Log In / Join Now

bruce sanderson decanted

Fine Bubbles, Fantasy Price

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 17, 2008 3:45pm ET

Champagne Krug is about to release the most expensive Champagne ever. Its Brut Blanc de Noirs Clos d’Ambonnay 1995 has a suggested retail price of $3,000 to $3,500.

In January, I made my regular visit to Burgundy. On my way back to Paris, I stopped in Champagne to visit Olivier Krug, Henri’s son and now the director of the house, and to learn more about the project. We drove to Ambonnay, where Krug has a winery next to the Clos, devoted solely to the production of the new Champagne.

Krug's Clos d'Ambonnay vineyard in the village of Ambonnay is 1.7 acres, planted to Pinot Noir.

Krug kept this new wine a secret for fifteen years. Henri and Rémi Krug wanted to bottle a second vineyard-designated Champagne to accompany its successful Clos du Mesnil, a single vineyard blanc de blancs. Krug began purchasing grapes from the Clos d’Ambonnay in 1990. In 1994, satisfied by the quality, the brothers bought the vineyard.

Located in the village of Ambonnay, at the base of the Montagne de Reims about 45 minutes southeast of Krug’s headquarters in Reims, the 1.7-acre clos is roughly one-third the size of the 4.6-acre Clos du Mesnil. It was planted 100 percent to Pinot Noir in 1984, 1985 and 1987, making the average age about 10 years in the 1995.

“The quality of the wine has a lot to do with the soil, the terroir and how we conduct the vinification,” explained Krug, as we strolled through the vineyard. He was referring to the first fermentation in oak casks, which is one of the pillars of the Krug style.

The debut Clos d’Ambonnay 1995 was magnificent.

One of the pillars of the Krug style is fermentation in cask.

Full of spice, cigar box, and leather aromas and flavors, it’s firm and precise, intensely flavored and very fresh. With a little air, caramel and vanilla notes emerged, and the aftertaste was long and smoky. If Krug’s Clos du Mesnil is a breath of spring air, this is its autumn counterpart, full of rich, golden tones, a summer’s bounty reaching full maturity. I scored it 97 points, non-blind.

The price, however, is pure fantasy. I’ve seen it offered for $3,500. It’s not three times better than the Clos du Mesnil 1996 (96, $1,127), nor is it ten times better than Krug’s brilliant 1996 (99, $363).

It does make a statement, setting a new standard in the price of luxury Champagne. And for Krug and parent company LVMH, the timing couldn’t be better. Worldwide demand for bubbly is strong, with supply pretty much static.

“What we are trying to create is a reference for the region,” said Krug’s president and CEO Panos Sarantopoulos. “It’s not to be exclusive, but to respect the passion, energy and friendship that went into creating this.”

Yet it is exclusive, with only 250 cases available worldwide (compared with 750 for Clos du Mesnil). Krug released 800 bottles last October for “friends” of Krug. Some have already found their way to auction, where a few have sold for more than $4,000 per bottle. So maybe the price isn’t fantasy after all?

Michael Leung
March 17, 2008 9:36pm ET
Bruce, thanks for trying out and telling us something (dead serious, no irony here) that I PROBABLY will never try in my life. To answer your question, yes it is pure fantasy. But I also sparked a thought about Champagne in general. I found that most high quality NV would improve quite dramatically after a few years of cellaring, probably more than any other wine. That is also the reason why I have been refraining from buying expensive bubbly. Any thoughts or explanations for that?
Roy Piper
March 17, 2008 9:42pm ET
I think the Krug vintage Champagne is fantastic. The Clos du Mesnil is beyond fantastic. But to release a wine at $3500 is beyond fantasy, it is hubris. It is clear that LVMH views Champagne as another "luxury item" in their corporate portfolio and not as a drink to be enjoyed by mortals.
Jeremy Matouk
Port of Spain, Trinidad —  March 17, 2008 10:23pm ET
At last, a champagne for poor people.
Guus Hateboer
March 18, 2008 4:41am ET
I would accept a statement wherein Sarantopoulos clarifies that this Champagne is purely to make lots, and lots of euros, and that he is trying to raise the standard so he can make even more in the near future by increasing other prices accordingly. But saying: "It¿s not to be exclusive, but to respect the passion, energy and friendship that went into creating this.", just makes me laugh my head off.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  March 18, 2008 9:59am ET
Michael, Champagne ages very slowly when it is in contact with the yeast sediment in he bottle. The carbon dioxide also prevents oxidation. Once it is disgorged, oxidation will occur as it normally does in all wines. Most NV Champagnes are disgorged between 15 months (the minimum aging required by law) and 3 years. The result is a young, very fresh Champagne that, if well made and well stored, is capable of aging another 2-3, even 5 years or longer "on its cork."It's also a matter of personal taste. Some prefer their Champagnes fresh and crisp. I personally enjoy them with some age, when they have developed more of the toast, honey and coffee notes.
Juan Vazquez-abarca
Tijuana, Mexico —  March 18, 2008 2:59pm ET
...ridiculous price. And the explanation is pretty dumb... Quote:"...to respect the passion, energy and friendship that went into creating this.¿Do wines costing $ 1000 (Latour) or $ 350 (Harlan Estate) don't respect the passion and energy creating their wines.Ridiculous.
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  March 19, 2008 5:33pm ET
With the plight of the dollar, the wine will probably be $5,000/ btl by Fall. We've past fantasy. At the rate we're going Blue Nun or Schwatz Katz is going to be $25/btl soon.
Bill Robinson
Calgary —  March 19, 2008 5:41pm ET
Bruce,I was looking at the ratings for some of the Salon's and I noticed that their scores improved as you tasted them over the years. I was wondering if that means that they have exceed your expectations and are thus worthy of a higher score, or is it the natural progression of the wine improving with age? If it is the later, are your scores then a guide to what your experience will be at the date you release the rating? I had always thought that if a wine is a 90, but in the notes it is described as being best after some future date, that the score represents the tasters best guess as to what the wine will be like when it is peaking, with the inevitable pleasant surprises and disappointments.
Dennis Christensen
Sweden —  March 20, 2008 5:56am ET
For that price (release price) I could have bought 6 Cristal 1996, 6 Salon 1996 and 6 Bollinger RD 1996. Would I change one of the Krug for that!? Nooo way... I think the price is absolutely ridiculous.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  March 20, 2008 10:12am ET
Bill, In the case of Salon, I feel the wine improved with time in the bottle. The 1995 in particular was so tight when I first tasted it I asked president Didier Depond if he had changed the style. He said nothing had changed. As you can see from my notes, the wine needed time. Subsequent tastings revealed more of the complexity and richness I associate with Salon.When I review wines, I attempt to score them according to what they will attain at some point in the future, unless of course it is a wine to be consumed within a year or two. This is not an exact science and even with experience, difficult to predict. Any tasting of a wine is a snapshot of the wine at that time. However, the experience of tasting wines multiple times over the course of its evolution, or vintages of certain wines over time, provides a composite of how similar young wines may evolve.
B James Leman
Bermuda —  March 20, 2008 1:01pm ET
I guess it does all come down to supply and demand. If one apparently has already gone for $4,000 at auction then there must be people willing to part with that kind of money per bottle. Its a good thing they have made a limited quantity because at that price they have a limited consumer pool. Special Occasion? For me there is NO occasion that special to warrant that price, but hey I could still win the lottery !
Bill Robinson
Calgary —  March 20, 2008 3:24pm ET
Bruce,Thank you very much. I had suspected that something close to what you had described had happened, but as a beginner collectors I wanted(needed) some clarification. I can not wait until I am able to taste many wines through their development so I to am able to judge the future prospects after tasting young wines.
Kirbys Steakhouse
Dallas,TX —  March 21, 2008 1:10pm ET
As long as people keep buying these expensive wines in Asia and the Middle east we will see ridiculous wines being sold. We should all take a look at the market and who is buying these expensive bottles. I think its great if someone will go buy a painting for 1 million dollars to hang on the wall, whats wrong with that same guy buying an expensive bottle of Champagne after all Champagne is an artform. it's plain and simple as long as people keep buying these wines people will keep producing them trying to set the limits on price. I could almost bet a good portion of this wine will wind up somewhere in Dubai and it will sell in hotels for $10000.00-$20000.00 a bottle. I bet they dont last long either.
Lorenzo Erlic
victoria canada —  March 21, 2008 5:16pm ET
Bruce: I appreciate your tasting notes for this special champagne offering; I would love to receive one as a gift but a case of the Krug 1996 is something I would stand a better chance of having access to, let alone purchasing. How many cases of the 1996 Krug were released?
Leonid Sternik
Russia —  March 22, 2008 11:01am ET
I think that the price is too high, because it is first release. I think the second vintage will be cheaper.
Steinbrunner Oliver
Germany —  March 23, 2008 2:01pm ET
Good wine makes good blood, good blood makes good thoughts and good thoughts make good humans, so let's drink good wine. Is a wine for $ 3.000 a good wine, when we know that every day people, even children, are dying worldwide because they don't get clean or enough water. We, the consumers which are living on the sunny side of life have the ethic responsibility, to use our power to show, that it is better for the world, to drink only good wine.
Bruce Sanderson
New York —  March 24, 2008 9:13am ET
Lorenzo,According to our information, 10,000 cases of the Krug 1996 was made. I also understand it's going fast.
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  March 25, 2008 9:22am ET
Leonid - the second vintage will be the monumental 1996 which in no ways will be cheaper!!

I have some people that come into my restaurant that have expressed a desire to try ¿Clos d¿Ambonnay` from Krug. Of course, they are the same people that order a bottle of DRC for lunch at the bar and don¿t finish the bottle (I thank them every time). I look forward to tasting this gem. Do I think the price is ludicrous - OF COURSE!!! LVMH can do what they like.
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  March 25, 2008 6:42pm ET
I am ashamed as a Champenois to see Krug flipping the coin! LVMH is the plague of the wine industry! They destroy Moet and transform it into the worst overpriced abusing Champagne house. Krug and salon were, for me (I am from Le Mesnil sur Oger) THE Champagnes, with capital C! With the increased in acreage and stupidity like this wine, Champagne is going worst and worst!!Tres cher Mrs. Remy et Olivier Krug, sauvez cet heritage de France qu est Krug. Je pensait que vous n'aviez pas succomber a la debilite comerciales de LVMH.Dear Mr. Olivier and Remy Krug save this french heritage that Krug is!Moet down, Yquem falling and Krug being lunatic!!!Please dear wine lover, I ask you to BOYCOTT all the products from LVMH! (Am i angry? Just a little!)

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.