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Photo by Ivan Obolensky

If I am asked what champagne I would like to drink, I will answer, “Cristal”.

Cristal is mentioned many times in my novels. Malcom Ault in Eye of the Moon had some words to say about it:

“This is excellent champagne but probably should be taken in moderation. Cristal is delightfully sweet for a champagne. It’s the Chardonnay that does it. Did you know that Cristal is the only champagne made in a clear bottle with no punt, the pointy thing at the bottom, so the golden color can be appreciated more? It was served originally to the Czar in 1867, who made it his beverage of choice.”

Malcom is factually correct. Cristal was created by Louis Roederer for Czar Alexander II, but there is more to it than that.

The Czar was concerned about assassination, and so the bottle was made of clear glass with no punt to prevent the concealment of a bomb. He had every reason to be concerned because he was assassinated in 1881 in St. Petersburg by explosives hurled by two different assassins with a third standing by should the prior attempts prove unsuccessful. The first attempt failed. The second one didn’t. The aftermath led to the end of the movement toward constitutional government in Russia, which culminated in the overthrow of Nicholas II in 1918.

Nonetheless, the bottle design was preserved, and Cristal was produced for the public starting in 1945 and has remained in the Roederer family ever since. The annual production is only around 300,000 to 400,000 bottles a year, which is small compared to Dom Pérignon, which produces some 5,000,000 bottles a year. To achieve its singular quality, the vines used by Roederer must be at least twenty-five years old, and some are even sixty years old. Since older vines produce less fruit, the production of Cristal is limited.

Often when one purchases Cristal, it comes wrapped in yellow cellophane. This is to protect the champagne from ultra-violet radiation, which can affect the wine.

Cristal champagne is aged at least six years in the barrel and then another eight months after the sediment is removed.

In 1899, Thorstein Veblen published a book called The Theory of the Leisure Class. In it, he described Veblen Goods or products that become more popular and desirable as the price for them rises. The higher the price, the more exclusive they become. Rolex, Cartier and Harry Winston are all Veblen Goods.

Cristal is one Veblen Good that tastes as extraordinary as the price it commands. Try a bottle on a special occasion, and I’m quite sure you’ll agree.


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