Leading British wine magazine Decanter sometimes arranges various wine activities in London, primarily exhibitions where private customers are welcome, and during these there is usuallay a couple of seated tastings as well, so-called Masterclasses. Since Decanter is a well known name and London a traditionellt epicentre of the wine trade, they usually manage to get iconic wine producers to appear and present their wines in person. The largest Decanter activity, “Fine Wine Encounter”, usually takes place during two days in November each year. One of the Masterclasses I managed to secure tickets to in November 2011 was the Krug Masterclass, the only Champagne themed Masterclass. When I recently was looking for something else, the notes from that tasting surfaced in a box of mixed papers. Although it’s been some nine or ten months since the tasting, I still thought it was highly worthwhile to write them up for the blog.
The Masterclass was presented by Krug winemaker Eric Lebel and business development director Romain Cans.
Krug in a nutshell: a well known Champagne house located in Reims, owned by luxury goods group LVMH, but where you still find people from the Krug family managing. All Krug’s Champagnes are counted (and priced) as prestige Champagnes, and they always stress that their non-vintage Grande Cuvée (rather than their vintage wines) is their premier product that is always given priority. In their terminology, Grande Cuvée is a “multi-vintage” rather than “non-vintage” Champagne. There is a certain point in them seeing their approach as different from most other houses. In most cases 70-90% of the blend of a non-vintage Champagne comes from base wine of the youngest available vintage, at the time the blend goes into the bottle, and 10-30% is reserve wine, in many cases 1-2 years older than the base wine. In the case of Krug Grande Cuvée the proportion of reserve wine is so high (30-50%) that the meaning to this term and the usage of blending component is different from other Champagne houses, and they use quite a number of back vintages in their blend. Grande Cuvée then sees a minimum of 6 years on the lees. Krug uses small oak barrels for their wines, but old barrels intended not to give a toasted oak notes. However, wines that will be held on to for a number of years are moved from barrels to steel tanks after a while. Another interesting aspect is that Krug uses a decent proportion of Pinot Meunier in all their blended Champagnes, but the dominant grape variety is Pinot Noir.
All Krug wines are considered very well suited for cellaring, and Krug Grande Cuvée is probably one of the “most cellared” Champagnes not carrying a vintage year. In reaction to this, from mid-2011 Krug has added an ID code to their bottles, that you can enter in their website and get some information about the current batch, such as the time of disgorgement and the youngest year of the blend.
The Krug range basically consists of five Champagnes: the two non-vintage wines Grande Cuvée and Rosé, vintage Krug, and two vineyard wines: Clos du Mesnil (a blanc de blancs, premiered with vintage 1979) and Clos d’Ambonnay (a blanc de noirs, premiered with vintage 1995). Then there is Krug Collection, a late release of vintage Krug. The two vineyard-designated Krugs are not just expensive but extremely expensive. If you must ask for the price, you will not to be able to afford them… The official policy of Krug is that there is no quality difference between their wines, they are all equally good, and that a higher price only reflects a smaller production.
The vintage 2000, which was the youngest we tried of the vintage wines, was said to be just released when the tasting was held, but I don’t think they had actually appeared in any wine shops at that time. It was actually launched before the vintage 1998 was sold out, so 1998 and 2000 would be distributed in parallel for some time to come. The reason for this was simply that 2000 was judged as ready to release. Very interesting was the information that Krug had decided not to produce any 1999s. Bottles had been produced and labels printed, but at the last moment they decided that the vintage wasn’t really Krug-styled and the launch was cancelled. It’s interesting that they could afford such a decision.
The order of tasting was interesting. First we had Clos du Mesnil, after that regular vintage Krug and finally Grande Cuvée, i.e., a descending price level. The idea was to go from a simpler to a more complex wine: first a single grape variety, one vineyard, and one vintage, followed by blended wines from one vintage, and finally a blend of both grape varieties and vintages.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000
Golden yellow colour, discrete mousse. Slightly nutty nose with toasted hazelnut and hazelnut cream, toffee, honey, ripe peach, some citrus, noticeable flowery notes, some oak barrel notes with a hint of vanilla. Nuanced and quite elegant in the nose. The nutty aromas dominated first and then receded somewhat, oak and vanilla emerged instead, and after that more citrus. Very noticeable acidity on the palate, citrus notes with ripe citrus fruit – mostly grapefruit – and some zest, honey, freshness, noticeable minerality, some spice. Very long and citrus-fresh aftertaste with grapefruit and some mint. Young, in particular on the palate, the complexity indicates potential. 93-94+ p.
Slightly more citrus dominated nose and palate than the rest, but there was a clear similarity in style to the blended Krugs. They all first show that they are Krug first and only then their grape variety or blend.
48% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 17% Pinot Noir.
Bright to golden yellow colour, discrete mousse with small bubbles. Very bready nose, nutty with toasted hazelnuts, almonds and other nuts, some honey and marzipan, yellow apples with some winter apples, aromatic oils, some flowery and perfume notes. On the palate ripe citrus fruits, some herbal notes, noticeable minerality with mint, pronounced acidity, yellow and red apple, orange, noticeble spice. Comes across as ready to drink and complex, can take many more years in the cellar, but I don’t expect too much improvement. 94-95 p.
More bright yellow hue compared to the 1996, less powerful nose, less fruit concentration, but more nuanced.
42% Pinot Noir, 32% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Meunier (numbers from Richard Juhlin’s book)
Golden yellow with some hints at amber, good mousse with small bubbles. Quite nutty nose with toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut cream, yellow and red apples as well as winter apples, bready notes, discrete citrus notes, hints of vanilla, some flowery notes. Powerful on the palate, very noticeable and fresh minerality with high acidity (but not painfully high), mixed citrus fruits and other ripe yellow fruits, some apples from the cellar, noticeable spice. Long citrus-fresh aftertaste with very noticeable minerality. The combination of concentration and freshness is fantastic, showing the sometimes tricky top vintage 1996 at its best. Much younger on the palate than in the nose, but approachable now. 96-97+ p.
Much more developed in the nose than 1998, more powerful nose than 1995. More fruit combined with the developed notes than 1995, younger on the palate than 1998.
The two times I have tasted Krug 1996 after this occasion, it has actually come across as younger and slightly less developed compared to my description here, and I have rated it slightly lower on its “current showing”. Don’t misunderstand me, those two bottles also contained a great wine, but not as developed as the one described here. 1995 and 1998, on the other hand, have showed very similarly when I re-tasted them later. I wonder if I perhaps had the luck(!) of being poured from a bottle that had matured a bit prematurely (perhaps it got some extra air at some point?) and gave a preview of what we can expect from other Krug 1996 bottles in a couple of years’ time? This 1996 was actually darker than the 1995, which could indicate that this was the case. If this is true, it was the most enjoyable “wine defect” I’ve ever experienced.
45% Chardonnay, 36% Pinot Noir, 19% Pinot Meunier. This is an odd blend for a vintage Krug since it has more Chardonnay than Pinot Noir.
Bright yellow, very fine and small bubbles. Nose of yellow apples, ripe peach, ripe citrus fruit, noticeable breadiness and some nuttiness, flowery note with white flowers, some vanilla and some mineral. Yellow and red apples on the palate, peach, ripe citrus (lemon and grapefruit), noticeable acidity, spice. Long aftertaste with grapefruits, apples and freshness. Somewhat young, but reasonably ready to drink unless you prefer more developed notes. Already nuanced and complex, could perhaps improve some. 93-94 p.
Slightly more developed, nutty and complex in the nose compared to 2000, more mixed yellow fruits and an impression of more ripe fruit. Not quite as high in acidity as 2000. From the general vintage character and varietal composition, you’d actually expected the difference to be the other way around on both accounts, so it could be the relative youth of the 2000 playing a trick on us.
42% Pinot Noir, 43% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Meunier.
Bright yellow, slighty lighter hue than the 1998, good mousse, small bubbles. Nose of citrus – grapefruit, ripe lemons and zest, mineral, yellow apple, some spice, flowery notes with white flowers, some vanilla and perfume notes, discrete nutty and bready notes. The nose is fairly reminiscent of a an oaked blanc de blancs. On the palate yellow apples with some winter apples, some peach, citrus, noticeable minerality and acidity, spice, fresh and acidic aftertaste with apple and citrus notes together with some grapefruit bitterness. Young, definitely has potential. 92-93+ p.
More apple notes in the nose than Clos du Mesnil 2000. The acidity is somewhat lower than Clos du Mesnil, but the difference is not too large, less fress citrus notes, slightly spicier and somewhat more ready to drink. But on balance they are rather similar!
Krug Collection 1989
Golden yellow colour, good mousse. In the nose noticeable bready notes with nuttiness and ripe citrus fruit with some zest, yellow and red apples, some vanilla, spice, good fruit for its age. Ripe citrus fruit on the palate, noticeably spicy, good acidity, mineral, some notes of baked apples, comes across as powerful (almost like the 1996), apply-spicy aftertaste. Fully mature, but not at all old, foody style with less citrus in the aftertaste than the rest. 95-96 p.
It’s interesting to note that the Krug Collection version of 1989 (a warm vintage) has been released before 1988 (a vintage rich in acidity), which still is resting the cellars under Reims.
Krug Grande Cuvée
Current release as of autumn 2011, youngest vintage in the blend is 2003.
Pale yellow, discrete mousse with rather small bubbles. In the nose citrus with very ripe fruit, some flowery notes (white flowers), some vanilla, hints of red apples, some spice, perfumed notes. On the palate ripe citrus fruit (grapefruit), noticeable minerality, some red apples, noticeable spice, some grapefruit bitterness. Slightly young in the nose and on the palate although drinkable now, but is sure to improve. 92-93+ p.
More flowery than the cuvée with 2001 base vintage. Rather noticeable spice, comes across as more foody than the youngest vintage Krugs.
Krug Grande Cuvée
Two years older release, youngest vintage in the blend is 2001.
Bright yellow, rather good mousse with rather small bubbles. Noticeable breadiness in the nose, hints of butter, some nuttiness, yellow and some red apples, ripe citrus fruit, some peach and vanilla. Clearly developed and nuanced on the nose. On the palate ripe citrus fruit, yellow and red apple with some winter apples, noticeable minerality and acidity, rather spicy, grape fruit bitterness. Citrusy aftertaste with grapefruit notes. Ready to drink but still young on the palate. Will probably not improve in terms of score, but could get more developed and nutty with cellaring. 93-94 p.
Most obvious buttery notes of all wines. Slightly more full bodied than the younger Grande Cuvée release. It’s fascinating that this wine is so good, since 2001 is counted as the weakest vintage during the perioden 1995-2010, which indicates how Krug is able to work with their considerable library of reserve wines.
When it comes to the quality comparison between Grande Cuvée and vintage Krug, after this tasting I’m somewhat inclined to agree with Krug, because Grande Cuvée measures quite well against most vintage wines. Top vintages such as 1995 and 1996 are better, but in other vintages, the quality difference doesn’t seem that great. Vintage Krug comes across as younger on release than Grande Cuvée does, but both this tasting and previous experience indicates that Grande Cuvée definitely improves with some extra cellaring. So preferably, you should plan your Krug consumption at least a year in advance…
Links to Decanter’s own little summary, and pictures from all activities that day, picture 46 is the first of two Krug sequences, and in pictures 111, 112 and 113 they managed to capture me. It looks like I’m sniffing and surpling more than the rest of the audience, and that’s to be able to give the wines justice when writing blog posts such as this one.
The Swedish version of this post can be found here.