The week before last I had the privilege of being able to visit the Champagne house Krug in Reims. I owed this pleasure to a friend of mine, the Brussels-based Champagne enthusiast M., who had managed to book a visit that I joined. Krug is a Champagne house that probably doesn’t require much in way of introduction, but those who still would need some words of introduction could perhaps read one of my older blog post here. An apt quip about Krug that I like goes “There’s Champagne and then there is Krug”.
This visit was characterised by two curious coincidences. At the time I booked my travel, the most recent release of a Krug Vintage, then the 2000 vintage, was in late 2011 at about the same time as I participated in a Krug Masterclass arranged by Decanter in London. So I was a bit curious if it wasn’t about time for the 2002 Krug to be released, since 2002 is a stellar Champagne vintage. Then just a week before our visit, the news emerged that Krug had just released their 2003 vintage in a couple of countries, including the UK, as as reported by Decanter. This was definitely unexpected, since 2003 was a hot year and a vintage that quite a number of Champagne houses decided to skip for their prestige Champagnes, and in many cases for their regular vintage Champagnes as well. Since Krug at a late stage (bottles had been resting in the cellar for about 10 years, labels had been orderedd and so on) chose to not release a 1999 Krug, it seemed like a reasonable guess that they also skip 2003, but this was not the case.
So it happened that we (we few – I suppose five after all is rather few – we happy few, we band of brothers) happened to be more-or-less the first visitors to taste the 2003 Krug on location in Reims, since our visit took place just a few days before they had come back from a first release tour. (In terms of tasting in Reims, I believe we were only beaten by an unnamed French wine journalist.) We also had the pleasure of tasting the 2003 in company of Olivier Krug. Already before we go over to the detailed tasting notes, I can say that they definitely have not made a mistake by releasing the 2003, because this vintage is definitely up to Krug Vintage standard!
The other funny coincidence is that just one week after this visit, I arranged a vertical tasting of Krug Grande Cuvée, i.e., the “multivintage” version of Krug that doesn’t carry a vintage year. Therefore, I’ll come back to Krug Grande Cuvée when I write about that tasting, and will focuse on Krug Vintage for the moment. (Here is my writeup on the most extensive Krug Vintage tasting I’ve attended, at least to date.)
Krug firmly claims that Krug Grande Cuvée is their number one priority in every vintage, and that Krug Vintage is only produced when they really feel that they have a sufficient volume of good (base) wine both for the Grande Cuvée and the vintage wine. It’s not enough for them that the vintage would be good enough to produce a vintage Champagne under the Krug label. As an illustration of this point, we were told how they had handled the 2012 vintage. The quality was judged to be clearly good enough for a Krug Vintage, but the quantity was rather small. After careful consideration, they therefore decided not to produce a 2012 Krug Vintage. Instead they saved away some volume of reserve wines to be used for future releases of Grande Cuvée. No decision on the 2013 vintage had been taken yet at the time of our visit. We didn’t receive any more information of which vintages that are in the pipeline, but I’ll be extremely surprised if they haven’t produced a 2002 Krug, and since 2004 is known as a very good vintage that produced a large harvest, it wouldn’t surprise me if we’ll see a 2004 Krug as well. But that is just a guess on my part.
Krug is one of few prestige Champagner that doesn’t just consist of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also some 15-25% Pinot Meunier. In most cases, Pinot Noir dominates with some 40-50%, with a somewhat lower proportion of Chardonnay. However, both the 1998 and the 2000 vintages were slightly Chardonnay-dominated with 45% Chardonnay versus 36% Pinot Noir in 1998, and 43% versus 42% in 2000. In 2003, Pinot Noir made a strong comeback with 50% versions only 25% Chardonnay. Another characteristic of Krug is that all wines are fermented in small oak barrels that are old or weathered.
Krug also produces two other vineyard-designated vintage Champagnes that both are varietal wines: Clos du Mesnil is 100% Chardonnay and Clos d’Ambonnay is 100% Pinot Noir.
Before the tour of the cellars we warmed up with a Krug Grande Cuvée of the more-or-less current release, and after the tour we tasted the two most recently released Krug Vintage – 2003 and 2000 – and another Krug Grande Cuvée, with 2003 as its base year. This means that we got to taste two wines side-by-side that both had been put away for the second fermentation in bottle in 2004, one completely based on the 2003 vintage, and the other on the 2003 vintage augmented by quite a lot of reserve wines going back all the way to the 1988 vintage.
Krug Grande Cuvée
ID 312036 (= disgorged mid-2012), base vintage 2005.
Nose of yellow apples, some winter apples, spicy notes and oak. Palate with powerful concentration, yellow and some red apples, and some winter apples, spice notes, oak, good acidity. Rather accessible, potential for more development. 92 p
This one was surprisingly accessible for a young Krug Grande Cuvée. Perhaps it is the base vintage that asserts itself somewhat? 2005 vintage Champagnes tend to be fruity, rather accessible or even quick to mature, and aren’t as acidic and firm as for example 2004 or 2002. Intresting enough, this wine had a bit over 1.5 on its cork since disgorgement. As I understand, their current policy is to let Grande Cuvée rest at least one year after disgorgement (up from their old-time standard of half a year), so I hadn’t been surprised to encounter something disgorged in 2013 and with 2006 as the base vintage.
50% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier, and 25% Chardonnay.
Medium yellow colour. Nose with ripe yellow fruit including yellow apples, some peach, citrus, honey, some mint, mineral, bready notes, some vanilla, and discrete flowery notes. After some time in the glass some more oak barrel notes emerge. The palate shows ripe yellow fruit, powerful concentration, yellow apples, some yellow and red winter apples, some honey, pronounced spice notes, rather high acidity, and good mineral notes with a “mineral water character”. The long aftertaste is fruity and spicy, and shows minerality. 93-94 p
A recently released Krug Vintage usually come across as more firm and closed than this, so I don’t feel that the 2003 really needs to be cellared before it can be enjoyed. On the other hand, the acidity and balance are good enough for me to think that this wine will keep quite a long time, as befits a Krug Vintage. “Doesn’t really need cellaring” means just that, it’s definitely not a euphemism for “unlikely to be fit for cellaring”. It may even turn out that the 2003 surprises us with its longevity and gains from cellaring, just as the hot Champagne vintages 1976 and 1989, but those who are cautious shouldn’t really assume this will be the case.
If I put my impression of the 2003 Krug in another format, it goes something like this:
- Is the 2003 up to the typical Krug standard? Yes, definitely, although at present I prefer the 2000 Krug Vintage and the 2003-based Grande Cuvée, but this may be since they’ve had a longer time on the cork.
- Does the 2003 show “typical 2003 character”? Both yes and now, I’d say. There’s definitely some hot vintage character to this vintage, including notes of ripe fruit, but not more than what is shown by many prestige Champagnes from the 2000 vintage. The acidity, freshness and minerality are at such a level that I’d never had guessed it was a 2003 if I had been served this wine blind. Once you know it’s a Krug, on the other hand, the acidity does seem a bit lower than usual, since Krug tends to be high in acidity.
- Does the 2003 show a typical Krug style? I’d definitely say yes. Since we tasted non-blind I can’t really know if I had immeditely identified it as a Krug. While it may not be a completely classical Krug, I don’t see any need to give the Krug style a new interpretation in order to accept the 2003 as a true Krug. In my opinion, the 2003 Dom Pérignon – that I definitely like – is more different from the average style of Dom P. than the 2003 Krug is different from the standard style of Krug. So I don’t see any need to go down the Bollinger avenue and rechristen it to “2003 by Krug”. 🙂
- So, in summary, was Krug right to release a 2003? Yes!
- Will I use my own actual money to buy the 2003 Krug? Yes. But I’ll probably leave some coins in the piggy bank until the 2002 arrives… 🙂
43% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, and 15% Pinot Meunier.
The colour is medium yellow+. Nose with yellow apples, some pear, citrus, mineral, discrete nuttiness, some honey, fine development, very well integrated oak note. With some time in the glass more notes of cocoa powder and coffee enters the mix. The palate shows powerful concentration, yellow and some green apples, high acidity, pronounced mineral notes, spice, some mint, high acidity, and an aftertaste with green apples and mineral. Somewhat warm and ripe impression. Accessible now, good potential, 94-95 p.
When the 2000 Krug was released in late 2011, the vintage came across as rather closed, but already the next year quite a lot had happened to it. Definitely a “user-friendly” Krug that is open and accessible now, but with a long life span ahead of it. By the way, the 2000 continues to be distributed next to the 2003 for some additional time. In my opinion, the 2000 Krug is the best buy of their current range.
Krug Grande Cuvée
Base vintage 2003, the oldest reserve wine is from 1988, the internal name of this batch is “Memoires”.
Nose with citrus, some zest, yellow apples, mineral, some vanilla and discrete oxidation notes. Palate with yellow apples, citrus, powerful mineral note, powerful concentration, good acidity, and spice. Fully accessible now, 94 p.
This was a truly great Grande Cuvée, and a wonderful argument for cellaring Grande Cuvée in your own cellar for a couple of years, provided that you enjoy some mature notes. And in my opinion, you should enjoy those notes. At present, I’d consider this 2003-based Grande Cuvée slightly better than the 2003 Krug, but that is really on the margin. (And remember that this bottle has been kept in Krug’s cellar under ideal conditions, this doesn’t necessarily apply to any bottle kept for 2-3 years since purchase.) This bottle of Grande Cuvée “Memoires” shows a bit more of minerality, freshness and developed notes, while the 2003 Krug Vintage shows more spice. I guess the proportion of older reserve wines, most likely a lot of reserve wines with a higher level of acidity than the 2003 vintage, and a longer time on the cork all come through in the final impression.
These aged batches of Grande Cuvée have been used for tastings and have usually not been sold. However, a small amount of this 2003-based batch will be sold in a two-pack together with a 2003 Krug, to allow Krug aficionados the possibility to compare the two in the comfort of their own home.
This was a truly great visit and a very informative first contact with the 2003 Krug! Now when Krug has decided to release a 2003, there’s definitely a need to pull together a tasting of the best 2003 Champagnes!
Swedish version here.