Crafting Cristal: Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon

Sitting down with Champagne Louis Roederer’s legendary Chef de Cave and Executive Vice-President to talk about why it’s high time people started taking Champagne seriously

 Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon in the cellar at Louis Roederer

Late last year, I managed to get some face time with one of the industry’s biggest names: Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon. He has been at the helm of Champagne Louis Roederer since 1999, and has taken what was already a leading Grande Marque to astronomic heights. The wines, across the range, are extraordinary.

He was in London to launch both the second release of Collection (their new multi-vintage wine that has replaced the non-vintage Brut Premier) and an exciting project – a selection of extremely limited late releases, vintage Champagnes that have been aged in Roederer’s cellars. The aim is to highlight the “window of beauty” that appears between 20 and 30 years. First up are the classic vintage bottlings, which will be followed by releases of the rosé and then the Blanc de Blancs. Interestingly – and unlike many of Roederer’s competitors – these aren’t late-disgorged, just aged perfectly. Tasting through the wines was a real treat, and highlighted the quality on show here.

I spoke to him about how he’s taken the House to the next level, why he’s more interested in the vineyard than cellar, and why he’s not just trying to make exquisite Champagne – but exceptional, age-worthy fine wine.

Read my full interview with Jean-Baptiste on, or find the ultimate crib-sheet to Cristal here

A back-room snap of the late releases that Roederer has just launched, showing the beauty of aged Champagne

Empties of note


Highlights from the last month’s worth of recycling


I love Syrah. Two consecutive nights yielded two extraordinarily different wines. The first was my inaugural taste of Piedrasassi, a Santa Barbara producer focusing on cool-climate Syrah. It’s a collaboration between the talented (and I assume incredibly busy from all the pies he has fingers in) Sashi Moorman and Melissa Sorongon. I’m keen to try more after tasting their entry-level PS Syrah – a touch of brett (which wasn’t to everyone’s taste) added interest to the juicy fruit. The next night I rustled through my wine rack and dug out a bottle of 2010 Tildé, St Joseph from Pierre Jean Villa – offering intensely ripe fruit but enough acidity and spicy, meaty notes to be deliciously quaffable.


I don’t drink much Burgundy (I don’t have the money), but this month someone shared some superb bottles with me. The highlight – the bottle that made me wish I could afford the stuff – was a 2005 Pommard, Rugiens, 1er Cru from JM Boillot. Enchanting, complex, structured and silky – it was extraordinarily good. My budget, meanwhile, was limited to a totally different face of Pinot: intensely smokey, much simpler yet superb Toreye Spätburgunder from Eymann. A bottle of rather aged yet fascinating Premier Cru Chablis – 2003 Les Lys from Daniel-Etienne Defaix – also fell into my hands this month (ok, I ordered it at the ever-excellent 10 Greek Street). It’s at the end of its life but going down in a delicious dance of honeyed, rich, almost exotic fruit, minerality and smoke.

There should always be Champagne

I moved house and the main priority – on a sweltering day – was to ensure that we had cold Champagne to enjoy once we had sweated all our boxes up two flights of stairs. The Champagne in question wasn’t really Champagne – it was serious, serious wine: Larmandier-Bernier’s 2008 Vieille Vigne du Levant, intense, saline and mineral – an almost Manzanilla-like power. Just the ticket with takeout pizza.

Ribolla Gialla

Yeah, California does great Pinot, Chardonnay and Cabernet – but it’s also full of people working with funky grapes, putting them on the map. Napa-based Matthiasson’s 2014 Ribollia Gialla is one of those rare really good orange wines. Two weeks on skins, 20 months in barrel produces a rich, concentrated, oxidative yet tropical, mineral yet fruity maverick of a wine. Just enough tannin to make it an incredible food wine. I should have decanted it, as it was even better and more expressive the second night. Its maker, Steve Matthiasson, is a viticultural king in California – a consultant for more vineyards than I can name, and a real pioneer. He is just one of the many people revolutionising farming in California (and, as it happens, you can read more on that theme here).

Drunk, but not forgot

old vines white desante

There isn’t enough time to dedicate a feature to every delicious bottle uncorked, so – in lieu of that endeavour – here is a soon-to-be-regular round-up of the producers and wines that have lingered in my memory most over the last month


I’m still learning more about this ever-so-edgy Californian producer, and popped into Sager + Wilde for their takeover last month. Despite some dubious service from S + W team, I did eventually get a taste of the Valdiguié Rosé (only the second example of the grape I’ve found in the UK – the other being Broc Cellars‘ fantastic red), and the famous Trousseau Gris. The reds I’ve had previously have tended towards the overly natural, seeming a touch blurred in their expression; but these were delicious, clean, enchanting wines, with great acid and aromatics. Their annual Roberson release is looming, I believe, and I can’t wait to try and snap some up – the Gamay escaped me on the night…

Jérome Prévost

Phwoar, this is Champagne that is well worth the Insta-hype. I enjoyed a bottle of the Pinot Meunier dominant Les Béguines at Bright (read my review of this excellent restaurant here), and fear it may be a while before I can stump up the funds for another, alas.


A new producer just arrived at Berry Bros. & Rudd, this whacky couple is creating sensational, fascinating wines in the Napa Valley. Their top wines take the name of an extraordinary-sounding site, Proof vineyard – the red a field blend of Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet, the white a concoction of Green Hungarian, Golden Chasselas and Sauvignon Vert. The “lower-level” Old Vines isn’t quite as complex or deep in flavour as the Proof White, but is stunning nonetheless – layers of rich stone fruit, citrus pith, honey, minerality and such length. I’m a fan, and – having spent some time with them last week – there’ll be a write-up of an interview in due course. (And they were just one of the US invasion that took place last week – my Cali obsession continues, see my piece on the maverick duo at Birichino here.)


Reminiscin’ and missin’ Margs with a bottle of Leeuwin’s ’13 Art Series Chardonnay – still extraordinarily tight, it needed a decant but really opened up over a couple of hours. It’s proper good stuff. (And for more Margs escapism, I’ve penned a travel guide to the region, and a piece on the folks at Pierro.)


Relatively cheap and cheerful, a bottle of this producer’s single-vineyard Orestilla Lugana hit the spot on a sunny evening, consumed on the roof – slightly less glamorous than the vineyard and winery near Lake Garda. Much more serious than its price, it offers plenty of weight and fruit density, yet is oh-so-gluggable.

Gin and cold, cold lager

It’s hot, and this is really all I want at the end of an overly sweaty day (I may not have been too discerning on this front of late).