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. ***

Neapolitan Treasures









Delicious, elusive, compelling, frustrating, the wines of Campania have long been among my favorites.  This ancient region has been producing marvelous wine since before the foundation of Rome, and there are wines from this region that rank among the best produced in all of Italy.  They are less well-known abroad, perhaps, since they are produced from indigenous varieties.  Some of these, such as Fiano and Greco among the whites, and Aglianico among the reds are becoming more well-known.  Savvy wine lovers, however, will want to explore the full range, as they offer thrilling tastes and flavors, and often provide extraordinary value for money.

This being said, such a quest is often complicated by limited availability.  Having tasted several hundred wines from Campania last week, I was frustrated by the limited availability of the top wines.  Although this is undeniably true (and perhaps understandable), there were a number of interesting wines that are available – at least online, if not at your local store.  I rated a number of the wines last week as either very good (***) or outstanding (****).  Here are a few notes on those one might find:

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1982 Bordeaux

The main event at the annual tasting organized by a dear friend in Atlanta was a blind horizontal tasting of the 1982 Bordeaux vintage in three flights.  I offer these notes in the order in which they were tasted.  I was also fortunate to be present in 2012 for a tasting of the same vintage drawn from the same collection, tasted in the same apartment, with most of the same tasters.  For some reason, I did not rate them then, although I did after this most recent tasting.  The line-up was not exactly the same in 2012, but I include those notes by way of comparison.

Haut-Médoc 1982, Château La Lagune

Mature and starting to fade, this shows eucalyptus, cedar and cigar leaf on the nose along with a bit of cinnamon spice.  The tannins are soft and the finish is somewhat tart.  Time to drink.  **  In Atlanta with friends, March 2017

Saint-Julien 1982, Château Léoville-Poyferré

Thoroughly enjoyable and still fairly youthful, this shows black plum aromas accented with a hints of ground coffee, truffle and a hint of brett that will delight some and dismay others.  The texture is round and soft on the palate, and the finish lingers pleasantly at the end.  ****  In Atlanta with friends, March 2017

Saint-Julien 1982, Château Gruaud-Larose

Tasted blind, this was the wine of the first flight for me.  At this point it is open and drinking well but not overly so, and it is far from being in decline.  To my taste, this wine is a perfect example of a great claret from a great vintage, drinking at its peak.  It shows ripe notes of currant, peppery spice and cigar box, with a silky texture and enough body and structure to support the wine but no astringency or hardness at all.  Marvelous.  *****  In Atlanta with friends, March 2017

From 2012: The ’82 Gruaud-Larose shows a bright cherry fruit fruit up front with a cedary edge and a hint of tobacco or cigar leaf.  On the palate the wine is still tannic and fairly dense.  Lacking perhaps a bit of the generosity of the other ‘82s, this is still classic claret, drinking beautifully that will hold for years.   With friends in Atlanta, March 2012

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2002 Bordeaux

The overall standard for the 2002 Bordeaux at the annual tasting organized by a dear friend in Atlanta was higher than I had expected, even going into the tasting with a fond personal recollection of doing the en primeurs campaign just prior to passing the MW tasting exam.  The wines were certainly fresh and still decidedly youthful, but they were surprisingly hefty, and few showed the unripe “bell pepper” aromas caused by some pyrazine compounds that I had feared.  In general it seemed that there was definitely at least a few more years before most of them opened, and several decades of pleasant drinking after that.

Pauillac 2002, Château Pichon-Lalande

Eminently pleasant, but a bit light, with bright, forward red berry fruit and a floral edge.  The texture is silky and fresh, but the wine lacks a bit of substance.  *** In Atlanta with friends, March 2017.

Pomerol 2002, Château l’Evangile

Impressive wine, with a rich, dark plum fruit character and plenty of impact.  There is density and concentration on the palate but not a lot of tannin, with a supple mouthfeel and a lingering finish.  This should last another 10 – 20 years in a proper cellar.  Tasted blind, it was my favorite and the favorite of the group in this flight.  ***** In Atlanta with friends, March 2017.

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1995 Bordeaux

1995 is a very fine vintage after a string of poor ones. The spring was mild and fair, the summer was hot and dry, thickening the skins and blocking the maturity in some areas. Enough rain fell in September, however, to allow the vines to finish their work, and the overall result was impressive. The wines are tannic and rich, with plenty of substance and concentration. These continue to show well 22 years after the vintage. The top wines are still not ready, but one has the sense that when they are that they will be magnificent.

Pauillac 1995, Château Pichon-Lalande
Open and accessible, this shows a rich curranty fruit with an edge of pepper and spice. On the palate it is firmly tannic and well-structured, with nice density and a powerful if somewhat truncated finish. Drinking now, this can certainly hold. **** In Atlanta with friends, March 2017.

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Demystifying Champagne Roses de Jeanne and Cédric Bouchard


I recently had a bottle of the 2008 Blanc de Noir Côte de Béchalin from Roses de Jeanne, produced by Cédric Bouchard,  This was a noteworthy bottle of wine from one of the rising stars of the southern Champagne subregion of the Aube.  Unfortunately, it was also a bit confusing.  It is definitely worth the effort to get to know this producer, however, so a bit of explanation is in order.  When he began in 2000, he worked a 0.9 ha plot called Les Ursules belonging to his father, which he called “Champagne Roses de Jeanne” as a tribute to his grandmother.   Later he added another 1.5 ha vineyard site called Côte de Val Vilaine, which he initially called Inflorescence.   Since 2012, however, it has been labeled with the name of the vineyard, thus Côte de Val Vilaine, and since 2014 all of the champagne from Cédric Bouchard is bottled under the Roses de Jeanne label.

To this initial structure, he began to add single vineyard wines.  The first was called initially La Parcelle, a 1.5 ha plot planted to Pinot Noir, which is now called by the vineyard name, Côte de Béchalin.  In 2004, he began to produce a Chardonnay from a 0.12 ha vineyard called La Haut-Lemblé.  There is also a tiny production of rosé from the 0.07 ha vineyard Le Creux d’Enfer, and a Blanc de Blancs made from Pinot Blanc from the 0.22 ha vineyard La Bolorée.  The newest edition is a Blanc de Noirs from the 0.25 ha vineyard called Presle.  All are worth trying.  I found the Côte de Béchalin absolutely superb.  It really shows the possibilities of the Blanc de Noirs style.  It goes through malolactic fermentation, but receives no dosage and thus retains a crisp, fine edge and an almost citrus/saline cast in spite of grape variety.  The wine is produced from tiny yields with minimal intervention, and is aged in bottle six years before release to give a stunning complexity and depth of flavor in spite of the fine, racy profile.

May Saint Vincent Bless You









Fortunately it is not necessary to march in the saint’s parade during a cold Burgundian winter in order to commemorate the memory of Saint Vincent of Saragossa.  I was happy to pass my Saint Vincent this year in the very civilized environs of the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong at a dinner organized by the local importer Pearl of Burgundy.  It was a few days in advance of his official celebration on 22 January – peu importe!  A number of winemakers were present and pouring their wine, and the guests had all brought wine from their cellar.  We tasted some marvels.

Although Saint Vincent is the patron saint of vintners, his association with the grape is a bit of a mystery.  We do know that he was the first martyr of Spain, who died in Valencia in 304 AD under the rein of Emperor Diocletian.  French winemakers, who like him perhaps because his name starts with “Vin”, have long celebrated his feast day.  In 1938 the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin  resurrected the official celebration of the saint, which takes place in a different village each year, and is thus known in Burgundy as the “Saint Vincent Tournante”, which is celebrated on the last weekend in January.

The first wine of the evening was a 2014 Meursault Genevrières (***) provided by our vintner host, Domaine Tessier, which showed a clean fresh note of lemon peel and butter.  It was fresh and elegant on the palate, with lovely balance and a lingering finish.  Friends from Zachys Wine Auctions brought a magnum of 1988 Morey Saint-Denis Clos des Monts Luisants from Ponsot (*****) that was extraordinary, with notes of caramel and honey on the nose that open up to truffle and mineral.  This is a very particular wine, produced in large part from Aligoté planted in 1911.  In the 1930s, Laurent Ponsot’s grandfather Hippolyte planted about 15% of the vineyard to a variety called “Pinot Gouges”, which was a Pinot Noir vine from Domaine Henri Gouges that had mutated to produce white grapes which Gouges had propagated via cuttings.  In the 1950s, Laurent’s father Jean-Marie planted about 20% of the vineyard to Chardonnay, and this was the approximate grape blend of our 1988 magnum.  In 1992 the Pinot Gouges was ripped up, and in 2004 the Chardonnay was as well, and from 2005 this wine is produced from 100% Aligoté, making it the only premier cru in Burgundy produced exclusively from this grape.

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2014 Bordeaux : love them, like them, or leave them alone ?









What to make of Bordeaux 2014?  This is an interesting time to assess the wines, as they are about to ship, yet they are still available as futures.  Recently there has been a perceptible uptick in interest in Bordeaux.  A colleague from the auction market speculated last night that Bordeaux had gotten so uncool that it was beginning to be cool again.  For my part, I have been drinking the wines all along, in good vintages and bad, the best wines and the best value wines. However, since I did not attend the en primeur tastings of the 2014 or 2015 vintages, I now rely on tasting them closer to when they arrive on our shores, and thus the tastings organized by the Union des Grands Crus is very important.  This report only assesses those wines poured at this tasting, which occurred Monday in New York.

The grape growing year started well, with auspicious weather in the spring and a very good flowering that set the stage for a large-ish harvest.  Unfortunately, the three months that followed saw a cool, rainy growing season that made for some very morose winemakers.  After all, the quality of the vintages could hardly be anything but disappointing following the absolutely stellar 2009s and 2010s, and in August of 2014, growers feared another wash-out.  Luckily for all concerned, record levels of dry, hot weather came through in September and lasted through the first week in October.  Only a bit of rain on 8 October prevented a perfect arrière-saison.  A bit later in the year the conditions were also right for a solid formation of botrytis in Sauternes.   All in all, a good year, if not a great one.  There is decent ripeness, but one of the hallmarks of the vintage generally is a lively acidity that one finds either refreshing or a bit green according to personal preference.

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