Issue: December 31, 2012
Olivier Krug, the sixth-generation managing director of his family's Champagne house, confronted a formidable challenge at the first seminar 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 "Art of the Blend" talk with Wine Spectator senior tasting coordinator Alison Napjus, Krug had brought a powerful weapon—plenty of Krug Champagne to revitalize anyone who might still be sleepy.
For Champagne houses, which make wine from grapes grown 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. According to Olivier Krug, 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 did not maximize the wines' potential. Joseph felt a house should blend vintages to obtain the best results year in and year out. "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 began the tasting with the Krug Brut Champagne 2000. "There is no better way to start the day," Krug remarked. The next wine represented Champagne blending taken to an extreme: The Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée NV, 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 made only 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,' " Olivier told the audience. In the 1980s, the house introduced a non-vintage rosé cuvée; its latest release was the third wine of the tasting.
The final Champagne of the morning was the most complex and powerful. Krug holds onto a small number of bottles of its vintage Champagnes to give them more aging. The Krug Brut Champagne Collection 1989 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 finale. And every palate in the room was wide awake.
1 KRUG Brut Champagne 2000
2 KRUG Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée NV
3 KRUG Brut Rosé Champagne NV
4 KRUG Krug Brut Champagne Collection 1989
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