On appearance alone, one could immediately gather that Cristal is a special Champagne. The bottle certainly stands out in a crowd, whether be the noble gold label or translucent glass that allows you to sneak a peek at its exclusively expensive contents. While the clear glass has always been a conversation point among Champagne lovers, bottles of Cristal have another distinctive feature that often goes unnoticed — it’s missing a punt.
A punt — the dimple on the bottom of a wine bottle — is essentially a relic of old glassblowing techniques. Though there are several theories as to how punts first came about, many suggest that they were created to help bottles stand up straight. Since we have the ability to make glass bottles with perfectly even bottoms now, the punt is technically useless, though wine professionals have become accustomed to holding the bottle from the punt for some extra stability. Nonetheless, most bottles still have a slight indent on the bottom, large or small.
Over time, a myth also developed that wines with larger punts were more prestigious, so bottles of a certain caliber typically boast thick glass, a tall stature, and a distinguished curvature in their bottoms. Which is why it’s particularly off-putting to hold a bottle of Cristal and find the bottom completely flat. It’s a little odd for any run-of-the-mill bottle to look like this — but a $400 bottle of Champagne? Unheard of.
So why does Cristal have so many peculiar qualities? Well, it actually goes all the way back to the mid-1800s, when this particular cuvée was first created by Champagne house Louis Roederer for Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Living in tumultuous times, the tsar was fearful of assassisination attempts. Convinced that his enemies might be planting explosives in any given object, the Tsar demanded that the Champagne be delivered in clear bottles. (Rumor has it that the request to have the wine presented in a “crystal clear” bottle is actually where the wine gets its name.) And the tsar also insisted that the punt be replaced with a flat bottom to prevent bombs from being hidden inside.
It wasn’t actually until 1945 that this special bottling was released to the public for purchase as the Cristal we know today. And this exclusive, royal bottling still remains true to its history, no matter how counterintuitive the packaging may seem.
*Image retrieved from Louis Roederer on Instagram