Champagne Krug

Even a house as august as Krug occasionally feels the need to reinvent itself.  We were surprised upon arriving at Krug to find that the entrance had been completely reconfigured along with the completion of the new reception areas for guests and some ongoing work in the cellars.  Even Krug, it seems, is not content to rest on its laurels.

Among the newer pieces of the Krug story is the rediscovery of Joseph Krug’s original notebook of his discussion with Hypollyte de Vivès, who was his backer as he broke off from his father-in-law at Jacquesson.  Krug and de Vivès met in 1840; Joseph set up his own company in 1843.  One can only imagine that it was a tumultuous time in his life.  As we discussed Krug history old and new, we clarified that in 1972 Private Cuvée was changed to Grande Cuvée, that in 1971 the Clos de Mesnil was purchased with funds from the sale of Krug to Remy Cointreau, and that the vineyard was replanted and that the first vintage was 1979.  There was little information to be gleaned about Krug Blanc de Blancs, shipped before the first Clos du Mesnil, or Krug Extra Sec.  These, apparently, will remain a mystery.

Next we switched from former marketing stories to the current ones, and began to discuss the Krug ID  This innovation, introduced with bottles disgorged in 2011, continues to fascinate, as the code on the back of the bottle allows Krug lovers to discover not only technical information such as the components of the blend, the date of disgorgement and other vital statistics, but also food and even pairings to accompany the wine.  Luckily, this is more than gimmicky marketing: the wines are absolutely superb, and perhaps they have never been better in the houses’s long history.

Brut NV « Grande Cuvée » (163)

We began the visit with a glass of what is known as the 163rd edition of Krug Grande Cuvée.  Our Krug ID (315051) tells us that this has a base from the year 2007, and that it is a blend of 37% Pinot, 32% Chardonnay and 31% Meunier, disgorged in the second quarter of 2015.  The assemblage consists of 183 different blending components in total.  On the nose there are the trademark coconut & saffron aromas, and the texture is silky and fine without sacrificing power or length.  ****

Brut NV « Grande Cuvée » (160)

We concluded our visit with the 160th edition of « Grande Cuvée ».  The Krug ID (214031) reveals that the blend is based on the 2004 vintage, that it is a blend of 44% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 23% Meunier, and that there are 121 components in all, with 1990 as the oldest vintage in the blend.  The wine was disgorged in 2012.  The wine to me was silkier and more floral than the vintage wine from the same year – more approachable, really – which is logical with the use of older reserve wines.  ****

Brut Vintage 2004

From the initial glass of Grande Cuvée we moved into the vintage wines, tasting first the 2004.  This was lovely, citrusy and fresh with a very tender texture.  It seemed, however, slightly closed, and at this stage it was almost too easy to love, and lacked perhaps a bit of tension.  The nose revealed floral and toasty notes, but was not yet showing the depth of flavor I look for in Krug Vintage.  Still, I think with time it will come around.  The Krug ID (214041) paradoxically reveals that « Elle a reçu son bouchon au printemps 2014 » and that it « A quitté nos caves printemps 2014 ».  This means that it was disgorged and shipped in the same season, which would be highly unusual for a house like Krug.  I will investigate!  The blend was 37% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay, and 24% Meunier.  *****

Brut Vintage 2002

From the ’04 we went on to the superb 2002.  This showed a bit more maturity on the nose immediately, with the tropical fruit and coconut that I love in Krug vintage along with a suggestion of ground coffee and just a hint of black truffle.  On the palate there is concentration and density but the character of the mousse is very silky and the length seems to go on forever.  Stunning wine.  I wonder what it will taste like out of magnum?  Blend: 40% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay, 21% Meunier.  *****

We discussed the vintage wines a bit.  Like 1988, the 2002 is first of a trilogy: 2002 – 2003 – 2004.  This is highly unusual in the history of the house.  We did not have an opportunity to taste the ’03 on this visit, but on my previous visit to the house it did not yet seem ready.  Champagnes from hot years (think of 1982) can prove thrilling, but in my experience one needs to wait for them in order to enjoy them fully.  Here the ’03 was shipped before the ’02 (which was release in the fall of 2015), just as the ’89 was shipped before the ’88.  I have been a bit disappointed with both the ’89 and the ’03, and I think we’ll have to wait for them.  I also think the ’04 is not yet showing at its full potential, but it is a wine full of promise.  The ’02, perhaps a bit like the 1990, has always been there, and, one hopes, will continue to show well.  We were told that there will not be any vintage wine produced in 2009 or 2012.

Champagne Alfred Gratien

Founded in 1864, Gratien is a traditional Champagne négociant in the best sense of the term.  They have employed members of the same family as their chefs de cave for four generations.  The first was Gaston Jaeger, who began in 1905, and the present winemaker, Nicolas Jaeger, began working with his father in 1990 and took over the reins seventeen years later.  The house purchases the quasi-totality of the fruit that they use, but they source fruit only within an easy drive of their premises, located in Epernay.  All of the base wines are fermented in cask.  There are over 1,000 used oak casks on the premises – the third largest collection after Krug and Bollinger.  Wines are kept on the lees until the spring following the harvest, but no lees stirring (bâtonnage) is done, as Nicolas feels it can make the wines heavy.  Only the first run juice (the cuvée) is used, and the press wine (the tailles) are vinified in a separate process for a different brand entirely that is only commercialized in Germany (home to parent company Henkell).  Malolactic fermentation is systematically suppressed.  Reserve wines are kept in a solera (properly called a réserve perpetuelle in Champagne) instead of keeping the vintages separately, and 50% is renewed each year.  All of the vintage wines are aged under cork.  The dosage is moderate, and it is performed using a liqueur formed from the Cuvée Paradis, held in solera (with 10% renewed each year).

Brut Classic NV

This has a base of 2011 (thus bottled in ’12 and hence five years on the lees) along with 40% reserve wines.  The blend is 57% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, and 23% Meunier.  The wine was disgorged June 17 and dosed at 10 g/l.  As with all wines, it is only cuvée and 100% fermented in cask.  The end result has a richly toasty nose of ripe apple, almond and brioche.  The mousse is elegant and creamy, and the malic acid gives a lively balance in spite of the generous dosage.  Very well done.  ***

Brut Vintage Blanc de blancs 2009

This comes completely from grand cru sites, including Le Mesnil, Chouilly, Avize, Cramant, and Oger  The wine is dosed at 8 g/l.  The nose opens with a lively, lemony fruit buttressed with a faint note of honey.  The texture is rich and lush, with a luxuriously soft finish relatively typical of the vintage.  Well done.  ***

Brut Vintage « Cuvée Paradis » 2008

A blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir from grand and premier crus, dosed at 8 g/l.  2008 is a wonderful vintage in general, and this Cuvée Paradis by Gratien is an exceptional success even within that context.  The combination of the cask ferment, long aging under cork, lively acidity (from the blocked malolactic fermentation) and the delicate, creamy texture from the exclusive use of the cuvée brings to this wine both an incredible density and concentration but at the same time a delicate, creamy texture and a finesse that are uniquely rewarding.  ****

Brut Vintage 2005

A blend of 70% Chardonnay with 15% Pinot Noir and 15% Meunier.  Recently disgorged, this has thus spent 11 years on the lees.  The autolysis here is at a marvelous point, with notes of truffle, grilled brioche and roast walnuts.  There is a complexity here that is truly profound, and the texture has softened up a bit from the intensity of the ’08 Paradis to make this a silky, truly seductive beverage.  Marvelous.  ****

Brut Millésime 2004

An interesting wine, paradoxically fresher than the 2005, this is a blend of 68% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot noir blended with 19% Meunier sourced from a treasured site at Leuvrigny.  The result is still fresh and silky, with a creamy texture and a lovely weight.  The elegance and finesse of the ’04 vintage is truly amazing: this was disgorged in only January 2017.  Truly marvelous wine.  *****

Brut Vintage Rosé « Cuvée Paradis » 2007

A blend of 63% Chardonnay and 37% Pinot Noir, including 8% vinified as red wine by the house R. H. Coutier in Ambonnay.  The end result is an elegant expression of red berry fruit, but the feel on the palate is a bit light.  ***

Champagne André Jacquart

Marie Duval-Doyard is taking an increasingly confident hand with her husband in the administration of their family estate in Champagne.  They are proprietors of 23 ha: 16 in the Marne, split between Le Mesnil and Vertus, 3 ha of Pinot in the Aube, and a further 4 ha of Pinot in the Aisne.  Eighty percent of the production is vinified in cask (none of it new).  The wines spend six to eight months on the lees (with bâtonnage) and are normally bottled in June.  Malo is blocked systematically, dosage is low, and the wines see a minimum of four years on the lees for NV and 5 – 8 years on the lees for vintage wines.  The house has invested heavily in recent years including new cellars and a new cuverie.  Lots of renovation. New cellars.

Brut Blanc de Blancs NV « Brut Expérience »

The wine is 60% from Vertus and 40% from Mesnil, 5 years on the lees.  80% is from the base year of 2012, and 20% is a combination of resesrve wines from 2009 – 2011.  .  60% of the vin clair was fermented in cask.  The finished champagne is dosed at 4 g/l.  The wine has a pronounced citrus and saline edge, with lovely texture and length.  For me this is an absolutely spectacular starting point, incisive and a bit sharp, but infinitely refreshing and enchantingly crisp.  ****

Brut Blanc de Blancs NV « Mesnil Brut Nature »

This has a base of 2008 with the addition of 10% reserve wines.  The base wine here is completely different, and the fruit for this blend is from vines up to 70 years of age.  While very structured, tense and crisp, this is a wine of extraordinary concentration and verve, with a well-spring of citrusy fruit but also a richness and density that are surprising.  Impressive length.  This is among the most concentrated nonvintage wines from the Côte de Blancs.  ****

Brut NV « Pur Chardonnay Mesnil Experience »

Here is a softer, gentler expression of the Mesnil fruit from the Doyard estate, although this uses younger from (from 40 – 45-year-old vines).  The base year here is 2012, and the dosage is 4 g/l.  Here the emphasis is on soft floral notes and a ripe apple fruit, with a bit less of the yeasty concentration of the old-vine cuvée.  Pleasant, much more approachable.  ***

Brut Rosé NV « Rosé Experience »

The wine here is 80% Pinot Noir from Vertus from a plot of 80 year old vines and 20% Chardonnay from Le Mesnil.  Production is limited to 5,000 bottles each year.  The wine is done in the saignée method, but completely in cask.  The wine was bottled in 2015, and the finished champagne is dosed at 4 g/l.  Here there is a lovely red berry fruit aroma and a hint of floral notes.  The texture is soft and supple.  The wine is not overly structured, but rather easily approachable and yet it lingers well on the palate. ***