By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer
Last Friday I was invited to a very special dinner with Margareth Henriquez, the President and CEO of Champagne Krug. We dined at Quattro in the Four Seasons Hotel, which has a great program called “Friday Nights Uncorked” inviting customers to bring their own wine, without a corkage fee. For this special occasion, Chef Marco Fossati had worked with the Krug team ahead of time to prepare a menu paired with current releases from the maison. Ian Cauble, Krug’s Master Sommelier brand ambassador and Julien Pepin Lehalleur, Krug’s business development manager were also on hand to tell the story of the wines. This was a night I won’t forget.
Krug has always been a quality obsessed house. Joseph Krug left Champagne Jacquesson in 1843 to start his own maison with the idea of making the best Champagne possible. For the last 169 years this producer has not missed a beat, and this consistency at the highest level of wine making puts them on the level of Chateau d’Yquem and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti as one of the finest wine producers in the world. All of the wines are fermented in traditional 205 liter feuillattes, the traditional Champagne oak barrel. These barrels are seasoned for years with press wine so they do not impart too much oak flavor to the wine, but rather offer texture and immunization against future oxidation.
We had the aperitif on the tented veranda at Quattro, the Krug "Grande Cuvée" Brut Champagne ($139, $79.99 half, $399 magnum). Margareth explained the new codes on the backs of the bottles, that allow the Champagne lover to learn the disgorgement date, year of the base harvest of the wine as well as the number of vintages blended in and the oldest of them. She was far too modest about this new feature, as it reverses the secretiveness for which Krug has long been known. Now, thanks to her influence, Krug is one of the most transparent houses. The bottle that we had was from batch 311032, based on 2004, and composed of 121 different wines from 12 different vintages going all the way back to 1990. It was disgorged in the fall of 2011. All of this can be learned by going to www.krug.com and entering the code. Our bottle was Krug at its toasty, extroverted best, with plenty of buttery brioche and mid-palate weight. It also had typical 2004 zing and acidity, and showed attractive aspects of both youth and maturity.
Appetizers were then passed and the 2000 Krug "Clos du Mesnil" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($799) poured around. The iconic all-Chardonnay Clos du Mesnil comes from a four and a half acre walled vineyard in the super-chalky grand cru village of Mesnil. It was known as the Clos Tarin, owned by the Tarin sisters. It had always been famous for its quality, but now as a single vineyard wine by one of Champagne’s most quality obsessed houses, it has become one of the most desirable bottles in the whole appellation. The lobster crudo brought out the white fruit of the chardonnay, while the duck and Taleggio poppers showed off the razor cut of this no-malolactic Mesnil masterpiece. The best pairing of all was with the pancetta wrapped bay scallops, giving me a glimpse of the richness this wine has in store for the patient. I can count the number of times I have had Clos du Mesnil on one hand, and feel lucky to be able to say that! This pure Chardonnay expression, from a house whose other wines are dominated by black fruit always shows plenty of Krug style, while also revealing the chalky minerality of one of the greatest sites on the planet.
Our group sat down for dinner, chef Fossati sent out a special Puzzone cheese fondue, and the 1998 Krug Brut Champagne ($219) was served by ace server Emily Yamamoto and the rest of the Quattro team. In 1998, the first time in a generation, the winemaking team at Krug used more Chardonnay than anything else in the blend. The wine still showed the power and weight of the 1998 vintage and was very vinous and powerful, but the extra chardonnay gave it the classic back-end lift of great Champagne. This pairing was a big success, and opened my mind to the possibility of cheese and Champagne, something I have liked only once before, with Brie de Meaux and black truffles Les Crayeres in Reims. What we have in stock now (32 bottles between the four locations at the time of writing) - is gone when it’s gone!
The 2000 Krug Brut Champagne ($219) was fantastic with a very traditional Champagne pairing: pigeon! One of the best local dishes of the Champagne region is pigeon en croute. The rare Paine Farm squab was perfect with this refined powerhouse of a wine. Although the 2000 vintage returned to a Pinot Noir dominated blend, the relative youth of the wine and the fresh character of the vintage brought the Chardonnay to the front. This was the favorite vintage of the group, with electric acidity and chalky length. There is power in this bottle, but it does not have to show it off. The 2000 will evolve for a generation in the cellar, and I can’t wait to revisit it in 2030. A rich game bird needs a lively wine, and why not 2000 Krug!
We then went back to the previous release of the Krug "Grande Cuvée" Brut and tasted the batch based on 2003 with Ng risotto, featuring silver, gold and most precious of all, white truffles from Alba. This was my favorite course and my favorite pairing of the night. The peerless aromatics of the noble tartufo bianco and deep umami of the slow cooked, rich risotto were a fitting partner to this great multi-vintage that had a truffle character all its own. It was a more integrated and settled wine than the current release thanks to the extra year. I am a huge fan of the 2004 harvest in Champagne, and no friend of 2003, so this wine showing as well as it did was a big surprise to me. Take my advice- lay down some Krug "Grande Cuvée" in the cellar- even if it is just a bottle or two for a year or more and you will be thrilled with the results. Margareth explained that the team used a lot of 1996 reserves in this blend to balance out the fat of the 2003 base wine, and included wines as far back as 1988. I’m looking forward to tasting the 2004 based wine in a year-with some truffles!
Chef Fossati was daring and paired the Krug Brut Rosé Champagne ($279) with lamb loin from Elysian Fields. This Champagne needed food (and rich food!) in order to show well and was very different from the first Krug rose that I tasted more than a decade ago. My first visit to the maison in winter of 2001 was also my first experience with Krug rose, and it’s impression has haunted me ever since. The wine I drank in 2001 was so vanishingly subtle, so easy to drink, that its greatness did not occur to me until days later. I still think about that bottle. Margareth explained that this batch (311030) used Ay Rouge for its color and rose flavor, but that often times they use Bouzy Rouge instead. This batch was disgorged in fall of 2011 and was aged for a little over five years on the lees, so it must have been based on 2005. It had fresh baked bread and Nuits-St.-George like savor on the nose, and powerhouse black cherry fruit backed with firm acidity on the palate. I much preferred it with the lamb than on its own. This was large-scale wine that Margareth said she loved to cellar.
We ended things on a very high note with the 1989 Krug "Collection" Brut Champagne ($499) paired with another cheese course, this one cleverly disguised as a dessert. Chef Fossati created a Brulee by torching honey on top of some very creamy, savory Explorateur cheese served next to some unsweetened orange blossom gelato with white truffles shaved on top of it. I remembered this wine from when it first was released- ahead of the 1988, and it is evolving slowly in this freshly disgorged format. This warm harvest, already 23 years old is showing the vinous bass notes that makes well aged Krug famous. It still has plenty of chalk and zip, and showed even more truffle than the older “Grand Cuvee” did. The pairing was delightful, bringing out the ripe, sweet fruit of the 1989 harvest.
Krug is rightly famous for their great wines, and a decadent meal paired with them in the company of their team is an honor I won’t forget. If you feel like splurging on one of the benchmark wines of the world, I could not recommend any house more highly.
These are as good as it gets!
A toast to you!