These notes accompany our in-depth feature on Vintage Champagne.
My previous meetings with representatives of the house of Krug had been with Rémi Krug, and never his brother Henri. The urbane Rémi was always the more natural ambassador and front man for the house, whilst winemaker Henri stayed firmly in the background. Now, well into their sixties, both have taken a back seat and I was greeted in Krug’s business-like offices in Reims by Henri’s son Olivier, who has taken over the reins as head of this house.Olivier, who has recently turned 40, bounds into the room and leaps (elegantly) over a couple of low tables to reach the water that had been left on the sideboard by an assistant moments before. Clearly this is an athletic and youthful new broom in the corridors of Krug power.
Olivier Krug tells me that he is the “old man” of the senior team at Krug: most are in their thirties. Olivier has worked in the family business for 17 years, including a two-year stint as Krug’s man in Japan, a language he speaks fluently. Now his duties include Director of Production, as well as being in charge of relationships with Krug’s family of growers, a job which he says is his “main challenge,” as access to the highest quality fruit becomes increasingly competitive. Olivier’s father and uncle still sit on the tasting committee, as the Krug family has always done, responsible for blending decisions.
Although he knows my visit has a specific vintage focus, Olivier stresses that Krug’s NV Grande Cuvée is the essence of Krug, with the current disgorgement featuring reserve wines stretching back to 1990.
Indeed, the release of a vintage-dated Krug is still comparatively rare, the current vintage on the market being the 1995 and the one before that, 1990. Olivier says “Krug releases a vintage not just when the year is very good, but when it is ‘exceptional’ or ‘different’. There was no Krug 1983, ’86 or ’93 for example: all very good years, but not ‘unique enough’ for Krug.
“With vintage Krug there are no rules on grapes, proportions or style. We will choose fruit from the villages that perform best. For example, 1981 remains our only Chardonnay-dominated vintage, because the Chardonnay was uniquely good. In 1976 we had 20% of Meunier, for exactly the same reason.”
Olivier states that is “always looking to find a balance between Champagne excitement and fine wine finesse.” He has just installed 72 new small vats, to allow the vinification of more small, separate batches, and although the house is famous for its fermentation in oak, the first three years of a barrel’s life are used to ferment ‘taille’ (press wine rather than free-run juice) which is sold off and never used. Olivier says “really, Krug hates wood and tannin.”
Krug’s ‘no rules’ policy on vineyards and blends is of course the antitheses of a many grower-houses, where the same plots of land are responsible for each vintage. But this array of beautiful wines does say something about the year, like the remarkable trio of 1998 – 1990. But it perhaps says more about a recognisable ‘house style’, which I guess is the most crucial aspect for Krug.
To keep Olivier happy, my tasting of eight of their extraordinary vintage wines begins with a tasting of the latest release of the Grande Cuvée – “after all,” he says, “you are tasting around 20 vintages in this wine.”
Krug Grand Cuvee
Very delicate pale green colour, with little golden hints. Beautifully fresh aromatics, with green apple, a touch of green fig, but a lithe, creamy quality with plenty of lemony vibrancy. The palate has a very fine, crisp, vibrant mousse, with lots of life and richness, masses of lime like fruit and that very delicately nutty and spicy background. All sort so small exotic spice notes and lovely harmony and length. 93
Krug Vintage 1995
Quite a pale green/yellow colour. Vinous nose, with quite Burgundian character of ripe orchard fruits and lemon, and a herbal, nicely vegetal background. There is a nutty, pistachio note too, but this is mostly about the fruit. On the palate this is lively and bright, with a very crisp mousse and at the moment plenty of zesty lemony fruit. This is deliciously lively and fruity, with a very fine, ripe apple and pear quality, but the fine mineral and lemony structure of the acidity adds plenty of precision. The tension and interplay between the bright fruit, lovely acid structure and little creamy background hints of richness is fabulous. 95
Krug Vintage 1990
Light to medium gold/straw colour. Extremely vinous nose, with fine vegetal aromas, reminiscent of ripe pear and pear skins, lovely little overripe melon and rotted orange notes add plenty of complexity and interest. The palate has an immediate fruit sweetness, running crisply through the fine, elegant mousse. There’s a richness here that is almost peachy, with nectarine sweetness of fruit, but all tensioned by a nervosity of lemon zest and mineral acidity. Lovely balance here, with plenty of fruit and plenty of structure, and still seems young. 95
Krug Vintage 1989
Pale lemony gold colour. The nose seems more developed than the 1988 (tasted before the 1989 in this tasting). There’s a hint of mushroomy, truffly character, with plenty of bruised pear and apple fruit. Lovely finesse again here and seems a little more open that the 88 or 90. The mouth has scintillating, racy fruit and acidity, with the mousse crisp and racy, though softer than some here. The palate is full of maturing Champagne character with lots of herbal notes, apple and some almondy notes. Beautiful, open Champagne, perhaps without quite the structure of the 88 and bright fruit of 1990, but just beautiful stuff. 94
Krug Vintage 1988
Emerald highlights to a medium golden colour. Tiny streaming bubbles. Orangy fruit dominates, with a touched of rotted orange character, and plenty of bruised pear fruit. There’s a developing biscuity presence here, with a hint of fat, but fine, fine still tight character. On the palate this is lean and mineral at first, with a precise, crisp mousse and lots of vivacity. There’s a zestiness and fabulous acidity, with a grapefruit and lemon pithy dryness and beautiful finesse here. Gorgeous wine, with scintillating balance and huge, huge length as it begins to open. A more intellectual style of Krug vintage perhaps, but superb. 96
Krug Collection Vintage 1985
More colour here, with a deeper golden colour but still hints of emerald. Beautifully small bubbles. Lovely mature quality here, with plenty of truffle and mushroomy notes and just a suggestion of Sherry. There’s a touch of chocolate too, and some nutty notes adding layers of interest. Bruised pear and apply fruit and a touch of preserved lemon. There’s even a hint of something minty here in a very complex aromatic profile. The mousse is gentle and relatively broad for Krug, with lovely ripe fruit flavours with a certain creaminess. There is such lovely depth here, with endless layers of nutty, mature notes, but still great freshness. Acidity here has lost its iron grip perhaps, but it still supports, freshens and lengthens beautifully. 94
Krug Vintage 1982
Quite a solid medium yellow/gold colour. Extraordinary difference here, with a nose that on first impression is like a young, heavily wooded white Burgundy. There is coffee and toast, and yet an apple and lemony freshness. Quite exotic nuances begin to emerge, like green fig and some sesame seed nuttiness. The palate has a lively, crisp mousse and plenty of bright citrussy, orangy and mandarin fruitiness. This has lovely freshness on the palate, with a really racy, almost Mosel like combination between a crisp, racy, mineral and lemon linear acidity and gentle pear and apple fruitiness. The little toasty, nutty character builds into something more dominant in the finish. Intriguing stuff and delicious. Perhaps doesn’t have the interplaying layers of complexity of a wine like the 85, 88 or 95, but brilliant – in all sense of the word. 95
Krug Collection Vintage 1981
Very pale lemony colour, with a vinous nose. Plenty of gently waxy, nectarine fruit quality. A lovely background vegetal, truffly note, but really quite fresh. There’s some figgy, lemon zest notes, but all very subtle and subdued compared to the 1982, but full of finesse. The palate it rounded and flooded with quite a fat lemony fruit. This seems like a much simpler wine, with beautiful fruit quality. It seems positively one-dimensional compared to many here, though there is undoubtedly a wonderful purity and beauty. Nutty almond and hazelnut toasty notes begin to come through, and the acidity is lovely. Beautiful wine to drink and thoroughly enjoy now though. 93
Krug Collection Vintage 1971
Quite a medium-deep, burnished gold colour. Very tiny bubbles still rising intermittently. Clearly some age here (served blind). Fabulous old Champagne nose. Wonderful waxy parcel string and old brown paper notes. Terrifically nutty, with walnut and hazelnut, chestnut puree notes. Coffee and chocolaty notes really start to build. At the core still something of a fat lemony, waxy character. On the palate an immediate burst of fruit sweetness. The palate is beautifully harmonious, with gorgeous roundness of fruit, that broad coffee and nutty spice background. There is a beautifully rounded but bright orangy acidity with a real mandarin orange note and lots of finesse here. Similar to the 1982 in some ways, but has a little plumpness and comfortable, settled character of fruit yet still marvellous freshness. A beautiful wine and wine experience. 94.
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