Grace is a word that has been so over-used when describing wine. As a general rule, I avoid it, but this weekend I had a chance to try a line up of Champagnes from Krug that demanded this word’s use over and over again.
The great house of Krug is still family owned and operated and I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel with Olivier Krug himself at the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival. Krug Grand Cuvee is their entry-level wine, but it is in the tier of the great grand marks, like Dom Perignon and Cristal. The Grand Cuvee is MV, or multi-vintage, which is a distinction from the bland NV or non-vintage wines. This is the blend that is the most difficult to create. It must bear the same character from year to year. On the other hand, the single vineyard vintage Champagnes are easy. Once they are chosen to be bottled, no blending is necessary.
The first time I met Olivier, he distinguished his wines by saying “There is Champagne, and then there is Krug.” I took this to be an arrogant statement at first, but each time I drink Krug, the same statement rings true in my mind. Krug is powerful, rich, and full of the most exquisite grace. Long bottle aging gives it this roundness of brioche and custard. We tried the newly released vintage 1998 side by side with the 1988 Clos de Mesnil. The Pinot Noir in the 98 vintage bottling gave it a round, fleshy character reminiscent of apple cider.
The Clos de Mesnil is the most luxurious of Krugs. It comes from a tiny Grand Cru vineyard in the south of Champagne and is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. The elegance and grace of this wine is like nothing else out there. The release price of around $700 a bottle makes it something that one is lucky to try even once in their life.
From here we tried vintage ’96, ’95. ’90 and ’82. Champagne has the magnificent ability to age. The extreme acidity gives it a backbone that kept even the ’82 extremely fresh. I have had the pleasure of having Champagnes from the 59 vintage, and the greats are still full of life.
Of this quartet, however the ’96 was the star. For me, this was the vintage of the decade. It has this soaring acidity, fleshy fruit, and focused structure. The ’95 was a great deal softer, and evoked the word “serenity” from Olivier. The ’90, the second best vintage of the decade, was just beginning to shift from fresh fruit flavors to secondary ones. I love how the flavors of miso and toast begin to show in old Champagne. The ’82 was gorgeous, and like I said, just hitting its adolescence. It is the opportunity to try wines like this that got me into my career in the first place.