening’s 56 guests recorded their scores for each champagne using our live voting app. As the champagnes were not blind tasted, we also asked guests to record their expectations for each champagne; stating (after scoring) whether the champagne had either fallen short or exceeded their expectations for how it would taste on the evening. This is a useful tool for reducing some of the inherent bias when open tasting.
A results table for the tasting, showing the champagnes in rank order, the group average score for each champagne, and guests’ expectation assessments for each champagne, can be found below. The first thing to note when assessing the results table below is the astounding overall average score: 18.5/20 is a truly fantastic rating that any individual champagne would be proud to receive – to record this as an average score across the board just goes to show the calibre of the champagnes tasted.
Secondly, although there were some clear favourites, all of the champagnes were very tightly grouped. While the Cristal 1988 Magnum stole the show (19.6/20 is one of the highest average scores we’ve ever recorded!), the variance in score between all of the other champagnes (from the second highest rated to the fifteenth) was just 1.4 (19.0/20 vs 17.6/20) and between second and tenth was just 0.7 (19.0/20 vs 18.3/20). So whilst it can be a fun exercise to compare and contrast between the different vintages, it’s always worth keeping in mind that we are often discussing a difference of just a few decimal places. Whether the champagne in question ranked fourth or ninth overall, you can be certain it’s a stunning glass of bubbly.
Further, it only takes a glance at the results table to notice another obvious trend: the champagnes served from the larger formats (magnum and jeroboam) were the clear favourites on the evening. All of the larger formats placed in the top ten overall and of the top nine champagnes, six were magnums and one was a jeroboam, leaving just two bottles. The often discussed magnum effect truly is undeniable and although the larger vessels come at a premium, they really are the only way to guarantee you are enjoying any given vintage of Cristal at its finest.
On the same note, it’s therefore worth quickly mentioning the two 75cl bottles that did make it inside the top ten. To be served from a 75cl bottle in this tasting is to almost be at a disadvantage, so for Louis Roederer Cristal 2008 (the highest ranking 75cl bottle) to finish joint sixth overall with an average score of 18.7/20 demonstrates the magnificent power of this still-very-young vintage; and for Louis Roederer Cristal 2004 (the second highest ranking 75cl bottle) to finish eighth (its average score was 18.6/20, just 0.1 lower than 2008 – a good example of the minute differences in scoring that we are discussing) shows how remarkable this often (and unfairly) overlooked vintage is ageing (the mouth waters at the very thought of Cristal 2004 from magnum!)
So what of our experiment with recording guests’ expectations? We decided to do this as, when open tasing, there is inevitably an element of bias that is difficult to control. Serve anyone a glass of Cristal from a vintage with a good reputation (say, 2008) poured from a magnum and they will expect it to be mind-blowingly good, before the bubbles have even settled. This typically manifests itself in ‘over-scoring’; the champagnes and vintages with the best reputations inevitably finish an open tasting at the top of the results table.
Unsurprisingly, the highest ranked champagnes on the evening exceeded expectations in most cases. Whilst not wholly surprising (it would take a seriously reputable bottle to finish at the top of the results table whilst also falling short of the expectations placed upon it), this is also a good thing – it means the highest ranked champagnes deserved their high scores, and didn’t finish in that position on reputation alone.
The first champagne which strongly divided opinion was Louis Roederer Cristal 2002 Magnum – 7 guests reported it as performing below their expectations, versus 9 guests that reported it as exceeding expectations. Given the supreme reputation of the 2002 vintage and that this particular example was served from magnum, perhaps we might have expected it to rank slightly higher on the results table.
At the other end of the table, Louis Roederer Cristal 2012 – which, although still very young, hails from one of the most remarkable vintages of the century – finished in joint twelfth, just above bottom placed Louis Roederer Cristal 2007 (that said, it still scored 17.7/20, so it’s all relative!) However, guests’ expectation assessments (10 rated it as performing below their expectations, versus just 5 reported it as exceeding expectations), once again show the value of encouraging tasters to think about their expectations and biases – clearly most who tasted Louis Roederer Cristal 2012 were expecting better from it on the evening, but rather than allow that to translate into a falsely high rating, they rated it fairly and simply marked it down as performing ‘below’ their expectations.
|Group Average Scores | Overall Avg: 18.5/20||Expectation
|Rank||Champagne||Group Avg. Score / 20||Below||Exceeds|
|1||Louis Roederer Cristal 1988 Magnum||19.6||0||12|
|=2||Louis Roederer Cristal 2000 Magnum||19.0||3||16|
|=2||Louis Roederer Cristal 2008 Magnum||19.0||2||17|
|4||Louis Roederer Cristal 2006 Jeroboam||18.9||5||17|
|5||Louis Roederer Cristal Vinotheque 2000 Magnum||18.8||6||10|
|=6||Louis Roederer Cristal 2008||18.7||1||13|
|=6||Louis Roederer Cristal 2002 Magnum||18.7||7||9|
|8||Louis Roederer Cristal 2004||18.6||2||16|
|9||Louis Roederer Cristal 2006 Magnum||18.5||7||15|
|10||Louis Roederer Cristal Late Release 2006||18.3||7||11|
|11||Louis Roederer Cristal 2013||18.2||2||17|
|=12||Louis Roederer Cristal 2005||17.7||6||9|
|=12||Louis Roederer Cristal 2009||17.7||5||7|
|=12||Louis Roederer Cristal 2012||17.7||10||5|
|15||Louis Roederer Cristal 2007||17.6||8||5|