2012 New World Wine Experience: Krug Champagne Shows Blending as an Art Form

Four bubblies, vintage and non-vintage, show the famed house’s range
Oct 22, 2012

Olivier Krug, the sixth-generation managing director of his family’s Champagne house, confronted a formidable challenge on the first full day of the Wine Experience. Taking the stage just after 9 a.m., he faced a crowd of wine lovers who had spent three hours the previous night tasting wines from 217 top producers. But for his talk with senior tasting coordinator Alison Napjus about the “Art of the Blend,” Krug brought a powerful weapon—plenty of Krug Champagne to revitalize anyone who was still sleepy.

For Champagne houses, which make wine from grapes at the northern limit of viticulture, producing a consistently excellent wine every year depends on blending grapes from multiple parts of the appellation and even from multiple vintages. Krug’s founder, Joseph Krug, left a secure job at a large Champagne house to start his own winery in 1843 because he felt the owner’s insistence on releasing a single-vintage wine each year was not maximizing the wines’ potential, according to Olivier. Joseph felt a house should release vintage wines only in outstanding years and blend vintages in other years to obtain the best results. “We could just produce a vintage Champagne every few years and be successful,” said Olivier. “But that would be the opposite of Joseph’s approach.”

Of course, Krug does produce great vintage Champagne in the right years. The audience started their tasting with the Krug Brut Champagne 2000 (95 points, $259). “There is no better way to start the day,” Krug remarked. But the next wine represented Champagne blending taken to an extreme: The Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée NV (95, $169), one of the region’s best multi-vintage wines, is a blend of more than 200 wines, from multiple vineyards and, in the case of the most recent release, 12 different vintages spanning 15 years.

For more than a century, Krug only made those two wines, vintage and multi-vintage. But in the 1970s, Olivier’s father and uncle heard from many customers looking for a rosé. Not everyone was a fan of the idea. “My grandfather always said, ‘Pink Champagne is for birthday cakes and girly clubs,’” said Olivier. In the ’80s, the house introduced a non-vintage rosé cuvée. The latest release (95, $299) was the third wine of the tasting. Demonstrating the food-friendly nature of Champagne, Olivier informed audience members that Madonna once told an interviewer that her guilty pleasure was “French fries and Krug Rosé.”

The final Champagne of the morning was the most complex and powerful. Krug holds back a small number of bottles of its vintage Champagnes to give them more aging time. The Krug Brut Champagne Collection 1989 (94, $549) spent 10 extra years on its lees before being disgorged and sold. A fitting testament to the relentless focus on quality at this family house, it was a lovely way to end. Not a palate in the room was still asleep.

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