The Stars of Champagne

Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles.  Who doesn’t love bubbles?  Especially during this time of year, nothing beats popping open a nice bottle of Champagne to celebrate the holiday season.  San Francisco Wine Center students were ready to kick-off this year’s holiday festivities by joining Advanced Level Certified Sommelier and lead wine educator at the Culinary Institute of America Christie Dufault and spending a chilly winter evening learning about and tasting some of the true stars of Champagne.  With an extravagant lineup including legendary producers such as Taittinger, Pierre Gimonnet, Pierre Peters, and Lanson, it was the bottle of 1996 Louis Roederer Cristal that sparked a rather intriguing topic of conversation.  As we all know and have heard in countless songs by Notorious B.I.G, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, and several others, Cristal grew quite the following from the hip-hop culture throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Often referred to as “Crissy”, one could find bottles of Cristal available at nearly every major nightclub being sold for anywhere from $450 to $600, and sometimes even more.  Then suddenly all of that changed after a fateful interview with the managing director of Louis Roederer, Frederic Rouzaud. When asked if he felt that Cristal’s association with the “bling lifestyle” could be damaging to the brand, he simply replied, “That’s a good question, but what can we do?  We can’t forbid people from buying it.”  And with that, hip-hop icon Jay-Z was so offended by Rouzaud’s comment that he ultimately boycotted Cristal and pulled the wine from all of his lounges and 40/40 nightclubs.  The others soon followed.  Jay-Z spokesperson Ron Berkowitz later commented, “The hip-hop world certainly helped elevate the presence of Cristal.  At the end of the day isn’t the goal for any company to sell bottles?”  Well…not exactly.

You see, what makes wine so unique is that unlike beer and spirits which are made from fermented grains and starches, wine on the other hand is produced from fresh fruit.  This concept makes for significant fluctuations in production due to factors such as climate.  In other words, what you get each year is what you get.  So focusing back on Cristal, this high-end Champagne is not just about a crystal clear bottle, gold labels, and shiny foil wrappings.  As the very first Prestige cuvee of Champagne, both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are selected from their estate’s finest vineyards.  And only in the “great” years when the ripeness levels ensure the defined balance that Cristal is known for will the wine actually be produced.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it means that Cristal is only produced several times each decade.  The supply of this fantastic cuvee is not endless, and therefore, neither should its consumption be.  But now that the hip-hop culture has essentially dumped Cristal in a less than amicable breakup, nightclubs have moved on to other well-known Champagne houses.  Nicknamed “Sally”, the hip-hop and club scene has begun its all-or-nothing relationship with world-famous Champagne house Salon…which incidentally is also only produced during exceptional years and typically only four times each decade.  At the end of the day, are these producers more than happy to have anyone in the world that is passionate about wine thoroughly enjoy and indulge in their Champagne?  Most certainly, it’s what they live for.  Could these wines be fully appreciated for their rarity and superior quality while being sipped on a dance floor in a jam-packed nightclub whilst the drinkers are just trying to focus on not having their glasses elbowed by the person next to them?  That part, you decide.

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Taittinger Prelude Grand Crus Brut NV
  2. Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Reserve Brut 2000
  3. Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2002
  4. Pierre Gimonnet Brut Special Club 2002
  5. Pierre Peters Les Chetillons Blanc de Blancs 2004
  6. Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs 2005
  7. Louis Roederer Cristal 1996
  8. Lanson Ivory Label Demi Sec NV
  9. Lanson Extra Age Rosé NV
  10. Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut NV
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