So, Jay-Z really meant it: He’s done getting pissy-pissy with the Cris’. The rap mogul announced last week that he would be boycotting Cristal champagne in response to what he described as “racist” comments by an executive with Louis Roederer, the company that produces the high-priced bubbly. In an article published in the Economist’sIntelligent Life magazine, Frédéric Rouzard, Roederer’s managing director, indicated a certain ambivalence about the cachet that Cristal has acquired among Jay-Z and his cohort. Asked whether hip-hop artists’ fondness for the champagne might be hurting the Cristal brand, Rouzard was fatally candid: “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it.”
No, but people can stop buying it of their own volition, and that’s what an indignant Jay-Z has now done. The Def Jam Recordings president and CEO has stopped selling Cristal at his 40/40 nightclubs and apparently plans to pull it from his lyrics, too. According to Page Six, Jay-Z intends to omit all references to Cristal when he performs at Radio City Music Hall Sunday night in a concert marking the 10th anniversary of his Reasonable Doubt album. Hell hath no fury like a rap impresario dissed.
The question now is which champagne will replace Cristal as the quaffer of choice for the hip-hop set. It is a coveted niche. Several years ago, I had a chat about the Cristal phenomenon with Kurt Eckert, who had just been appointed Krug’s U.S. rep. To my surprise, he said Krug was anxious to gain some street cred of its own: One of his tasks was to figure out how to penetrate the rap market. Thanks to Rouzard’s infelicitous comments, Krug and the other grand marques now have their opportunity.
So, what champagne should it be? If rappers are going for sheer quality, Krug is the obvious choice. There has been some chatter in recent months that the quality of the Grande Cuvée, Krug’s basic bottling, is slipping; I haven’t had the most recent releases, so I’m not in a position to comment. But the Grande Cuvée has been consistently excellent in the past, and Krug’s vintage champagnes are usually mind-blowing. In good years, Dom Perignon is sublime, but it can be a letdown in middling ones. Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, a blanc de blancs (or all-Chardonnay champagne), is a personal favorite, but it may be too light and feminine for the hip-hop crowd. However, another celebrated blanc de blancs, Salon, tends to be quite burly and muscular; it is a great wine that can be drunk at no cost to one’s reputation for toughness.
Quality, of course, is not the only criterion here. Truly conspicuous consumers will want an unmistakably prestigious champagne, as well. Here again, Krug is the first name that comes to mind, particularly the Clos du Mesnil, a single-vineyard blanc de blancs that now fetches over $500 per bottle—and that’s at the wine shop, not the club. The Clos du Mesnil is so rare and expensive that I’ve never actually seen a bottle of it ordered in a restaurant. If I did, I’d be impressed. Salon isn’t quite as pricey—it goes for around $200 per bottle—but it is produced only in truly outstanding vintages, which gives it much cachet. In fact, it is the closest thing the Champagne region has to a cult wine; drinking it would convey a worldly exclusiveness fit for a Roc-a-Fella.
Finally, one must consider meter. The name of the hip-hop champagne-elect must fit seamlessly into rap lyrics. Cristal certainly lends itself to this use. With its short Cris followed by that stressed tal, it is an iamb, one of the most common poetic feet in English verse, and its monosyllabic nickname (Cris) slips easily into the tightest rhymes, something that cannot be said of Taittinger, Bollinger, or Billecart-Salmon. Dom and Krug—both short, strong syllables—have certain metrical advantages, and both words can be made to rhyme with all sorts of phrases. But Salon may have the most to offer lyricists. For one thing, there’s the word’s meaning: “Salon” brings to mind exactly the kind of upscale, South Beach-to-St. Tropez nightlife that Jay-Z famously indulges in. More important, however, “Salon” scans just like “Cristal.” Take, for instance, this line from the Jay-Z hit “Can’t Knock the Hustle”: “My motto, stack rocks like Colorado/ auto off the champagne, Cristal’s by the bottle.” “Salon” can be substituted for “Cristal” at no cost to the flow. Hell, maybe I’ve just saved Jay-Z some work for Sunday’s concert. I’ll gladly accept a bottle of the ‘96 Salon as a token of his appreciation.