I’m not sure if I mentioned this or not, but I passed my exam. Really. I think I may need to start each post with that reminder for the next year or two, because it’s going to take that long to sink in. And as with a few other excellent episodes in my life, I celebrated with a very nice bottle. In this case, Krug 1998.
There are a few points in my life I can tell you exactly what I was drinking. I remember my first taste of Port Ellen, my favourite single malt whisky, back in 1996. I proposed over a bottle of Sassicaia, and then celebrated my engagement the following night with a bottle of Cristal and an Esk Valley The Terraces. For studies though, it’s been Krug, with a bottle when I was accepted into graduate school, another when I had completed my Masters, and now one to go with the WSET Diploma.
This is actually something of a difficult post because Krug is so iconic. However, lest I be accused of posting exclusively to draw attention to the fact that I’m drinking Krug, I suppose I should stick to the format. First off, the basics. Krug is Champagne, and indeed it’s been said that Krug is the finest of all Champagnes. Unpacking that a bit, it’s a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, under a certain set of rules regarding grape varieties, vine density, yields, winemaking, maturation, and release.
Actually, I can’t be asked to talk about the region, the grapes, and the winemaking because if you don’t already know all about that, I’m not going to be able to convey what a special bottle this is. Instead I’ll talk a little about Krug, the 1998 vintage in Champagne, and what was inside this bottle.
Krug is of course a Champagne house, based in Reims, established in 1843, and now part of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH). It’s a négociant-manipulateur (NM) meaning that like most larger houses, they make their wine from grapes not exclusively from their own vineyards. They produce two non-vintage wines, vintage bottlings in particularly good years, and two single vineyard vintage wines. Their house style is based on fermentation in barrel, extended time on lees, but no malolactic fermentation, so there’s oak, nuttiness, but more zing in the acid than cream.
The 1998 vintage in Champagne is at present well respected, though apparently had something of a slow start with limited expectations that have been exceeded with the passage of time. Krug beautifully supplies notes with their vintage Champagne that detail the vintage, and they describe 1998 as uncertain in August with alternating heat and rain, but perfect by harvest and yielding “particularly fine quality wines”. The notes on Berry Bros. & Rudd suggest not everyone was so certain at the time but that the consensus now is that it is a vintage from which the wines continue to improve. Speaking of which, I just had a quick look at the BBR listing of maturity of the eleven 1998 Champagnes that they stock and only one is listed as “For laying down” – Krug. So yes, of the many 1998 Champagnes available, I picked the one that might have been better with a few more years. To be honest though, they’re almost certainly right – while I’m a Diploma graduate, they in fact seem to employ the majority of MWs, including Simon Field as a Champagne buyer.
I will put in a small word about the grapes themselves so I don’t completely lose my form. As everyone knows, the main grapes of Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and as far fewer people know there are actually a good handful of others permitted such as Petit Meslier, Arbanne, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Of the three main grapes though, Pinot Meunier is the least noble (whatever that means) and is generally less prominent in the literature of Champagne to the point of many houses making no mention of it as a component of their wines. I can’t find any sources to back this up, but I was told that for the longest time many houses denied that they were using any Pinot Meunier at all until someone with Krug spoke up and said that Pinot Meunier was an important component of their blend and that they absolutely relied on it, at which point others were less hesitant to admit that they likewise were making great use of it.
In the glass this wine was clear and bright with a pale gold colour. The bubbles were amazing – not the restrained fine bead that is typical but more a tornado in the glass. Small bubbles but with an intense energy, particularly immediately after being poured. The nose was of slightly burnt toast, of sesame seeds that are just about to go from being slightly off white to black. (I have a hard time toasting sesame seeds – really, the do seem to instantly transition.) There was something else on the nose – almost maple syrup. The nose as a whole had a medium plus intensity, and was very developed. The palate was dry, with high acidity. The body was a medium, which in the context of sparkling wines is fairly heavy. The alcohol was medium minus and came in at ABV 12% on the label. I picked up lemon, lime and bitters on the palate with a bit of sea shell. It was very fresh and crisp.
This was a beautiful wine, and the perfect way to celebrate graduating with the Diploma.