Thursday, August 02, 2012

Germans can make Champagne (if your name is Krug)

Food and wine writers and sub-editors will know very well that only the sparkling wine from Champagne, the region in France, can be called champagne - everything else is "sparkling wine", or Prosecco, Cava etc. Even amongst Europeans, who all have their own legislation and certification with regards to regional/cultural produce, the French are known to be particularly picky about their appellations. You'd think then, that they were pretty xenophobic, but truth is, like most people, they just like nice things, wherever they're from.

Duck foie gras with hazelnut sauce
Krug is one such "nice thing" that wasn't quite French to start with. Sure, the house was always in Champagne, but it was founded by a German - Joseph Krug, who got in touch with the champagne business and learned it from the French, but then went on to produce using his own methods. With a sort of German precision, if you wish. That was quite a while ago - Krug is now in its sixth generation, and while it was bought by LVMH in 1999, the process, we're told, is still very much in the hands of the Krugs, who, as part of their contract with LVMH, aren't ever allowed to travel together on the same plane, in case anything should happen (touch wood!).

Tasting time
I was very lucky to have been invited by Krug and WOM Guide to dinner at 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo where we were able to try Krug Grand Cuvee, Krug Clos du Mesnil 1998, Krug 1998 and Krug Rosé, along with course after course of deliciousness from Chef Bombana's kitchen. (You know how much I love 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo...). (I am also writing this post for selfish reasons - there's a competition amongst those who dined that night - at stake is a private Krug Room dinner for 12 people... well, yes please!).

Warm lobster salad on roasted Ligurian artichoke with Cinta Senese ham
Unlike most wine dinners, we were not given instructions as to which wine to pair with each dish, which, in my opinion, made it much more fun, and there was constant discussion around the table as to what went with what.

Arnaud Mirey, Regional Brand Ambassador for Krug (and lover of cheese and butter)
I've been rereading the tasting notes I made on my phone and have found them rather amusing, so I think I'll just share them verbatim here (in italics). And you can tell how drunk I got as the night went on... ahem.

Krug Clos du Mesnil 1998
First, we were poured the Clos du Mesnil 1998. It's a tiny 4 hectare single vineyard blanc de blancs made in a village called Mesnil-sur-Orger (pronounced may-nil-sue-r-oh-jay, and wine is clo-du-may-nil, not mes-nil).

Notes: length!! bready, mineral, honey, (or floral?) light oak, letterpaper fine roughness, mineral, dry. 

Perhaps I should invent a rating system that uses hearts and exclamation marks. Of course the above weren't ratings at all, but this is indeed as unforgettable a champagne as my punctuation suggests. If you thought champagnes were all flirty, then this'll give you a nice firm wake-up call. Like an elegant but insistent slap on the back of your hand, kind of thing.

Krug 1998
Notes: elegant, acidity, good with anything, very nice, could drink this anytime.

Clearly, I wasn't thinking about the fact that this is a rare vintage champagne when I was saying "anytime". What I meant was, I could drink this regardless of the mood I'm in. It'll make a bad day good and a good day better.

Krug Grande Cuvee
They call this a "multi-vintage" wine because more than 50% of the blend is made up of reserve wines (ie. the really nice stuff).

Notes: light nose, lemony, delicate white florals, well balanced, a little oak, layered, kind of works with everything

Roast Challan duck
"Kind of works with everything" is a pretty dumb note to make but does really describe how I felt when I was taking a sip of each with my courses. It made a particularly good impression with asparagus (that came alongside the roast duck).

Krug Rosé
The rosé is a relatively new introduction to the Krug repertoire, with the 5th generation going against the will of past generations to make the wine and eventually convincing them it was a worthy addition to the house. It is made pink by the inclusion of grape skins (rather than blending red & white wines; the skin contact method is usually seen to be superior but as with many things, it's not an absolutely black & white distinction).

Notes: clean, girliest of the lot but still not flirty at all. Easy to drink, very pleasant for summer afternoon drinklets

I was obviously diving headfirst into coo-coo-land and getting loud by then.

 Champagne was poured, truffle was shaved
As you will have read in the blog posts of some of my dining companions that night, the conversation descended (or was it elevated?!) into Spam. But of course we weren't talking about the food we were having that night, which was stellar and, aside from the pasta, surprisingly French-leaning, designed specifically, perhaps, to suit the champagnes. After all, wine is best had with well-matched food (and great company, of course). The only thing missing was a stool for this lady's Bottega Veneta.


  1. Anonymous9:31 pm

    I love Krug, but to call the 1998 vintage wine "rare" is not really correct, production is probably around 100,000 bottles, even the Clos du Mesnil can be up to 10,000 bottles depending on vintage.

    Krug makes 5 million+ bottles per year, so the vintage wine may be rare compared to their non-vintage, but there are many grower producers that compete well with Krug on quality and have minuscule quantities that can truly be called "rare".

    1. Everything is relative isn't it! For some reason, whenever Krug comes up in conversation, many get quite hung up by the fact that it's large and that there are many smaller champagne producers. Of course there are, and I don't see why we can't talk about all of them (time being our only enemy)!

  2. Check out Vilemart et Cie in Champagne - unreal "small producer" and sure to be a hit at any party!

  3. Their production's still relative small compared to other negotiant champagne houses, which are the more dominant type in the market than those from the niche grower producers.
    And prestige is never measured by (just) the number of bottles produced - Chateau Lafite produces 100000+ bottles every year and probably more so than any other first growth chateau, but they are usually the one commanding the highest price tag. I am just saying.

    1. Anonymous7:58 am

      The comment wasn't about the prestige, it was about how it was described as rare.

  4. yes, rosé made with the saignée method is far superior, IMHO.

    The "rare" Krugs are the Krug Collection wines and the Clos d'Ambonnay, an über-luxury cuvée created by LVMH after their purchase.

    Most of the time I prefer the Grande Cuvée