Krug

Es gibt viele hervorragende Champagner und weit mehr kritische Kenner. Doch gibt es Champagner, vor welchen selbst die kritischsten Kenner in ungewohnter Eintracht den Hut ziehen: Krug ist ein Champagner dieser Art.

Some Champagne lovers even go so far as to call themselves 'Krugist' or 'Krugistin' (Fr.: Krugiste; En.: Kruggist). Krug champagnes have become their quality benchmark against which all other champagnes must measure themselves, because for a 'Krugist' there can basically be no better champagne. Basta!

In addition, the 'Krugists' are not infrequently experienced wine connoisseurs who are not easily impressed by a wine brand. And even they go into raptures over Champagne from the house of Krug. Why? Because Krug champagne is indeed a very special champagne, and for good reason.

However, before we turn to the particular production of the champagne of the house Krug, we first look at the interesting history of the house:

Johann-Josef Krug (1800-1866) was originally from Mainz in Germany. He later became French by naturalization (Jean-Joseph Krug). In 1834, he joined the already famous house of Jacquesson & Fils. In 1841 he married Emma Anne Jaunay (1810-1879), an Englishwoman and sister-in-law of Adolphe Jacquesson (who was married to the younger sister Louisa Jaunay).

A small note about the Jaunay family:
François Jaunay from Chantilly, closely associated with the French nobility in royal times, had fled to England during the French Revolution and subsequently established himself in the hotel business with great success (Brunet's Hotel, Jaunay's Hotel in London's famous Leicester Square). There he married the Englishwoman Anne Howell. François Jaunay emigrated to Australia around 1839. However, his wife moved to Châlons-sur-Marne to live with their daughter Louisa Jacquesson for the time being.

Emma Anne Krug gave Jean-Joseph Krug a son, Paul Krug (1842-1910), in 1842.

18 Monate nach seiner Heirat verließ Jean-Joseph Krug das Haus Jacquesson und gründete gemeinsam mit seinem Bekannten Hyppolite de Vivès (einem erfolgreichen Weinhändler in Reims) das Haus Krug et Cie. in Reims. Anfangs handelte das Haus nicht nur mit Champagner, sondern führte auch andere Weine aus der Champagne im Angebot. Im Frühling des Jahres 1845 bereitete Jean-Joseph Krug die ersten Cuvées für das junge Haus (bedingte 40.842 Flaschen Champagner). Im folgenden Jahr kaufte er gezielt hochwertigstes Rebgut (derzeit vorwiegend aus der Gemeinde Bouzy).

After the death of Jean-Joseph, the company was divided among the widow Krug (25%), Hyppolite de Vivès (25%) and son Paul Krug (50%). Shortly after, de Vives retired and Paul Krug took over the management of the Krug house. His diligence and great talent in the preparation of the highest quality champagnes resulted in outstanding success for the house of Krug. Especially in England, enormous sales figures were achieved. Already in his second year as head of the company he created 207.048 bottles of champagne with the name Krug and another 206.264 bottles of champagne for other houses with skillful assemblage of best wines.

Later he married Caroline Harlé (1846-1915). This marriage produced ten children, which seemed to secure the future of the family business. However, the well-known author and historian John Stevenson notes that apparently none of the children was interested in a future in the family business. The eldest son Joseph Krug (1868-1967), for example, was drawn to the sea. However, his father later succeeded in persuading Joseph Krug to join the company. After his father's death, he took over the traditional family business in 1910.

Immediately after the outbreak of World War I, Joseph Krug joined the French military, was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, and became a German prisoner. In the meantime, his remarkable wife Jeanne Krug (née Jeanne Hollier-Larousse; 1880-1954) ran the company and produced the legendary 'Krug 1915'. When Joseph Krug returned from captivity in 1918, his health was failing. Doctors gave him only a few more years and advised him against the strenuous and demanding task of running his company.

His son Paul Krug II (1912- ) was still a young boy at the time, so Krug enlisted the help of his talented nephew Jean Seydoux. Joseph Krug unexpectedly recovered from his severe war illnesses during this time and actively participated in the company until he was 90 years old.

The following years were marked by spectacular Krug champagnes. Renowned wine professional Ed McCarthy notes that the Krug 1928, which he was recently served as an aperitif at a Burgundy tasting, was the best Champagne he had ever tasted. 'The Krug,' McCarthy says, had already eclipsed the actual Burgundy tasting by its superior quality.

In 1935, Paul Krug joined his father Josef and his cousin Jean Seydoux and participated in the house Krug. In 1941 he was appointed manager, and in 1958 he took over the house Krug as director. In 1962, Jean Seydoux, who by then had made an excellent name for himself in the production of the most exquisite champagnes, died. Father Joseph Krug died five years later at an advanced age.

The house Krug was at that time long known as a master in the production of excellent cuvées, whose vines traditionally came from the best sites (98% - 100% rating) of other winemakers. Paul Krug decided between 1970 and 1972 to purchase prime vineyards in strategic locations in Champagne to give his champagne production some independence by growing the highest quality vines of his own.

The Rémi-Cointreau group subsequently came into play as a partner of Krug and provided the financial strength to purchase around 15 hectares of vineyards. Today, Krug has nine hectares of its own vineyards around Aÿ of the Pinot Noir grape, which is important for Champagne. The supply of the elegant Chardonnay grape is ensured with its approximately 6 ha in the Le Mesnil sur Oger area, of which about 1.85 ha are in the legendary Clos-de-Mesnil. These are exclusively Grand Cru sites (100% rating).
Own vineyards thus cover today about 20% of the grape requirement for the production of their famous Grande Cuvée champagnes. The wines from these sites provide the foundation, so to speak, of the blends (or 'crus de base') on which fantastic champagnes are built with skillful blends of up to 50-60 other base wines.

Paul Krug retired in 1977. His eldest son, Henri Krug (1937- ), was appointed general manager of the house and was from then on responsible for the preparation of the champagnes. His brother Rémi Krug (1942- ) is the business manager of the house and is considered for many years as a popular ambassador of the house on the international stage. His daughter Caroline Krug, now the sixth generation, has also been involved in marketing for many years. Likewise, Olivier Krug, son of Henri Krug, is an able employee of the company.

After decades of service to the House of Krug, brothers Rémi and Henri Krug are already considered 'living legends' in the champagne world, not only for their uncompromising respect for traditional values in the production of their Krug champagnes, but also for their preservation of the culture of champagne in general.

Although the house was bought by the famous luxury group LVMH in 1999, the independence of the family Krug in the production of champagne is still preserved.
Henri Krug sees the incorporation into the financially strong LVMH Group as beneficial, noting, "Now I can invest more in the wine cellar and in new barrels. I can continue to create the same wine, however, I am now allowed to be even more selective in my production!" An example of this 'selectivity' is that Krug rejects 20 - 70% of the grapes offered to them from the best sites as insufficient for the desired Krug quality and instead gives them to other houses to produce Champagnes.

Let us now turn to the Krug champagnes themselves: what distinguishes them from the majority of other champagnes?

Krug lives by the old motto 'Good things come to those who wait'. This begins with the harvest of the grapes: Every single berry should be perfect! Berries with defects are carefully picked out so as not to harm the perfect berries.

With almost 'religious fervor', attention is paid to the highest quality of the vines even before the Champagne is produced. Their own vineyard in Clos de Mesnil is an example of this unprecedented quality assurance: Rémi Krug notes that the harvest of this relatively small vineyard could be completed in a single working day. However, it happens that some vines work optimally on Monday, while other vines should not be harvested until Wednesday or Thursday. This attitude of uncompromising quality is also what Krug expects from its grape suppliers. Only the best grape quality is accepted. In addition, only the must of the first pressing of the grapes is used (see also waist).

Krug uses only small oak barrels in the (first) fermentation. A 205 liter oak barrel of this type is called a pièce. Moreover, these Argonne oak barrels are sometimes 30 years old. There are more than 3,300 of these proven barrels in use at Krug. New oak barrels evoke flavors such as vanilla or coffee and provide natural tannins that are actually sought after by other winemakers. However, the house Krug prefers older barrels, because the aging in old barrels brings out a special smoothness.
The 'woody' flavor imparted by new barrels is not desired - instead, we aim for a hint of toast flavor as well as subtle caramel, nutty nuances.

Unadulterated, round and rich, the wine should develop in its natural environment. Approximately 10 % of the old barrels are discarded annually and replaced by new barrels. However, new barrels must be 'matured' at Krug before they are used: First, they are 'soaked' in a hot water solution. They are then used for up to three years only for the storage of residual wines, which of course are not destined for Krug Champagne, but are sold on elsewhere (e.g. for the production of brandy). Only then are the barrels suitable for fermenting the high-quality Krug wines.

The effort associated with the barrels is enormous and very expensive. The barrels are stacked like pyramids, sorted by vineyard and grape variety. The barrels have to be transported by hand to the stacking place after the initial bottling. The subsequent transfer of a barrel into another barrel entails the proper cleaning and care of the emptied barrel.
The small oak barrels allow a natural, barely perceptible exchange of oxygen through the pores of the wood during fermentation. This leads to a slight oxidation of the wines and, as a consequence, apparently contributes to the widely known exceptionally good storability and longevity of the Krug champagnes. In addition, malolactic fermentation is not encouraged, but at best occurs naturally or on its own more or less during the long aging of Krug Champagnes. The wines also do not go through filtration systems, but clarify by themselves in the barrels during the long storage period. Later, the wines are transferred by gravity from a higher barrel to another barrel. The sediment remains in the emptied barrel.

Krug ist seit jeher bekannt als wahrer Meister der Assemblage, also dem gekonnten Verschnitt von bis zu 60 verschiedenen Weinen aus 20 bis 25 verschiedenen Lagen. Sechs bis zehn verschiedene Jahrgänge können ins Spiel kommen, um die weltbekannte, anspruchsvolle Geschmacksnote des Hauses Krug in einem weiteren Grande Cuvée Champagner zu verewigen. Die Formel des ‚Krug-Stils‘ steht nirgendwo auf Papier, sondern wird durch viel praktische Erfahrung und stetige Zusammenarbeit einer Generation mit der nächsten weitervererbt. Trotz der unterschiedlichen Rollenverteilung der Familienmitglieder im Alltag des Unternehmens arbeiten sie gemeinsam am Verschnitt der Cuvées.

At the end of the manufacturing process, the Krug champagnes are stored in the bottles for an exceptionally long time. The Grande Cuvée Champagne, for example, the 'flagship' of the house Krug, benefits from at least six years 'on the lees'. The typical storage time of Krug vintage champagnes is between seven and 15 years.

After all the effort and attention to detail, the end result is a champagne that is almost always among the best in the world. They have always regularly scored over 90 points in professional tastings. Krug champagnes also disprove many of the usual rules that apply in the context of most other champagnes:

* While many champagnes (especially those without a vintage) are not suitable for additional, long-term storage, Krug champagnes are often just about ideal for long-term storage - so suitable, in fact, that they clearly have speculative value, similar to some great Burgundies, for example.

* While a Champagne should usually reach a proper chilling temperature before serving (8° - 11°C), Krug Champagnes often unfold better at a few degrees more.

* While Champagne is generally considered the best aperitif of all, Krug Champagnes tend to make fantastic accompaniments to almost any meal. With rich and varied flavors, they don't even have to hide from the 'power' of many of the, say, 'heavy reds prescribed for certain dishes'. Rather, they captivate with their own power and with the bonus of the finesse and lightness of a true Champagne. If you then have the visual pleasure of the special fineness of a golden Krug champagne in front of your eyes, then you can quickly become a convinced 'Krugist'.

Krug offers various champagnes:

As noted, the Grande Cuvée Champagne is considered the flagship of the house Krug. It embodies the basic flavor. It represents at the same time 65% - 80% of the production of the house. To obtain it, 50 to 60 wines from up to 25 sites and six to ten vintages are blended. It is therefore understandable that Krug resists common designations such as 'without vintage' and would like to see the Grande Cuvée Champagne justifiably rather understood as 'multi-vintage'. The grape varieties represented are Pinot Noir with about 45 - 55%, Pinot Meunier with 10 - 15% and Cardonnay with 30 - 45%. Many wine professionals recommend additional proper storage of at least one to two years after delivery (some connoisseurs even recommend up to ten years) for this 'multi vintage' Champagne.

The proportions of grape varieties in Krug Vintage Champagnes (or Krug Vintage Brut, Krug Milléssimé) vary. The typical aging period is seven to 15 years. Incidentally, for the first time in the history of Krug, three vintages will be released in succession (but not in yearly order): the 1989, then the 1988, and finally the 1990. Krug traditionally declares only outstanding vintages as vintage champagne with their name. This is therefore a great peculiarity.
Vintages such as 1982, 1979, 1976, 1975, 1973, 1969 and 1964 are now considered first class and are highly sought after. Even the 1961, the last vintage produced by Paul Krug himself, is still considered an excellent champagne and a great treasure (a Krug 1961 fetched US$ 1,497 at the famous Sotheby's auction house in London a few years ago).

The Krug Rosé, first introduced by Henri Krug in 1983, represents another multi-vintage champagne. It appears very fruity, full-bodied, and at the same time very dry. It is considered a serious, complex Champagne, which is the result of an extremely sophisticated blend of many sites and up to six vintages. It is composed of about 50 - 55% of Pinot Noir, about 20% of Pinot Meunier and 25 - 30% of Chardonnay with the addition of a still red Pinot Noir wine from the Aÿ area. In terms of color, it does not appear typically 'pink' like many other rosé champagnes, but much lighter. This is not a champagne for novices, it is rather reserved for connoisseurs who selectively marry it with coordinated culinary specialties, this harmonization creating a new totality of pleasure.

However, the house Krug has another jewel in store: the famous Krug Clos du Mesnil! This is a special Blanc de Blancs, which is obtained exclusively from the vines of a small, enclosed vineyard ('clos') in the wine village of Le Mesnil sur Oger. The wall around the vineyard (or rather 'clos') was built in 1698, according to a plaque placed there. Owned by the Benedictine monastery of Le Mesnil until 1750, the vineyard is still referred to anciently as 'Clos Tarin' among locals of this largest wine village in the Cote de Blancs region. In 1971, the house Krug bought this precious vineyard. The purchase is considered a strategically astute expansion of the House of Krug, as Krug had been purchasing vines there for their Champagnes for over a century. Krug renovated at the same time the house there and the cellars belonging to it.

With the 1979 vintage, Henri Krug dared for the first time to produce a Krug Clos du Mesnil. This champagne proved to be outstanding and scored 98!
Other vintages have been produced in the meantime: 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988 and 1990. 1982, 1985, 1988 (99 points!) and 1990 stand out particularly from these without exception excellent vintages.

The Krug Clos du Mesnil have an enormous amount of acidity in their youth and commit to long storage (typically twelve to 15 years) in the cellars of the house. After that, they present themselves to the connoisseur as a dreamlike champagne. Their large mosaic of seductive bouquet substances offers the connoisseur a rich spectrum from fresh bread, nuts to citrus fruits. Moreover, long aging in its own cellar makes a Krug Clos du Mesnil even better. These champagnes are a real rarity: since only about 10,000 bottles are produced, they are considered a coveted collector's item among wine lovers. Only about 2,200 bottles reach the US market, where they are then traded for 300 - 500 US$.

Finally, it is necessary to note the Krug Collection. These champagnes differ only slightly from the Krug vintage champagnes. They have benefited from many additional years of aging on the lees, deep in the cellars of the house. Only sporadically Krug brings these Collection Champagnes on the market, mostly in beautiful wooden boxes. In the trade are currently, for example, the 1973 Collection and the 1976 Collection. As the name suggests, these are exquisite collector's items, although they are of course also excellent champagnes to enjoy. However, the price of the Collection champagnes tends to deter ordinary mortals (300 - 400 US$ for a standard bottle is not uncommon in the USA).

There are many champagne fans who have never tried a Krug champagne. Also because the Krug Grand Cuvée is also considerably more expensive compared to other champagnes without vintage (on the US market it costs around US$ 100). However, every champagne lover should choose at least once a Krug champagne as a stylish, exquisite companion of a banquet.

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