Cristal is amongst the biggest brands in the world, it is the most recognised vintage Champagne and along with Krug Clos de Mensil and Salon, it is the finest vintage cuvee on the market. Like Krug Clos de Mensil and Salon, Cristal exhibits wonderful complexity of flavour, magnificent concentration of fruit and a wonderfully balanced finish that continues for over a minute; it also improves for decades in bottle and is at its most precocious after 20-25 years. Cristal therefore has an unusual position in the market; it is considered by Champagne drinkers and critics to be the acme of prestige Champagne, selling out to collectors quickly, yet also rides the crest of ostentatious revelry, taking pride of place in nightclubs and bars around the world.
It comes as no surprise therefore, that older vintages of Cristal are extremely difficult to buy. Cristal only produces 25,000 to 32,000 cases, or 300,000 to 400,000 bottles per vintage. Demand for the recent 2002 and 2004 vintages have significantly outstripped supply, both having appreciated by 30% in value since release. Buying Cristal on release is truly compelling. Cristal increases in price quickly as the market absorbs initial allocations and within a few years the price is forced upwards.
Critics who have tasted the 2006 vintage have in general reported in acclamation, comparing it in style to the great 2004, which scored very highly amongst the leading estates. In 2004 Cristal scored 97 points, one if its highest ever efforts, a vintage already extremely difficult to source. The weather was warm throughout the summer in 2006, creating beautifully concentrated grapes. A cold and somewhat rainy August helped the grapes retain freshness and a backbone of acidity, while a dry and warm September provided near perfect conditions for harvest. Roger Voss of the Wine Enthusiast and Alison Napjus of the Wine Spectator both sampled the 2006 and awarded it 95 points, this is the highest ever from the Wine Spectator. It would appear on initial evidence that 2006 will be critically celebrated, a potential legendary vintage for Cristal, with the likes of Richard Juhlin and Antonio Galloni yet to taste, it is advisable to purchase early.
Cristal boasts the renowned flat-bottomed ‘crystal’ bottle, covered in an anti-UV cellophane wrapper. The gold label was created in 1876 for Alexander II of Russia and is considered to be the first ever prestige cuvee. Fearing assassination, the Tsar asked (read ordered) that the champagne bottles for his ‘Three Emperors’ dinner be made clear, so he could see the bubbles and a flat bottom to prevent a bomb being hidden in it: the result was Cristal.
Extremely rare and in huge global demand, Cristal is one of the best Champagnes money can buy and at £100 a bottle considerably cheaper than Krug Clos de Mensil and Salon. It offers exceptional value and it is worth buying a couple of cases on release, one to drink and one to resell for a profit over the coming years.
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