While I was at my Champagne tasting event last night in Bordeaux, I came across the Louis Roederer Champagne producer. I tried the Vintage 2009, and enjoyed the citrusy lemon and grapefruit flavors with a note of brioche. At the counter, I noticed one of the staff would take out a bottle not on the tasting list, and give it a pour to a few of the tasters around him. I ended up with this mysterious vintage in my glass, but as he turned the bottle I saw Cristal 2009 – one of the most prestigious cuvées from the Champagne house. The name ‘Cristal’ actually refers to the crystal bottles that were used to bottle the Champagne for Tsar Alexandar II in 1876.
I wasn’t exactly thrilled because the moment I saw the label I recalled a chapter from Mike Veseth’s book on Extreme Wine (2013). If you’ve never heard of Mike Veseth, he’s definitely a useful name to know in the wine world, especially when it comes to wine economics. I first came across his books about a year ago, and I can say I’ve never been so interested in economics as I am in the way Veseth explains it. Anyways, in one of his chapters, he takes a look at “Celebrity Wine” and describes how Jay Z abandoned his signature wine over controversial comments from a Cristal spokesperson.
Now, just a little background to how Jay Z became a part of the Cristal brand. He started drinking it in clubs in the early 1990s before he made it big with his record deals. He explained that Cristal “told people that we were elevating our game, not by throwing on a bigger chain, but by showing more refined, and even slightly obscure, taste,” especially other celebrities were drinking mostly Moët and Chandon.
Jay Z even mentioned Cristal in his song 'Excuse Me Miss' where he tells us how we should pronounced the Champagne – the French way, of course.
Despite Cristal’s rise to prominence in the hip-hop world, Cristal’s managing director, Frederic Rouzaud, didn’t like the brand featured in hip-hop videos, and expressed this dislike in an interview with the Economist in 2006. He further went on to say, “We can’t forbid people from buying. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” Yes, you read correctly. He did say that!!!
Jay Z did not take those comments lightly, and released a statement that he’d never drink the brand again or serve it at his parties. He noted that the comments were “like a slap in the face...I felt like this was the bullshit I’d been dealing with forever, this kind of offhanded, patronizing disrespect for the culture of hip-hop.” Jay Z quickly moved on to acquired Armand de Brignac from Sovereign Brands. This Champagne is from the town of Chigny-les-Roses, and the gold bottle makes it easily recognizable. It’s nicknamed Ace of Spades since the logo is a deck of cards. In his track 'On To The Next One,' Jay Z raps about his switch from Cristal to Ace of Spades:
I used to drink Cristal, them motherf*ckers racist
So, I switched gold bottles on to that Spade sh*t
I did enjoy the 2009 Cristal, but I moved onto the next Champagne after I tried it as well. I doubt that I’d drink it again though.