What does a gentleman keep in his inside breast pocket? If you’re Olivier Krug, sixth generation director of Krug Champagne, the answer is a Berluti wallet containing a well-thumbed passport and a piece of paper detailing the formula of every Krug Grande Cuvée for the past 20 years.
This little aide-memoire is necessary because Krug Grande Cuvée is one of the most complex, mercurial, multi-vintage champagnes (call it “non-vintage” at your peril) on the market. Virtually every edition of this prestige cuvée is made up of more than 150 components, including wines from the current year, as well as more mature stocks from Krug’s library of more than 150 reserve wines. Every year, Krug Grande Cuvée is recreated from scratch. And every year, it’s slightly different.
Not long ago, I had the pleasure of scrutinising these differences up close in a private tasting at the newly renovated Krug House in Reims. Seated in a room overlooking the terrace, where Olivier Krug played as a child, I tasted a trio of Grandes Cuvées based on three different years: 2003 (a notoriously hot year); 2002 (probably the most celebrated champagne vintage this side of 2000); and 2001, a vintage Krug freely acknowledges was “atrocious”.
Krug’s imposing architecture was there in all of them, yet the differences were pronounced. The cuvée based on 2003 was fleshy and fruity; the one based on 2002 much more heavyweight, with creamy, toasty power. The third Grande Cuvée should, by rights, have been a shocker, but a combination of skilful blending and the passage of time had given it a mellow grandeur that was incredibly alluring. Even Olivier Krug admits this one took them by surprise.
“Some vintages are good, some vintages are bad, but even the greatest years don’t have everything,” he muses. “And that’s why Joseph Krug had the dream of creating Grande Cuvée: he wanted to produce a wine that was the fullest expression of champagne –everything, every year.”
The former finance controller admits he is “obsessed” by details. “I said I would arrive at 12.09pm today, and what time did I arrive?” he asks me with glee, over lunch. “12.09pm exactly!”
But a head for figures is not necessary to appreciate Krug: latterly, every Grande Cuvée has been distinguished by an edition number on the front label, as well as an ID number on the back, allowing one to access the details of each blend on Krug’s website. Such transparency is rare in champagne, and it’s catnip to serious Krugistes.
Of course, Krug does vintage too. By the time you read this, it will have just released the 2004. But if you want to go behind the scenes of this famous house, Krug Grande Cuvée is a fine place to start.