An Evening of Krug


I have drunk Krug twice in one week.  This is quite profound as I find Krug undeniably attractive.  The first time was at the Chateau Leoville Barton and Chateua Langoa Barton tasting at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in DuPont Circle.  Most recently it was at the Evening of Krug dinner located within grasp of the U.S. Capitol at the Charlie Palmer Steakhouse.  The wine dinner was organized by Maria Denton, the Moet Hennessey Portfolio Manager at Washington Wholesale Liquor Company, of whom featured Julien Pepein Lehalleur the Business Development Manager at Krug.  Maria brought together an intimate group of people, wine drinkers with serious cellars and those In The Business as they say.  As I write about wine I was invited as a guest.

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We started with glasses of Krug Grand Cuvée as hor’d’oeuvres of Coriander Crusted Tuna Tatake and Crisp Potato Shallot Cake were passed.  The aroma of Krug does not reveal properly in a flute so we drank out of white wine glasses.  There were a few familiar faces Kevin, Ken, and Chris.  With glasses in hand introductions were made; Julien of Krug, Michelle and Mark of Moet Hennessey USA, Conrad, Elizabeth, and a few others.  Thus stimulated we sat down to begin our wine dinner.

At the table the stemware was subtly different.  The bowl was more delicate than a white wine glass and the stem was taller.  The room was subtly lit but there were enough individual lights that a discrete engraving caught my eye.  It was a small vine with three leaves.  Indeed we were drinking out of Krug glasses.  They recently worked with Riedel to create a new glass, the new version is a little larger.  As Julien expressed, they created their own glasses because Krug is generous in the nose and has much to express.

Julien Pepin Lehalleur

Julien Pepin Lehalleur

Julien is responsible for business development in the U.S. and Asia.  Despite its worldwide reach it is a company of only 50 employees.  We started with the vintage instead of the non-vintage due to the taste of the wine.  When Krug was founded in 1843 there were two initial wines: the Private Cuvée (later renamed Grande Cuvée) and that of Circumstance.  There was to be no hierarchy in the wines and they should be of equal stature.  The focus of Krug is to recreate the Grand Cuvée year after year for it is the heart.  In any given year roughly 15% of the production is dedicated to the vintage wine despite allowances of up to 80%.  There was no need to start with the Grande Cuvée because it is an equal wine not a lesser wine.

For Krug the disgorgement date is considered the beginning of the wine.  As it has already seen some oxygen during its initial three months in barrel, the oxygen from disgorgement is not a big deal.  The wine will continue to develop.  There were questions as to the next vintage to be released.  Julien relates that it is between the 2002 and the 2003.  He spoke with the cellar master who will only reveal that disgorgement will be at the beginning of 2014.  They want to release a wine when it is ready and sometimes this is not in vintage order.  For example, the 1989 was released before the 1988.  With 2002 and 2003 there is a similar issue but not as significant.  Every bottle which has left the cave since September 2011 now bears an identification number.  This ID may be entered into the Krug website to retrieve details of disgorgement and winemaker notes.  Krug not only highlights the size of the glass used but also the temperature of the service.  Indeed during Julien’s remarks our glasses have suitably warmed up.  When making a vintage Champagne the goal is to recreate the year and indeed our glass is precise and powerful.  This particular vintage is a blend of 45 wines which tell the same character of the vintage and will develop in the same direction.  Approximately 8-10,000 bottles of vintage Champagne are kept back for Collection.  These are disgorged step-by-step, a few hundred bottles at a time.

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Krug Vintage 2000
When cold the nose was light and tight.  But with warmth and air it becomes delicate with fresh apples.  In the mouth it is more effervescent than the initial glass of Grande Cuvée.  There is crisp acidity on the tip of the tongue then the bubbles finely dissipate into a beautiful mousse.  There is apple like acidity, a youthful nature, and ripeness in the finish.  There is good acidity.  This fresh wine certainly cuts a swathe and I would recommend age.  **** 2018-2033.

All of the Krug wines are vinified the same.  As such they undergo alcoholic fermentation, do not undergo malolactic fermentation, and spend 2-3 months in oak barrels.  The barrels themselves average 23 years of age and are three years old at a minimum.  There is no desire to impart a wood flavor so the barrels are aged with rejected wine or must.  They work with three different cooperages though most come from one.  The goal of barrel use is to be able to track individual parcels.  Some 230-250 parcels are harvested each year.  One press yields 10 casks and Krug employs some 5,000 barrels.  After time in barrel they are stored in stainless steel tank.  There are some 250 tanks for the current wines and 150 for the reserve wines.  The tanks are labeled with the parcel name.  The reserve tanks go back to 16 years of age.

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The most recent Krug Grande Cuvée is a blend of some 134 wines representing 12 vintages from 1990-2005.  To make the best Champagne possible they employ an extensive library of wine.  Originally they kept 60 tanks of reserve wine but between 2001-2003 this was expanded to 150 tanks.  Creating the Grande Cuvée is a cerebral process.  They must recreate the same wine each year, yet keep consistency and reserve wines so that the cuvee may move forward.  The wine is aged for six years in the cellar than one year after disgorgement before shipment.

To produce the wine there is a tasting committee of some 5-8 people.  This includes Eric Lebel, winemakers, guests, etc.  The committee tastes all 400 wines on three occasions from October to the end of March.  Each day they tasted 15-17 wines and write down their impressions.  Julien has been part of the committee before.  The base wines are quite acidic so one really needs deep experience.  At the end of the tasting window some 5,000 tasting notes have been generated.  Eric Lebel then locks himself in his office for 15 days to think about the blend.  The Private Cuvée originally went back only six years in vintage.  In 1998 under Eric this was extended to 7-8 different vintages then it was bumped up to 10 vintages.  The Grande Cuvée is now a blend of 10-13 vintages.  The amount of reserve wine typically varies between 35-50%.  In very poor years, like 2001, it has peaked at 55% reserve wine.

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Krug Grande Cuvée
The scented nose stepped out of the glass.  There was dark fruit, a subtle yeasty bit, earth, and a generally haunting personality.  The mousse was lovely with perfume.  The wine was refreshing with grip and apple-like acidity in the finish.  It seemed minerally.  A real treat to drink. ****(*) Now-2028.

Krug Rosé represents less than 10% of production.  It is not made every year and there is often a two to three year gap.  The rosé is a relative newcomer as Paul Krug II long resisted the introduction of the wine. Not to be deterred Henri and Remi used a parcel from the very hot 1976 vintage, it was over mature and red.  They blended into the white base wine, thus making a rosé.  In 1982 they tasted the wine blind with their father.  He thought it an excellent wine and was surprised that another house has produced a rosé  in the style of Krug.  Needless to write the wine was revealed as a Krug thus ensuring its future history.  To their father it was a Krug before it was a rosé.  The rosé shares the same philosophy of the Grande Cuvée which is “try to avoid any kind of excess.”  Eric believes the rosé changes faster than the other wines due to the high levels of Pinot Noir.

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Krug Rosé
This was good fruit expression and a little earthy bit.  The flavors stood up well with beautiful bubbles forming a gentle mousse.  The wine was ripe, scented, and racy.  It was beautifully balance and lighter in a sense then the other two. **** Now-2023.

Kevin Shin graciously brought a bottle of the 1996 which he had bought upon release.  I commented on the freshness and acidity to Julien.  He remarked that the 1990s in general have the highest levels of acidity.  When it came to the 1996 it not yet ready to release so the kept on holding it back.  Eventually stocks of available vintage wine were running low so it was released.

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Krug Vintage 1996
The color was darker than the 200.  There was an apple, yeasty, driven nose.  In the mouth there was an apple-like burst of acidity, show yeast, a little more assertive bubbles at the acidity.  The wine was vibrant and tangy on the lips with notable acidity in the finish.  It showed more evolution and markedly more complexity than the 2000.  There is a long life ahead.  ****(*) Now-2033.

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As we finished our meal Executive Chef Jeff Russell and Pastry Chef Justin Roche stopped by our table.  Chef Russell paired the Krug Vintage 2000 with Yellowtail Sashimi, cucumber, daikon, miso, and ponzu.  For the Krug Grande Cuvée he featured Seared Sea Scallop, smoked almond, candied kumquats, and citrus vanilla butter.  For the Krug Rosé there was Roasted Roseda Farms Strip Loin, carrot and cardamom puree, celery root, and chaterelle mushrooms.  With our coffee service Justin Roche presented a Vanilla Bean Bobme Glacee, bittersweet chocolate, and slated caramel.  I thought the pairings worked well.  The aromas were never overwhelming nor did the flavors persist so much as to distort the flavor of the wine.

With our dinner complete I was left with strong impressions of the four Krug Champagnes.  Having a limited array of wine allows for an intimate experience; there is no rush to finish.  There was no need to spit either.  I seemed to be impervious to the alcoholic effects of Krug.  We left our private dinning room to take an elevator to the top of the building.  A short walk along the terrace brings the U.S. Capitol into full view.  It was a great sight which we viewed for some time.  I stood there  feeling energetic having consumed the right amount of food and Champagne.  I kept circling back to my first impressions from a week prior.  Krug is so drinkable.

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  1. February 4, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Great post! To this day, I’ve never tasted a Krug. I can’t believe I’ve just admitted that, but it hasn’t been in the cards for me. I’ve gotta change that!

  2. February 5, 2013 at 7:05 am

    Isaac, good to read for I thought I was one of the “few” people who had not tried Krug. I would start with the Grande Cuvée, certainly expensive, but also beautiful.

  1. May 10, 2013 at 10:10 am

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