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Vintage Krug

text and photographs © 2011 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth profile: Unlocking the secrets of Krug.

Whilst spending a couple of days visiting Champagne Krug to discover the secrets of how their flagship wine, the non-vintage Grande Cuvée is assembled, there were also two extraordinary vertical tastings: one of vintage Krug Champagnes, and one of their rare and expensive single vineyard wine, Clos du Mesnil.

clos du mesnil

The two Clos

In 1971 the Krug family purchased the tiny, walled Grand Cru vineyard of Clos du Mesnil. At just 1.84 hectares, this had been one of Champagne's most treasured vineyards since 1698. The vines however, were in poor condition and so an extensive replanting of Chardonnay ensued, with the first vintage made eight years later in 1979, and released after a further seven years in 1986. The production of this Blanc de Blancs is only around 1,000 cases. A single variety, from a single vineyard, from a single year, the Clos du Mesnil was a radical departure for the blending maestros of Krug. It attracted an instant following for its taut, mineral style, even with a £700 per bottle price tag.

In the mid 1990s Krug acquired another Grand Cru site with the intention of making a Blanc de Noirs, the Clos d'Ambonnay. Planted with Pinot Noir, this vineyard was in a much better state of repair and already supplied grapes to Krug. At only 0.68 hectares it is a tiny, walled plot. The first vintage was the 1995, released only after 13 years in 2008. The wine sold for £2000 per bottle: the Connaught hotel in London selling it at £780 a glass for while. The wine itself is thrilling: a perfectly pitched, structured and authoritative wine but still with huge freshness and purity, but it is its scarcity that drove the enormous price: only 300 cases are produced.

The wines tasted

Clos d'Ambonnay

Krug, Clos d'Ambonnay 1998
The third vintage from this tiny Clos following 1995 and 1996, this is a Champagne with a big, rich and deep colour and with big aromas too: yeasty and nettly deep, with a touch of nougat before huge structure on the palate. There is a hint of red fruit, but there is some tannin too and a meaty, umami richness and very tight, decisive acidity that creates a wine of great substance but length and finesse too. 96/100.

Clos du Mesnil

Krug, Clos du Mesnil 2000
Gorgeous, nutty orange marmalade richness. Some mineral flintiness but over a broad fruit base. The 2000 has a taut palate, but there's that nutty richness, that expansive quality, the finish powering through with massive precision. Long, focused and promising huge potential. 97/100. Will be on the market in November 2011.

Krug, Clos du Mesnil 1999
Quite subtle, earthy, a touch of mushroom and damp forest floor, with subtle fruity notes. There's a smokiness and flintiness, and on the palate quite full and quite rich, with hints of tropical, ripe fruit and then searing lemony acidity. A little short perhaps. 91-92/100.

* This turned out to be something of a 'ringer', as Olivier later revealed to us that the 1999 vintage of the Clos du Mesnil will not reach the market because it is "good, but not good enough", so the next vintage to be released will be 2000. He also said "There has been no resistance to this idea from LVMH (Krug's owners) - we are totally free".

Krug, Clos du Mesnil 1998
The breadiest, most nutty of the most recent vintages for me, showing a little development. Gentle, very fine mousse, and that wonderfully taut palate, filled with oranges and lemons. The mousse very gentle, those toasty, walnut husk notes coming through but a beuatifully clean, rapier like mineral acidity in the finish. 95/100.

Krug, Clos du Mesnil 1996
Beautifully and gently bready, with some subtle walnut notes but also a very fine apple fruit. The palate has huge intensity. There's a searing core of mouth-puckering lemon that is fabulously rich and toasty too, with huge persistence and sour orangy tang and acidity. Great potential here to improve I think. 96/100.

Krug, Clos du Mesnil 1995
A little darker in colour, more toffeed notes, but subtle and leafy too, with some mushroom notes. There's classic Chardonnay raciness on the palate, with a hint of sweetness amongst those firm, wonderfully juicy lemon and apple flavours. Sappy too, with real champagne bite and savour into an long finish. 98/100.

Krug, Clos du Mesnil 1992
Lovely mellowing golden colour, with gorgeous mushroom and forest floor aromas, lovely complexity. The palate has great freshness, with that raft of nutty orange and grapefruit flavours, still very racy and crisp, with not quite the length of the 95 perhaps, but fine and so delicious. 96/100.

Krug Vintage

More affordable than the two Clos wines, Krug's vintage Champagnes are made only in exceptional years. The philosophy is to make wines that express the vintage, like the gravelly, mineral and taut 1996, or the sweeter-fruited yet wonderfully precise 1990. The 'Krug Collection' are vintage wines too, but released after around 20 years in the Krug cellars to show vintage Krug as it enters a new stage of its maturity. For completeness I have also added some notes below from another vertical tasting I attended in Reims in 2007.

Krug, Vintage 2000
Will be released November 2011. A really lemony, quite fat and powerful nose, with an ozoney freshness in the background, and and orange and pink grapefruit tang. The palate is dry and tight, herbs and tight citric notres, fabulous cleansing acidity. 95/100.

Krug, Vintage 1998
One of only two Krug vintages in history to be mostly Chardonnay. Quite a bold golden colour. Biscuit and yeastiness, a touch of nettle but also super-ripe apple and baked apple character. The palate has a lovely shimmering delicacy, and this - although not light or "easy" - has a more giving, ripe, a pointe style than the 2000, and drinks beautifully. 94-95/100.

Krug, Vintage 1996
Golden coloured and much more closed, much tighter, but then those burgeoning notes of nuts and sesame seeds, touches of stones, gravel and minerality. On the palate it is more taut, at this stage less layered and complex, but it has just fabulous intensity and length. 96-97/100

Krug, Vintage 1995
Fabulous flinty, nutty, totally involving nose, with spices, orange oil and biscuit. On the palate some of that brioche richness comes through, in an expansive wine where those complex layers are riven with acidity that scythes through into a huge finish. 97/100.

Krug, Collection Vintage 1989
Mellow, ripe and gently toffeed, the palate has a fresh and wonderfully biting character, with some almond and endive bittersweetness and beautiful sweet fruit building into the finish. Fabulous drinking. 95/100.

Krug, Collection Vintage 1976
From Magnum. Very high percentage of Pinot Meunier (over 20%), and from one of the hottest vintages on record. Quite a beautiful, youthful colour, the nose honeyed and rich, with tiny floral notes and some glacé fruit and nougat. A background nuttiness on the palate too, but it has a gorgeous sweetness and toffeed notes. Disgorged around 15 years ago, and offering sheer drinking pleasure. 95/100.

Additional vintages tasted in 2007

Krug, Vintage 1990
Light to medium gold/straw colour. Vinous nose with fine 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. 95/100.

Krug, Vintage 1988
Emerald highlights to a medium golden colour. Tiny streaming bubbles. Orangy fruit dominates, with a touch of 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. 96/100.

Krug, Collection Vintage 1985
A deeper golden colour but still hints of emerald. Beautifully small bubbles. Lovely mature quality 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 apple fruit and preserved lemon, even a hint of something minty. 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 maturity. It has lost its iron grip perhaps, but still freshness and length. 94/100.

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 acidity and gentle pear and apple fruitiness. Intriguing stuff and delicious. 95/100.

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 one-dimensional in comparison, but there is undoubtedly a wonderful purity and beauty. Nutty almond and hazelnut notes begin to come through. 93/100.

to read 'Unlocking the Secrets of Krug'.