I recently received an e-mail from Tom Stephenson, general manager of Crush Wine & Spirits in New York. The store was holding an informal tasting for select clients and press that would include the Krug Grande Cuvée as well as the Krug Brut 1996 and Brut 1995.
I welcomed the opportunity to taste the ’96 and ’95 side by side. I had tasted both wines with Olivier Krug when they were launched in the United States in 2007 and 2006, respectively, and then again during my annual blind tastings of Champagne. I had never tasted the wines together.
I primed my palate with the Grande Cuvée. This is a non-vintage brut, or multi-vintage brut, as Krug promotes it. In fact, there’s a lot of reserve wine in the blend, and there’s a good chance that some of the 1990 vintage is a component. Most cuvées have at least 35 percent reserve wines and some may have up to 50 percent. It is unusual for Champagne houses to have this extensive blending palette.
In addition, Krug Grande Cuvée is aged a minimum of five years, much longer than other non-vintage cuvées; in reality, it's a prestige cuvée.
The wine had a fine mousse. The nose was elegant, with a grainy depth from the first fermentation in barrel, a hallmark of the Krug style. Aromas of citrus, toast, ginger and vanilla made it complex and inviting. On the palate, the Grande Cuvée was full-bodied and rich, with a creamy texture, great balance and a long finish.
On to the 1995. What a nose! This wine had really opened up, revealing coffee, toast and multigrain bread aromas. It’s less evolved on the palate, with racy acidity driving citrus, malt and candied berry flavors. Still very firm, it ended with a smoke and mineral aftertaste. It’s more developed than I remember it a year ago, yet the ’95 still needs time for the nose and the palate to integrate.
As elegant and impressive as the ’95 was, the '96 was more powerful, weightier and longer. The nose was more marked by the barrel fermentation than the ’95, with grain and malt aromas. In the mouth, I got the impression of more immediate flesh and intense toast, citrus and ginger flavors. It’s deeper and longer than the ’95 at this stage.
Based on this comparative tasting, the '95 will develop more quickly, while the '96 will be the long-distance runner. However, great wines take on their own lives and character and each bottle is different, especially as they age. That’s the joy and the mystery of wine. It will be interesting to see how this pair evolves.