Posts Tagged Champagne

There is champagne, and then there is Krug….a tasting in Dublin.

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Me and Krug go back a long way. My first wine job was with Mitchell & Son, who had previously been agent for Krug in Ireland. They still had a little stock remaining. I squirreled away a few bottles of the Grande Cuvée and a two of the 1979 vintage, the last of which I cracked open when we finally succeeded in buying a house some fifteen years later. It was magnificent, but then they had all been magnificent; full-bodied rich complex Champagnes. A few years later, when we lived in South Lambeth, then a rather edgy part of London, I discovered that my local off-licence, which specialised in out of date beer, had a small stash of ½ bottles of Krug Grande Cuvée for a bargain price of £10. I tried one out and then bought one every few weeks as a treat before Friday night dinner. I eventually opened the last ½ bottle when my son was born and dabbed a drop on his lips. He will always be able to boast that Krug was the second thing he drank, after his mother’s milk.

And so to a Krug tasting held in Dublin last month. It was tutored by Swiss/American Jessica Julmy, a very bright articulate women, who is Head of Business development for Krug. She pointed out that Krug is the only house that only makes prestige Champagnes, and also that there is no hierarchy in their Champagnes. The considerable differences in price are down solely to rarity and not quality. Sadly we did not get the opportunity to prove this as we did not taste the two single vineyard varietal wines, the Clos du Mesnil (Chardonnay) and Clos d’Ambonnay (Pinot Noir), which cost in excess of €500 and €1,500 respectively – a bottle!

There is no doubt that Grande Cuvée is a lovely Champagne; elegant and refined, with a very fine mousse, flavours of toasted hazelnuts, brioche, citrus, and peaches. The finish is restrained but long. I like it a lot. However, I suspect that it is not as rich or powerful as in the past. Possibly I was fortunate enough to taste mature bottles on the rare occasions when I drank Grande Cuvée, but I have memories of a bigger style. I questioned Olivier Krug about this a few years back, but he said the style has not changed. Jessica Julmy said there had been ‘a nose-dive in quality’ at one stage, but this had changed dramatically with the arrival of winemaker Maggie Henriquez. We tasted the Grande Cuvée alongside a bottle of 2000 Recreation, an aged version of the same wine, recovered from a cellar in Europe. This was my favourite wine of the day by some distance; a palate-enveloping honeyed, wine with complex toasted nuts, that opened out beautifully. Sadly it is not commercially available, but it does demonstrate the value of laying down Grande Cuvée (I am a big believer in laying down any decent Champagne for a year or two). Every bottle of Grande Cuvée now has a unique identifying code on the back label, showing the bottling date, which allows consumers to access full information on the wine – there is even an app with access to the Krug database; very useful if you want to lay down a few bottles. Grande Cuvée represents 80% of production and Krug do one bottling per year.

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It is now house policy to have two vintages on the market at the same time. We tasted the two current vintages, 2003 and 2000. The 2000 was majestic, rich and concentrated with toasted hazelnuts and brioche; different but to the Recollection 2000 above, but a very impressive wine. ‘A motorway of a wine, compared to a winding road (the 2003)’, according to Jessica Julmy. If so, I prefer an autobahn, as I found the 2003 less satisfying. We finished with the delicious crisp subtle rosé.

It was great to taste the Krug Champagnes after a gap of a few years. This house (now owned by LVMH) is painstaking in its efforts to produce the finest Champagne. They are responsible for less than 0.2% of total Champagne so they will always be expensive; the Grande Cuvée sells for around €200 in Ireland. I have one bottle of the Grande Cuvée in my collection that has lain there for 3-4 years. All I need now is a good excuse to open it!

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Champagne Bubble: the rise of the small producer

Champagne bubble: the rise of the small producer
What started with a few ambitious growers is now the next big thing in wine trends

From the Irish Times, Sat, Sep 5, 2015, 05:00

Champagne remains the most glamorous drink of all. It may have been taboo to order a bottle in a restaurant during the downturn, but sales, apparently, are on the increase once again. Prosecco has its place, but so too does good Champagne. We know all of the big brands – Bollinger, Veuve Cliquot, Roederer and Moët & Chandon – as well as their luxury cuvées – Cristal, Krug and Dom Perignon. For a long time these big names had it all their own way. Many still cling to the idea that they are superior, and sometimes they are, but they don’t always make the best wines.

The big houses have a wealth of experience (and a wealth of wealth) and are experts in the process of blending. As suggested a couple of weeks back, Champagne is probably the greatest blended wine of all. A typical nonvintage Champagne will be a mix of vintages, grape varieties, subregions, and various wine-making methods. A master blender is more like a parfumier, with several hundred options open to him.

At a recent tasting, chef de cave Michel Parisot of Champagne Devaux pointed out a change of 2-3 per cent in a blend will have a dramatic effect on the outcome. With nonvintage Champagne (or multivintage, as the Champenois now prefer to call it) the idea is to offer the consumer exactly the same wine every time.

The supermarkets make a decent job of their own-label Champagnes, although I would avoid any unknown brand sold at “half-price”. The big trend in the past few years has been towards what are known as grower Champagnes. In the past, the big houses bought grapes from vignerons all over the Champagne region and made the wine themselves (or bought wine and labelled it as their own). The emphasis was on the complicated winemaking and blending process and, of course, the expensive marketing.

Then and now, if you were lucky enough to own a patch of vines in the region, or better still a vineyard with Premier Cru or Grand Cru status, you could make a lot of money simply selling on your grapes every autumn. None of that messy, time-consuming winemaking to worry about, and no expensive machinery to buy. Then a few more ambitious growers started making their own Champagne. Instead of regional blends, their wines are usually from a single commune, or even a single plot of vines.

Does that make them better? It can certainly make them more interesting, although it depends on how good the vineyard is and how good the winemaker is. Either way, these wines are now hip and in huge demand in Paris, New York and London.

As these are small producers, they tend to be of interest to independent wine merchants who can import boutique Champagnes without pressure to achieve huge sales. Terroirs in Donnybrook imports the excellent biodynamic Champagnes of Larmandier Bernier. Wines Direct has the lovely, reasonably priced Charpentier range. This year, I have also tasted the excellent and reasonably priced Bénard-Pitois (€34.95 Whelehans Wines); the gluggable fruity AR Lenoble (€45 Greenacres, Wexford) and Bérèche & Fils (restaurants only but brilliant Champagne). You will find others, but beware of large co-operatives masquerading as small producers.

We tend to drink Champagne before a meal or (disastrously) with dessert or wedding cake. Yet it is one of the most accommodating food wines, great with shellfish (especially oysters and lobster), of course, but also all sorts of fish, rich canapés, Chinese and Thai food, sushi and sashimi. My favourite food with Champagne is gougères, those delicious warm cheesy choux pastries served in Champagne and Burgundy, although I have several friends who swear by fish and chips with their Champagne! It works, so long as you don’t add vinegar into the mix.

DSCF5883Champagne Gaston Chiquet Sélection Brut N.V.

A fine grower Champagne, with expressive ripe raspberry and redcurrant fruits and citrus with a fine dry finish.

Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street.

Image 4Vilmart Grand Cellier Brut Premier Cru N.V.

One of the finest grower Champagnes; a beautifully textured elegant Champagne with subtle brioche and rounded fruits, with a refined acidity throughout.

Stockists: Quintessential Wines, Drogheda, Hole in Wall, D7.

DSCF5658Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Vintage Rosé 2004

Superb mature refined raspberry fruits, balancing the fine acidity, with a long elegant finish. From one of the large Champagne houses.

Celtic Whiskey Store, Redmond’s, O’Briens and Jus de Vine.

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