I have long been of the opinion that Monsieur Roederer's tête de cuvée shows best when tasted from larger formats, and so was pleased recently to find occasion to open one of the manor's Melchizedeks of '49.
On the saint day feast of Tsar Nicolas II, Ashton Manor was graced with the presence of a dozen distinguished guests, among them the late sovereign's daughter, Anastasia. In honor of the lost princess, I ordered the bathing pools be drained and refilled with the finest beluga caviar of the Caspian and Black Seas. Live sturgeon swam in tanks suspended from the ceilings. An ice sculpture of the Winter Palace, carved from a piece of Siberian glacier, stood twelve feet high on the lawn, raw black pearls scattered like stones at its base. Nude women and eunuchs roamed the grounds atop Arabian steeds (a feature of particular delight to the princess, who amused the party with references to another, earlier, ancestor's fatal passion for horses).
The wine was sabred with a sidearm dating to the Napoleonic Wars, a gift made by the late tsar in 1909 to a previous Lord of this manor. Four eunuchs were required to lift the bottle for service, but in due course its weight was disbursed into glasses. There, we discovered a nectar of transcendent elegance and considerable verve. Warm aromas of baked rye and fraise des bois preceded a palate soft as haremic silks, sweet as a maiden's bathwater, and an incisive, saline finish like tears shed in ecstasy. One thought of Count Tolstoy's doomed heroine, leaning forward in her symphony box to catch a stolen glimpse of her beloved; or of Natasha, her young breast heaving in anticipation of a Petersburg ball.
I should have liked to taste the wine again on the second day, in order to gauge its potential for further aging, but, alas, the twelve of us managed to consume all thirty litres (not including the several glasses poured out in honor of the departed sovereign). After dinner, we swam in what remained of the caviar, and later dreamt of its beaded caress.
In sum, the 1949 is a Cristal of supreme pedigree and admirable finesse. The lost princess remarked upon its stylistic resemblance to the cuvée's inaugural vintage—1876—the last bottles of which were destroyed, tragically, by the Red Army. It is our good fortune that, like the tsarevna herself, this more modern masterpiece survives for our enjoyment. На здоровье!
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