Wine Notes – 100 Point Score
Uncorking the World’s Best Champagne
It’s not often that my printing business crosses the line into my passion for great wine. I don’t generally print wine labels, and the best marketing material for selling good wine is inside the bottle. You can talk all you want about how wonderful a wine is, but you really don’t have a clue until you pop the cork.
Speaking of wonderful wine, I was thrilled when I received a call from PJA, a marketing agency with a location in Cambridge, Mass., asking me to produce a direct-mail campaign that incorporated an imitation bottle of what is arguably the best Champagne in the world.
Movista, a client of PJA’s, is seeking sales meetings with extremely hard-to-reach executives. They asked me to produce a high-end gift box and empty faux bottle of Cristal Champagne. The package, gift wrapped in gold paper and gold bow, will be sent to targeted executives. They’ll remove the wrapping and open a gold hardcover box that’s fastened with a magnetic closure and contains a bottle of “Cristall” (purposely misspelled) Champagne — except the bottle is fake and empty. An accompanying note says, “Take a call about the Movista platform to get the very best experience: a real bottle of Cristal.” This is a very tempting quid pro quo for any Champagne-loving executive. I would certainly take the call and, of course, hope I wasn’t impeached for accepting the gift.
Louis Roederer, the man behind the winery that makes Cristal, inherited his Champagne house in 1833. He pioneered the concept that adapting vine cultivation to the terroir was the beginning stage of making great wine. He went on to acquire some of the best vineyards in the Champagne region of France, and by 1870 Louis Roederer II was exporting his sparkling wine to the best markets, including the United States and Russia. Paranoid Russian Tsar Alexander II was a big fan of their wine, but had some very specific requests in addition to a special blend he wanted to be created just for him. The wine was to be bottled in clear glass with a flat bottom, the traditional punt removed. The tsar apparently wanted to hear the pop of the Champagne cork but was concerned that someone would use the dimple to hide explosives. Roederer’s first “Cuvee de Prestige,” which they called “Cristal,” was born in 1876. Alexander II enjoyed this special creation for only five years before an adversary threw a bomb — not a champagne bottle — at his feet and killed him in 1881. As they say, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”
The 2008 vintage of Cristal Champagne was rated 100 points by both James Suckling and Wine Enthusiast magazine, and may very well be the best bottle of Champagne you could ever consume. This champion Champagne is a blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay grapes created from only the very best parcels Roederer harvested that year. Normally released after eight years of aging, this vintage was given extra time. “Complex and intense bouquet disclosing candied citrus, yellow fruit, Williams pear, pollen and toasted almond” is the winemaker’s description, but I would say simply fantastic. I had the opportunity to taste this last year in the Bellman’s Cellar Select room of Easterseals New Hampshire’s wine tasting, and after working on this project, I need to have a couple of bottles of Cristal in my cellar. With a price tag of $230, I will save the purchase for a special occasion, like the birth of a grandchild (I assume you read my previous column).
Cristal Champagne used to be a favorite among hip-hop artists, including famous rapper Shawn Carter, known as Jay-Z. The relationship between gangsta music and the Louis Roederer brand crumbled in 2006 when company managing director Frederic Rouzaud was quoted on the popularity of his iconic brand with rap artists, stating: “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it.”
Well, many took offence, including Jay-Z, who stopped drinking Cristal in favor of gold-plated Armand de Brignac Champagne, nicknamed “Ace of Spades.” Jay-Z began promoting the brand, incorporated it into his music videos, and even purchased a reported $50M stake in the company. Ace of Spades has the most elaborate packaging in the industry. Each bottle is coated in a gold-metallic finish with polished and hand-applied French pewter labels. Its elaborate, velvet-lined gift box boasts a second pewter label and a piano-black, high-gloss finish. At about $300 per bottle, this is a beautiful presentation, but the contents of the bottle are no match for Cristal.
Vintage Dom Perignon is another offering in this same league and should not be ignored when considering the purchase of high-end Champagne. However, no serious critic is suggesting it deserves the coveted 100-point score.
My question to you: If I were to send you a very fancy fake and empty bottle, then offered you a real bottle of the best Champagne in the world, would you take the meeting? Salute!
( Thanks to Andover Classic Wines for lending us a bottle to photograph for this article. )