Listening to Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, one’s own convictions can sometimes go astray. With regard to the stylistics of the House of Roederer, for example, “the purity of the fruit is the absolute goal” for him. In case of doubt, this would also mean reducing the influence of autolysis. Let’s remember. Autolysis, the decomposition of yeasts during bottle fermentation, produces many aromas typical of champagne. The longer it lasts, it is said, the more complex sparkling wines become. Lécaillon joined Roederer in 1999 at the age of 33 as the youngest cellar master in Champagne at the time. For him, autolysis must remain in the background, however, in order to let the fruit “shine” above all.
Back to the future
He also has his own conviction about malolactic fermentation, i.e. the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid carried out by the overwhelming majority of champagne producers: This, he says, is a child of the 1970s, when grapes were harvested unripe in most years. But because the climate has changed for several decades, the “malo” is completely blocked in the Cristal. Nor does Lécaillon see stainless steel, another innovation of the Seventies, as only positive. Oak-aged wines have more depth and transparency, even the alcoholic fermentation takes place to 32 percent in the wood with the Cristal. In this way, Lécaillon sums up, Roderer is gradually returning to the great wines of the 1940s to 1960s.
The completely organic cultivation at Roederer can also be understood in the sense of a correction to highly industrial agriculture. Since 2012, the Cristal has even been produced biodynamically. The influence on the base wines is noticeable. The pH value is lower (and thus the acidity higher), the dry extract higher. Both are key factors for great champagnes. Despite climate change, Lécaillon continues to attribute a central role to the classic Grands Crus of Champagne with their limestone soils. Because of their water-binding capacity, they form a natural buffer that can have a balancing effect on the vegetation in both very hot and humid climatic phases.
Reformulation of tradition
One could call the reformulation of tradition what determines the style at Roederer today. Of course, ultra-modern techniques are also used. For example, jetting, in which the oxygen supply is minimized during disgorgement. A method borrowed from modern beer technology. On the one hand, this is a rather reductive approach. But it also changes the texture of the wines and creates “a super delicate, salty perlage”.
Cristal 2014, in any case, is the result of a climatic roller coaster ride: with massive rainfall on the Côte de Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne, and a happy ending with a golden September. Because the grapes had not yet reached full phenolic ripeness, the house put all its eggs in one basket. Harvest took place in just five days between September 18 and 23, the last possible date. Of the 45 plots that usually make up the Cristal, three were sorted out in Aÿ and three from Avize. Although nothing changed from the classic composition of 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay this year, this time the Pinot Noirs from the Montagne de Reims formed the backbone of the cuvée. With a pH of 3.0, the acidity is between the sunny 2012 vintage and the cooler, late-harvest 2013. The dosage is 7 grams/liter. In fact, despite the present acidity, the Champagne, disgorged in November 2021, is more approachable than its predecessor (which, however, really blossomed after six months of further aging), with citrus and yeast notes dominating the nose. Very nice mouthfeel and luxurious perlage, the long finish is dominated by a fine saltiness (96 points).