Sunday, 11 March 2012

Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne (NV)

Krug's “Grande Cuvée” Brut is the Champagne, more than any other, to which connoisseurs of Champagne aspire. With a reputation built not upon product placement with the rappers of the moment, nor one-off successes in comparative wine tastings, Champagne Krug has built possibly the most enviable reputation in all of Champagne, simply by turning out Champagne of incredibly high quality, year after year, for the last 170 years.

Established in 1843 by Johann-Joseph Krug, today the current generation of the Krug family are the 6th generation to produce Krug Champagne. Independently owned by the Krug family for generations, Krug is now part of the luxury goods conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH). Despite owning some 20 hectares of vineyards within Champagne, Krug is nonetheless still a négociant producer of Champagne, with the grapes used in Krug Champagne (including this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut) not coming from Krug owned vineyards, coming from a network of long-term contract growers. Unusually, these Krug contract growers consider themselves part of prestigious group of selected growers, are largely self regulating in terms of producing grapes of only the very highest quality and many openly declare Krug Champagne (such as this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut) to be the destination for their grapes.

Normally in Champagne, the non-vintage cuvée of each Champagne house (such as this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut) is considered to be the “entry level” Champagne of that house. However with Krug, this is not the case. As Krug’s marketing director Romain Cans explained at a recent event: “There is no hierarchy at Krug”. Thus this non vintage Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut should not be thought of as the “entry level” Champagne at Krug, but more of an equal with the house’s other Champagnes. The main reason for this is the different manner in which Krug crafts it’s Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne.

Whereas most Champagne houses put all of their best grapes in to making single vintage Champagnes (which typically command a much higher price and are as such more attractive to make), at Krug a sizeable proportion of the wine produced from best grapes from declarable vintages are held back as reserve wines, that are then blended into the “cuvée de prestige” (or “multi vintage” Champagne) that is the Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut. The exact composition of each year’s release of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne varies depending on many factors (vintage quality, style, blending choices by cellar master Eric Lebel) but typically each release of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut is a blend of around 120 different wines from 10 different vintages (some of which can be 15 years of age).

This particular release of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is based upon wines from the 2003 harvest, with 30-50% reserve wines added from other vintages. The 2009 release of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne was based on the (much worse) 2001 vintage and saw 50% reserve wines used.

Another defining factor in the flavour of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is the fact that all Champagnes at Krug (including the wines that are blended to create this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut) are fermented in (small) 205 litre oak barrels. Whilst steel tanks could be used (and are used at nearly all other Champagne houses), Krug opt to use (well seasoned) oak (that imparts no specific oak flavour to their Champagne) as it allows for “a better exchange with oxygen”. Once initial fermentation is complete and the Champagnes that make up this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut are bottled, the Krug Champagnes are then left on their “lees” (the waste products of the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles) for at least six years. This is a winemaking decision that typically lends richness, complexity and power to Krug’s Champagnes (including this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne).

The bottle of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is a unique and classic shape. Contained within a bottle with shoulders at a considerably lower level than nearly all other Champagnes, this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne (and in fact all Champagnes produced by Krug) have a somewhat squat appearance as a result. A long and elegant bottle neck is clad in gold coloured foil that runs over the wire cage and cork of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne and completes the “look” that has been synonymous with Krug Champagnes for generations.

In the glass, this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is clear (i.e. non-faulty) and a colour that sits somewhere between a glittering gold and bronze. Persistent streams of small bubbles run from the base of the glass of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne to the surface where they break free of their luxurious entrapment. On swirling, the legs of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne dissipate comparatively quickly, thereby suggesting an alcoholic content for this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne that is less than average for Champagne.

On the nose, this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is clean (i.e. non-faulty) and expressive. Wonderfully complex, the bouquet of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne combines citrus fruit, orchard fruit, candied notes and a pronounced level of autolytic character with a great deal of aplomb for a Champagne so complex. At first lemon, candied orange and peach are the foremost aromas of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne, but then yeasty notes, brioche and a touch of toasty oak becomes more apparent. Hints of ginger and marzipan add even further interest and complexity to this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne.

Once in the mouth, this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is similarly complex and sophisticated. Dry in nature and weightier on the palate than much Champagne, this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne showcases the Krug house style of luxuriant power. Long, smooth and creamily textured across the palate, this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne displays all of those flavours exhibited on the nose along with hints of hazelnut, almond and gingerbread too. The finish of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is formidably long.

Whilst some commentators would suggest that recent releases of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne have lost some of the weight and power that has made them so famous over the years, this particular example of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne remains weighty (but never overly so) by comparison to the majority of other Champagne. In the opinion of the Independent Wine Review, the weight of this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne (brought about by oak fermentation and a long period of aging on the lees of fermentation) remains in perfect balance with the high acidity of the grapes that make up this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne that were picked when perfectly ripe. In many lesser Champagnes that this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne the body of the wine fails to stand up to an overt sense of acidity.

In conclusion, this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is a very fine Champagne indeed. Technically a non-vintage Champagne, Krug’s policy of including large proportions of their very best reserve wines in this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne means that this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, non-vintage Champagnes produced. An individual style of winemaking (with fermentation in oak and long periods of aging on the lees) results in an individual and excellent Champagne.

Weightier than much Champagne, this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne can therefore be paired with meatier dishes than much Champagne. Whereas much Champagne could be paired with lightly flavoured and textured fish dishes, this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne would pair perfectly with turbot or monkfish. Although this is not to say that this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne would not also pair well with scallops, or pasta (covered with shaved truffle). It is probably fair to say that this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne will elevate whatever you eat with it to another level.

Wonderful and unique this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne cannot be commended enough.
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Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne (NV)

Score: 94/100 – Uniquely styled and utterly wonderful

Value for Money: 7/10 – The undisguised pleasure of drinking this Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut does not hide its bank-breaking price (£110 per bottle)
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