Krug: the King of Champagne
March 18, 2012
Krug: Rolls Royce Champagne
By Panos Kakaviatos
Here some notes based on my participation in a Decanter Magazine Master Class on 19 November 2011. For the Decanter article, click HERE. I was honored with an invitation to this and other master classes, and will be posting my other experiences shortly. They include a vertical of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, wines from Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), Château Canon and a double vertical of Sassicaia and Ornellaia. Stay tuned! But here, impressions from a fine vertical of the great Krug Champagne:
For most participants of the Krug master class, the order of the flight seemed astounding: starting with the rare, just released Clos du Mesnil 2000, and ending with… two non-vintage cuvees.
Cellar master Eric Lebel and Krug marketing director Romain Cans explained: “There is no hierarchy at Krug”.
The Clos du Mesnil 2000 exuded subtle, sumptuous depth, delicate and distinct pear and floral notes, brioche and burgeoning citrus and ripe green apple, representing “the purest expression of Chardonnay” Lebel said.
Participants learned how discriminating Krug is. There was supposed to be a 1999 release of the Clos du Mesnil, but at the last minute, Lebel decided that the wine did not represent the standards expected. Master class participants Niraj Shah and Madiha Khan came away impressed with the meticulous methodology at Krug: “This class helped us to understand how special Krug is, and to better understand the prices,” they told Decanter.com afterwards.
We enjoyed four Krug vintages (1995, 1996, 1998 and 2000), wines generally made with about 2/3 Pinots (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). What stole the show for many was the stunningly opulent and brilliantly nervy 1996, which Lebel dubbed the “10/10″ wine, because of its 10 grams of acidity per liter (higher than the 7.5 average) and 10% natural alcohol, quite ripe for Champagne.
Some tasting notes (in bold, I like; red and bold even more; when underlined, the best)
Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000: Pale straw color, with smallish focused bubbles. Pure pear and floral aspects on the nose, a subtle depth of aromatics, the palate is quite spicy, with the expected brioche and toast, accompanied by ripe apple and nutmeg on the echoing finish. I understand why this is so adored by Champagne fans. Expensive but excellent juice…
Krug 1995: Slightly darker aspect but still looking young for its years, the nose is warmer, riper, but brisk iodine freshness echoed in the youthful palate, which displays sea shell freshness and even a touch of austerity on the finish. Young stuff.
Krug 1996: As described above, a magnum opus of Champagne. This really stole the show, including the aforementioned excellence of the Clos du Mesnil. Such precision and focus, such depth of flavor… I went to wine-searcher.com and that was like a cold shower, given the pricing, but if I had more money to spare, I would pull the trigger.
Krug 1998: More iodine freshness on the nose. A rather more sumptuous aspect on the attack, expansive palate, even a touch open knit. I wonder if the 1998 is on a faster track than the 1995. Certainly faster than the 2000 (and 1996 to be sure).
Krug 2000: I get quite a bit of tightness here overall, with the Pinots coming to the fore. The nose in fact is almost red wine, with cherry and raspberry fruit. Very vinous, very impressive.
The flight nearly ended with two non vintage “Krug Grand Cuvees”: including the most recently released blend, based on the 2003 harvest, plus 30-50% reserve wine from some nine other vintages, and the 2009 release, based on the rather awful 2001 harvest, with 50% reserve wine, Cans said. The Krug representatives went to great lengths to explain the hard work in making the non vintage wines.
Krug Champagne is not aged in oak, but fermented in oak, stressed Cans to the packed room. Why not use small steel vats, which would be just as efficient for parcel-by-parcel fermentation? The 205-litre barrels allow for “a better exchange with oxygen,” Cans said, to make them all the more fit for ageing.
Participants were treated also to a just-released “Krug Collection 1989″ – the same wine as the regular vintage, but disgorged several years later. Release dates for Krug Collection bottles depend on vintage quality. The 1988, for example, has not yet been released, because it can benefit from longer ageing.
Krug was established in 1843 by Johann-Joseph Krug, a German immigrant from Mainz on the Rhine. In relative terms, this makes it a middle-aged to young house, compared to the old houses in Champagne, several of which have been going for more than ten generations. Johann learned his trade at Champagne Jacquesson for nine years before setting up Krug at Reims. His son, Paul continued the family business, who was succeeded by his son, Joseph Krug II in 1910. Joseph’s nephew, Jean Seydoux, took the reins in 1924. Jean Sedoux, together with Paul Krug II are generally credited with creating the Krug style with the now defunct Private Cuvée. In 1962, Henri Krug took over the house, and he is still largely responsible for the winemaking decisions here, along with Eric Lebel. The house is now part of global luxury brands conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH). Like most of the companies in the group, Krug runs with a certain amount of autonomy. This perceived and real autonomy has played a large role in maintaining the house’s reputation and consistent style.
The house owns 20 hectares of vines in Aÿ, Le Mesnil, and Trépail. They get the rest of their grapes from long-term contract growers. Unlike other négociants, Krug’s growers consider themselves part of a long-standing prestigious group that openly reveal Krug as the destination of their grapes.
Aÿ supplies the Pinot Noir which goes into the non-vintage Rose, and Le Mesnil produces the Chardonnay which makes up the Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs vintage. Krug owns a relatively small proportion of vineyard.
Barrels stored in Krug’s courtyard waiting to be used.
All the wines at Krug undergo primary fermentation in small 205 litre oak barrels from the Forest of Argonne and Central France. The barrels are all well-seasoned and organoleptically inert. Each cru is vinified separately, with no malolactic fermentation, and the two rackings are done by gravity. Reserve wines are transferred to stainless-steel tanks.
The house’s standard release, the Grande Cuvée NV is blended from anywhere between 20 and 30 crus across Champagne, with almost all being rated 100%, or Grand Cru. The reserve wines hail from 6 to 10 vintages, and not necessarily the most recent vintages, and usually including a fair proportion of declarable vintages which the company insists explains the high quality of their wine. Krug disgorges its wines no earlier than six years on lees, with the Collection series being held on lees for as long as 15 to 20 years.
Krug utilises all three Champagne varieties in their wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. However, Chardonnay is the mainstay of the Grande Cuvee and their flagship single vineyard vintage, the Clos du Mesnil is made in the Blanc de blancs style, made completely from Chardonnay. In April 2008, Krug released the 1995 Clos d’Ambonnay, its debut of a Blanc de noirs Champagne, made entirely from Pinot Noir from a single 0.685 hectares (1.69 acres).