Ah, Krug! My favorite Champagne house and that of many champagne and wine lovers. They only make spectacular champagnes that are to me, the epitome of the “complex and elegant” leitmotiv at the core of this winemaking region. Based in its beautiful family house in Reims, Krug only produces top prestige champagnes–and that’s a bold choice–with great craftsmanship and consequent price. This is why Krug is considered an haute-couture maison. In addition to the incredible taste of their champagnes, I love the fact that their main cuvée is non-vintage, a concept embedded in the identity of this house and that results in a beautiful expression of champagne that is carried on year after year with much less variation than vintage prestige cuvées.
Joseph Krug, a visionary man that marked forever the spirit of this maison, and the way champagne is crafted, founded his Champagne house in 1843. Born in Mainz in 1800 when the city was part of France before returning to Germany a few years later, he grew up at the heart of the Mosel wine region and was exposed early on to vine growing. A maverick who spoke several languages, he set off at 24 as a trader and commercial traveler, and arrived in Paris in 1834 where he lived in a creative milieu of artists. Attracted like many others by the expanding champagne trade, he joined Jacquesson, a leading Champagne house at the time, as an accountant first, to later become one of its directors. His work took him to travel to the European champagne markets, assessing criticism from wine sellers and customers. Being himself frustrated with the inconsistent quality of champagne, which was greatly dependent on the weather of each vintage, he envisioned a way to overcome this constraint by blending wines of different years to produce a rich and consistent expression of pleasure. At 42, when most in his position would be close to retiring, he left his career to implement his vision by funding his own Champagne house. He was firmly convinced that it is possible to make good wine only from good elements and good terroirs, and the quality of Krug was soon acknowledged in the main champagne markets, also helped by the fact that Joseph was fluent in French, English and German and spoke some Russian.
The Krug generations that followed at the helm of the business always abided to its founder’s precepts–which he wrote down in a notebook for his son, and that is jealously guarded at the house–ensuring consistent, superior champagnes.
After ups and downs common to most Champagne houses, Remy Cointreau purchased Krug in 1969 until luxury goods giant LVMH took charge in 1999. But the Krug family, currently represented by Olivier Krug, the sixth generation in line, remains actively involved in all the key winemaking decisions.
Vineyard and Production
Krug owns 21 ha, complemented with grapes of long terms partner for a total of about 50 ha and an estimated production of about 300,000 bottles per year. I find it interesting that they use the three Champagne grapes in their blends when most prestige cuvées are made only with pinot noir and chardonnay. But at Krug grape varieties, and crus as a matter of fact, don’t really matter. What matters are the wines, their personalities and singularities. There is no hierarchy in their selection, no plot or grape is considered better than another a priori, and profiling is made during the tasting of the resulting wines. The first fermentation takes place in separate and neutral oak casks, to keep the individuality of each parcel and to give the wines extra aging potential but lending no woody, tannin, or vanilla flavor. Interestingly, malolactic fermentation is never intentionally induced or prevented, but simply let be. Sometimes, it will take place, naturally, sometimes not. Later on, Chef de Cave Julie Cavil, former Chef de Cave and Deputy Director Eric Lebel, and the Tasting Committee taste and award marks to the wines from some 250 plots, and to the 150 reserve wines from previous years kept in stainless steel vats. Nearly 5,000 tasting notes are collected and meticulously recorded in the tasting book and will be used at the moment of blending.
Assemblage is a crucial moment at this house, when the whole enological team, President Margaret Henriquez, and Olivier Krug, taste the various blending projects of Krug Grande Cuvée, the non-vintage champagne, based on hundreds of different wines (198 from 11 different years in the latest edition No. 168), and share opinions. They will identify the best blending projects, perhaps mix them, and once consensus is reached, Julie Cavil proceeds to the creation of a new edition of Krug Grande Cuvée, which ages slowly in the cellars for seven to eight years before release.
Following the precepts of Joseph Krug, Krug is produced to be consistently rich and, as he wrote in his notebook: “the most generous expressions of champagne.” This expression is incarnated by Krug Grand Cuvée, a champagne of great aromatic intensity, with finesse and elegance, and great balance, that Eric Lebel defines as “peace in the world.”
Krug Grande Cuvée is my favorite champagne, not just at Krug but in general, because it is superb, and because it is a non-vintage prestige cuvée, something quite rare and that requires a great deal of creative work, as opposed to vintage champagnes that are easier to make. It is great both alone and with food: it is elegant enough for infinite drinkability at aperitif, and rich enough to match most dishes. But Krug also produces spectacular vintage champagnes, only in the years where there is an interesting story to tell. More recently in the house’s history, a non-vintage rosé has been included in the range. Finally, Krug produces two rare and very pricy vintage cuvées, a blanc de blancs and a blanc de noirs from two specific enclosed plots: Krug Clos du Mesnil, and Krug Clos d’Ambonnay, in their respective chardonnay and pinot noir grands crus. But Krug insists that there is no hierarchy in their champagne and that the difference in price is simply a matter of scarcity. To gain access to detailed information about each of their champagnes, the houses introduced Krug ID, a code included in the label of each bottle that through the Krug website or app, provides the details of the origins of the grape, winemaking information, and tasting notes.