WineThe Collection

Krug 1976–2008

A tasting of every vintage of the past four decades captivated Essi Avellan MW – but the NV wines almost stole the show

Words by Essi Avellan MW

Photography by Xavier Young

The Collection

Ever since its foundation in 1843, Krug has concerned itself only with producing limited volumes of top-quality Champagnes. Its monumentally rich style of wine, born in oak barrels, has endured the test of time, and even today, the house’s consistency remains second to none, while its wines are invariably among Champagne’s longest-lived.

An indulgent vertical tasting put on by the Gomseglet Connoisseurs club gave us the opportunity to put Krug’s largerthan- life reputation to the test. We gathered on a December morning at Vinkällaren Grappe in Stockholm, where Marina Olsson, a passionate Swedish Champagne collector, regularly treats her club mates to carefully constructed verticals of some of Champagne’s grandest cuvées. This time, we had the privilege to savour 17 vintages of Krug – from the recently released 2008, all the way back to the 1976.

krug vintage

We readied our palates for the task by essaying Krug Rosé as an aperitif, followed by six editions of Krug Grande Cuvée. An apt introduction, since it was founder Joseph Krug who, on the first page of his famous notebook, declared that the house was to produce just two cuvées, of equal quality: Cuvée No.1 and Cuvée No.2. The blended multivintage Cuvée No.1 – today’s Grande Cuvée – was to offer ‘everything every year’, as opposed to the vintage-specific Cuvée No.2. No matter how you look at it, of course, today’s higher pricing inevitably signals superior quality for Cuvée No.2, the vintage. However, as committed Krug lovers well know, Grande Cuvée can reach similar heights, and the Krug ID concept and edition numbering have given the collector the tools to properly appreciate Grande Cuvée’s complexities. Looking at the performance of the 159th Édition (base 2003) against vintage 2003, and the 164th (base 2008) against the 2008, I was pleased to see how my assessments support the original idea of equal quality between the cuvées, giving me ever more reason to collect Grande Cuvées over the vintage rendering.

The vertical tasting itself provided the opportunity to appreciate Krug’s many faces at different stages. It had taken Olsson several years to assemble the selection, with impeccable provenance being a key criterion. All the wines were Krug’s original disgorgements, and all the younger wines were in pristine condition, with only a couple of the mature vintages showing signs of poor storage. One bottle – sadly the tasting’s oldest, the 1976 vintage – was corked.

The final stamp of proof of Krug’s quality and age-worthiness came with the immaculate 1979, which left me wanting for nothing more

All Krugs benefit from ageing. Five years after release, they tend to have opened up beautifully, showing more expression and a beautifully harmonious nature. Grand Cuvées are a real delight some 10 to 15 years after release, often at the peak of their expression. The vintages are all long-lived; thereafter it depends on the vintage (and the individual bottle, of course) as to how they age. When well kept, all should age for at least 15 years post-release, and the best for several decades.

We started with a blind taste of the five most recent vintages, which established such consistency that they were a challenge to identify correctly. In the next flight of four vintages, the 1996 stood out for its magnitude. The classic trilogy of 1988, 1989 and 1990 provided textbook examples of their respective vintage characters, with, unsurprisingly, the 1988 showing by far the most youthful. Of the early 1980s, sadly only the 1981 was in pristine condition, but what a beauty it was, providing the tasting’s best surprise. The final stamp of proof of Krug’s quality and age-worthiness came with the immaculate 1979, which left me wanting for nothing more.