I’m not afraid to admit that I am not a morning person, and usually the thought of getting up early on a Tuesday is enough to push me over the edge. Not last week though; I was full of anticipation for the day ahead. Things started well with my host making an unintentional dash past the ill-tempered border control at the Eurostar terminal only to be quickly reprimanded - from then on though, the journey was particularly…Krug. [view our offer on 2003 Krug now]
1st class thoroughly enjoyed, and three breakfasts later, we arrived in Paris and were swiftly shuttled from the station for a spot of lunch at the quaint ‘Bellota Bellota’ (www.bellota-bellota.com), a Spanish delicatessen offering a premium range of Jamon, cheese, and a selection of delicious little creations… all the while having our glasses topped up with the sensational Krug Grande Cuvee and Krug Rose, which is the only Champagne the restaurant will serve. A bold decision perhaps, but the wines were a spectacular pairing with the delicious salty and oily foods, and it’s little surprise this little venue is such a success in the streets of Paris.
Fed and watered, we jumped on the TGV over to Champagne where we were welcomed by Olivier Krug and Eric Lebel (Krug’s superstar Chef de Cave) and guided into the cellars. Armed with tasting glasses, a translator and a very excited Oliver Krug we tasted through a multitude of single vineyard wines directly from the barrel and also some ‘Vins Clairs’. All of the individual wines are vinified and matured separately in barrels averaging 20 years old, and undergo absolutely no fining or filtration other than the effect of gravity. This ensures that none of the character is stripped through mechanical or chemical processes. Eric and his team decide on the final blend, following rigorous tasting of each wine at least three times from press to blend – quite a task when you consider the hundreds of reserve wines in the cellar! It is truly astonishing how each of the vineyards differ and you begin to appreciate Eric’s skill in selecting the perfect balance to go into the final blend. The final stop on the cellar tour was at the locked gates of the astonishingly small Krug Oenotheque. Olivier regaled us with stories of Nazi commanders drinking the British allocations, and a bottle of 1915 Krug that opened itself. It really is incredible to see how little of each vintage remains at the Maison - just look at the picture! Tour over it was time for the most exciting part of the trip, and the reason we were invited…
Olivier Krug is very proud of the maison’s ‘Individuality approach’ whereby each wine is vinified and allowed to develop by itself, primarily because it gives Krug an opportunity to see the wines develop and choose the blend only when they are confident in each wine’s capabilities – something other champagne houses lose the ability to do as they usually blend immediately. This approach is key to the production and success of the 2003 vintage. Krug has always placed the emphasis on their ‘multi vintage’ Grande Cuvee, and the 2003 base Grande Cuvee was no exception, meaning that in a vintage where early budding, unique temperatures, a dry winter and partial destruction of some of the grapes took a toll, there were low yields to work with and in particular there was not a lot of Chardonnay to go around. This has meant that the 2003 Krug Vintage is a wine with an uncharacteristically high proportion of red grapes; but fear not, this is a proper Krug!
Eric was very proud to tell us all that 2003 was initially his ‘vintage to play with’, and he did not expect to be unveiling the wine, however the ‘fascinating and significant challenge’ turned out to be a ‘successful experiment’ once he had discovered the correct balance between the Pinot and Chardonnay he had available to use. This was not an overnight decision, and the 2003 was only given the go ahead 9 years after harvest in March 2012 – testament to the pursuit of excellence that the house of Krug abides by. There is no other Champagne house that prioritises the non-vintage over their vintage release, but true to their word this 2003 vintage release was not without a guest appearance from Krug’s no.1. cuvee…
The tasting kicked off with Krug 2003, followed immediately by the previous vintage release Krug 2000. The 2003 is an unusually red heavy blend of 46% Pinot Noir, 29% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Meunier – the highest proportion of PM permitted in a vintage Champagne, whereas the 2000 is 43% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier. This opportunity to re-taste a bottle of the magnificent Krug 2000 straight from the house cellars really did highlight the huge difference between the 2003 and a ‘classic’ Krug vintage. Although it seems strange to say it, the 2000 was a much more youthful wine, which I think still needs a few more years in the cellar… to my mind the 2003 is the one you should be drinking over the next 5 or so years while you wait for the 2000 to wake up.
Following the vintages we moved on to two older releases of Krug Grand Cuvee. The two released were given nicknames by the house, but these nicknames have now been replaced by the revolutionary ‘Krug I.D.’ – Olivier’s unique bottle codes that allow you to trace the exact wine you are drinking. Why? Well, consider that the 2003 base ‘Memoirs’ is a blend of no less than 120 wines from 10 vintages, including a decent proportion of 1990, but is also 45% reserve wine and 55% base year… that’s a pretty incredible bit of information (even before you go into the specific details) to have at your fingertips, and something that no other house can provide!
Dinner time, and Olivier kindly welcomed us into his home. Still brimming with excitement from the first ever public tasting of the 2003 since its creation, Olivier invited us to sit down to a beautiful menu designed and created by Loic Villemin, a 26 year old chef (who earned his first Michelin star within 2 years) who closed his incredibly popular restaurant in order to cook for us.
Scallops with potato, leek and Black Truffles
“This sensational wine has an immediate effect, clearly expressing the unique personality of Krug’s take on the 2003 vintage; a welcoming nose of honeyed toast, citrus and a touch of prune, leading on to a palate of delicious baked apple, grapefruit and brioche with a complex nutty character. Sensational length, as one would expect from Krug, but the 2003 is the most forward, open and expressive young Krug vintage I have tasted.” 95+pts AT
Shellfish & Cabbage
Langoustines, pumpkin and mandarin
“Supremely elegant and incredibly powerful, this wine will stop you in your tracks. Layer upon layer of candied fruit, citrus, toast, nuts and subtle spices continue to unravel and evolve as you go on, hinting towards the long future this wine has ahead of it. If you don’t already own this do whatever it takes to get some!” 99pts AT
Chicken with fingerling potatoes and romaine lettuce
Krug Collection 1985
“A big wine and astonishingly fresh, with plenty of citrus backing the notes of biscuit, mushrooms, earth, spice and mocha. The complex blend of old and new really does make for a spectacular experience, and this is a must have for any collection” 97pts AT
Pear and stilton
Krug Grande Cuvee ‘Savoire-faire’ from Jeroboam (2001 base year)
“The third release of Grand Cuvee we tasted on this trip, and a true testament to the age-ability and supreme quality of Krug’s No.1 cuvee. I honestly cannot recommend buying and cellaring GC enough; you get a depth of quality I have not found with other non vintage Champagnes”
Truffle inspired chocolate
On the journey home I considered Olivier’s claim that Krug has ‘discovered 2003 for everybody’; as extraordinarily bold as that may sound I think he has a point. In a vintage most producers wrote off, Krug has produced an outstanding and incredibly complex Vintage Champagne that is above all completely unique. Krug simply has no peers: everything from vinification to release dates Krug does with no expense spared, no compromises and a constant focus on the most incredible quality – quite simply it is worth every penny.