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Krug champagnes are probably amongst the most respected in the world. Their reputation precedes them and so when I was offered the chance to go to a tasting I literally jumped at it.
Not known for their affordability, Krug champagnes are amongst the most expensive you will find in normal retail outlets. These champagnes are made to age-old recipes using age-old methods. They are not mass produced and this is what you are paying for. For most, Krug is synonymous with insider-trading – often talked about but few have tried.
Krug champagnes have quite a distinct flavour. Each of the champagnes (down to the cheapest) will have matured for between 6-8 years in oak barrels before being bottled. This gives the champagne a full, well rounded flavour, quite distinct from the normal lily-livered offerings of most champagne houses. The mousse (OK if you don’t know what that is you haven’t read my Bollinger op have you? It is the fizz!) is bold yet gentle and has a longevity when compared with other brands. Imagine the difference between the ultra-fizzy Pepsi and a not-so-fizzy Coke. The difference is in the size of the bubble, larger in the Coke and the Krug than the Pepsi and the Bollinger. This is a champagne that does not tend to be overly heady – you can pour a glass with relative ease and not end up with ¾ of a glass of foam.
In the glass the champagne is a wonderful golden colour which can be directly attributed to the long maturation. The bouquet is, again, well-rounded with high notes of vanilla and oak in most blends. Due to the way in which the Krug is produced it is not possible to generalise as to the taste of any particular bottle. Each of the basal champagnes (the Grande Cuvee) is constructed from up to 50 different pressings from the vine stock (different grapes and different years). Unlike most champagne houses who will make their workhorse champagne from the left-overs after the Grande Annee or Vintage champagnes have been made, Krug actually make their base champagne first. This means that each year will have a very distinct taste and structure. Inevitably, some years are better than others!
Krug, in their own eccentric style, do not sell non-vintage champagne (a vintage year being declared when the grape stock is particularly good), rather they sell “multi-vintage” champagne. The Grande Cuvee is the “cheapest” offering. Whilst impossible to describe in detail due to the huge variation one can state with certainty that this is a dependable wine. It is rich and complex when compared to most champagnes with a certain harmony created between the bouquet and the palate, the fruit and the acid and the mousse and the creaminess.
I tasted the Grande Cuvee 95 and the 93. For me the 95 was the better of the two with a more butterscotch flavour and an altogether more refined taste. The 93 in comparison was sharp and less creamy yet still, when compared to a standard champagne, very good! (The 93 was offered as a “rinse” – the first drink of the tasting – not often you get a £70 bottle in place of water!)
The next step up the Krug ladder is the vintage range. Vintages will only be declared when the vine stock is good and thus you will not find a vintage for every year. In fact the wines may not even be released in the correct order (1989 came out before 1988). The 89 Krug was wonderfully warm and rich with a good nose (smell) and lasting finish (taste after you swallow). The 88 was surprising, tasting as though it had only just been made. It was lacking in full flavour (although clearly had potential).
One up from the Vintages is the single vineyard range. Clos du Mesnil is the vineyard of choice here. This champagne (88) is very crisp and almost tending to the tart on first taste but the initial flavour is followed by a mellow honey-like sensation, not too dissimilar to a slightly warm glass of chardonnay. This was really not my champagne of choice (for its flavour or its absolutely exorbitant price at over £350 a bottle!).
The king pin of them all though must be the wines making up the Krug Collection. These wines are not generally available and are made from pressings that have fermented for even longer. We were lucky enough to try a 71, a 73 and a 79 (all bar the last, older than me!). Of these three, the 73 was by far the best. It is drinking very well now although probably has only a few years left in it. The 71, despite being the oldest, was the crispest! It tasted wonderfully fresh and was the most floral of any of the wines tasted. The 79 was citrus driven. A good wine, but not my choice.
Krug do offer a “pink” champagne, again a multi-vintage offering. This is crisp and fresh and, like the other Krugs, absolutely wonderful (note, where I say above that a wine is not my choice it still rates above most others that I have tried!). Where the classic Krugs are strong and bold, the rose is amazingly gentle. As I have previously explained the colour comes from the wine resting on its lees and boy, what a colour! This is not the true pink of a Laurent Perrier, but a rich tawny colour, redolent of sunsets rather than sunrise. The mousse is extremely fine and the bubbles break on the nose with a distinct strawberry sensation. This is absolutely bone dry, not a hint of sweetness pervading the long finish. It is THE IDEAL partner to any occasion, food or mood. Simply a classic.
Is Krug worth the price tag? I think so. You are paying for history, for quality, for exclusivity and for a way of life. I’d love to drink it more often, alas, once a year is likely to be my maximum but who knows….