With a reputation for doing things in a way that go well beyond the ordinary, Krug is a Champagne House like no other
. Whether it's the complexity of construction of their famed Grande Cuvée (they remain the only major House to vinify every plot of vines separately, giving each contract grower the opportunity to taste the product of their own grapes before they go into the final Krug blend) or the obsessional detail that goes into their two single vineyard mega cuvées Clos du Mesnil and Clos d'Ambonnay, there are no half measures. So when you get an invitation from Krug, however large or small, it's usually advisable to accept. In fact, don't even stop to breathe first: just say yes.
This is precisely what I did when the exclusive invitation to the launch of no less than the brand new 2000 Clos d'Ambonnay eventually wended its way to me (by way of an unwell colleague - his loss was my considerable gain - sorry Davo, I promise I didn't poison you). The itinerary was typically Krug: a healthy dose of luxury accompanied by more than a splash of subterfuge. Olivier Krug is a man who lives to surprise
and rarely are his surprises of the 'oh Christ, I left the chip pan on overnight' kind...
The basics. The guests: a mere handful of top merchants and journalists. The venue: Gleneagles, Auchterader, Scotland. The dinner: a simple supper at Andrew Fairlie’s restaurant in the hotel. The main event: lunch at Andrew Fairlie's "Secret Garden" for the launch of this legendary Blanc de Noirs.
Andrew Fairlie is a chef I knew a little by reputation; it's all too easy to assume that his venture would be the usual international luxury hotel fare, showcasing the famous elements of Scottish fare: heavy venison and beef dishes in rich sauces - a wealthy visitor's vision of Celtic cliche. Well let me tell you that our simple 3 course supper was one of the best meals I have ever eaten
. Incredible Scottish lobster, perfect pigeon (with the best confit legs on the planet) and a magical pear tart with ice cream for dessert. This is a chef with a lightness of touch and absolute mastery of ingredients. Astonishing. Plenty of Krug washed it all down - the Rosé in particular was spectacular with the pigeon - followed by a dram or two of excellent 1993 Glen Garioch. Andrew came and chatted through the evening with us, and Olivier regaled us as usual with stories of the history and journey of Krug. He worries that he talks too much but this is a raconteur to be reckoned with - you do not get bored of listening to him. Not a late night though; we needed to be ready for whatever lay ahead
A short journey across stunning countryside took us through a pair of imposing but not ostentatious stone pillars, along a mature-tree-lined, rolling driveway and eventually to the outer edge of a walled garden. Written on the door were the words 'Our secret garden!'
(So named by the four daughters of the owners of this stunning property) and what lay beyond was quite simply the fundamental secret behind Andrew's phenomenal cooking - a walled garden of such beauty and intensity of planting, replete with stunning flowers, herbs, heirloom fruits and vegetables, sheep, and the famous Scottish black bees. In the centre, a simple open-fronted marquee laid for lunch. The scene was pure Krug, pure magic
. Andrew introduced us to the garden, the gardeners, and the bee-keeper, and explained how the garden had been found and how its influence had played into his cooking. It became very clear why his philosophy aligned so perfectly with that of the house of Krug.
None of us saw the main event coming. Sure, we thought, we'll taste the 2000 Clos d'Ambonnay; it's what we're here for. What we did not expect was to taste all four vintages of the wine produced to date - the 1995
. This was a first for all of us - even Olivier himself.
1995 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
Fine pale gold. Pin prick bubbles. Amazing blend of fresh and mature - ripe lemon, freshly podded peas, butter sponge, shortbread. Wow. Palate is very 95 - bright and vibrant, crisp and intense, with toasted lemon, garden herbs, soy, lime... it’s almost Asian, Thai style, in its lemongrass and coconut intensity. Did fade slightly in the glass over the hour's tasting - if you have it, tuck in. Hugely enjoyable.
1996 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
Deeper gold than the 1995 but still bright. Classic Krug nose of baked apple, sweet spice, toasted lemon and buttered toasted brioche. Some green, herbal brightness too. The palate has a depth which is stratospheric and kaleidoscopic. Reaches parts of my taste buds not often touched. Incredible rich meat jus character, grapefruit, amalfi lemon, butter biscuit. Finish of such length and intensity, well over a minute. My god. Special. I went back to this time after time and it never let up. Eye watering. Mesmeric.
1998 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
Almost a peach hint in colour. Baked, slightly bruised apple character. Musky, brooding, roses and fresh bread dough. Not quite as precise as the 1996 but very generous and rich. Beautiful, sumptuous texture, heavyweight. Musky, deep and meaty, albeit slightly less cerebral than the previous two wines. Finish is long and deep. Very enjoyable right now – excellent to drink while you wait for the 1996.
2000 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
First to taste! Spun gold in colour, less peachy than the last two wines. Gingerbread, lemon verbena, butter shortbread, fresh lemon and a touch of floral sweetness - jasmine. Raspberry coulis. Very young and tight. You can feel the intensity brooding but right now it is quiet. Incredibly precise, touches all the parts and clearly there is great acidity and structure, clarity and intensity but having only been in the glass 5 minutes, it feels like a stunning frame to a picture that is not quite yet clear. Going back 10 minutes later, after retasting the 1998, it feels as if it has more in common with the 1996 and I am pretty certain it will follow the same path. This has buckets of potential.
A small rain shower reminded us not to be cocky - we were still in Scotland after all and the sunshine couldn't last forever - but had the good grace to come right at the end of the tasting, prompting us to dash for the marquee (with the help of some Krug umbrellas, of course - no detail is ever missed). Lunch, prepared again by Andrew and his team, was a thing of quiet beauty once more. The most stunning plate of simple vegetables, herbs and edible flowers preceded a magical tranche of sea trout and the piece de resistance, some incredible barbecued lamb. Krug 2000 and 2003 were both tasting extraordinary, as was the Rose, once again
. It's worth saying in fact that this may have been the biggest reawakening for me of the trip: Krug Rosé really is a very, very special drink indeed. Despite its slightly Barbie-esque packaging, this is a serious, restrained and elegant champagne with just a hint of plushness in its raspberry, strawberry and redcurrant jelly-infused character. Great on its own, incredible with food. Superb. Dessert was a veritable mountain of remarkably sweet, intense alpine wild strawberries atop a delicate mousse of lemon verbena. Sensational.
It's easy to be carried away on this magical ride, to succumb to the wiles of Krug and the luxurious, impossible life it hints at; sure, a nice hotel, plenty of delicious wine and some great food will certainly put a guy in a good mood. It would certainly be a clever way to give some gloss to an inferior product; but this doesn't feel like turd-polishing. Fundamentally, Krug is a remarkable wine. Compared to great wines from other regions, one could actually consider Grande Cuvée good value. Clos d'Ambonnay on the other hand is what the people at Stella Artois once called 'Reassuringly Expensive' and essentially taking the decision to buy, own and drink it is a lifestyle choice - you're not simply seeking the pleasure of a nice glass of wine, you're taking a step into the unnecessary, made possible by the unrelenting, and offering the unforgettable. Truly committed pleasure seekers only need apply. You will not be disappointed
Huge thanks to Olivier Krug, Andrew Fairlie, and the good people at MHUK for including BI on this remarkable trip.