Pop culture is rife with references to alcoholic drinks, from mixed drinks such as cosmopolitans to brand names including Hennessy, Chandon and Jack Daniel's. Cristal champagne is among those you've probably heard of, whether through hip-hop music or in a reference to a celebrity's VIP bottle service at a hot club.
What It Is
Cristal champagne is the brand name of a sparkling wine made from an almost 50-50 mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Its manufacturer is the Louis Roederer company in Reims, France, just slightly northeast of Paris. It also makes Cristal in a rose version, with the slight pink tinge coming from added red wine.
The vintner Louis Roederer was a favorite of Russian aristocrats in the 1800s. They liked its champagne so much that Czar Alexander II asked that the winemaker come up with a special blend just for the royal family. Roederer created Cristal, a rather sweet champagne, which was distinguished by its bottle made of clear crystal. This made it a standout among the glass bottles typically used.
Cristal is a luxury champagne ranking up there with Dom Perignon. A 750-ml bottle can cost $200 or more (significantly more for the rose) if you buy directly, as of 2010. Buying it through "bottle service" at a club can run you $1,000 or more.
In June 2006, the rapper Jay-Z called for a boycott of the brand after Louis Roederer's managing director, Frederic Rouzaud, told a magazine that the use of Cristal's name in songs brought "unwelcome attention" to the company, according to the "Las Vegas Review-Journal." Jay-Z felt that this was racist and eliminated the name of the champagne from the lyrics of several of his songs and stopped serving it at his 40/40 nightclubs. The "Review-Journal" reported in February 2008 that Jay-Z claimed that the boycott "drastically" cut Roederer's business in the hip-hop community. However, another big name in rap, Sean Combs (P. Diddy/Puff Daddy), had hosted a huge party in Arizona the the "New York Post" called the Cristal Ball on Jan. 31 of that year, buying up at least 100 bottles of the brand from throughout the state.
But How Does It Taste?
Several major wine publications taste Cristal regularly, and it uniformly gets very high marks. The 2002 vintage, for example, was widely reviewed in 2008 and 2009 by "Wine & Spirits," eRobertParker.com, "Wine Enthusiast," "Wine Advocate" and "Wine Spectator." On the standard 100-point scale used in wine publishing, the 2002 Cristal's lowest score was 90, and "Wine & Spirits" gave it the full 100. Reviews of earlier vintages had similar results.
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