Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée NV
As my hand rested on the distinctively long and tapered neck of Krug’s Grande Cuvée, my thoughts naturally turned to the last time I had pulled one of these bottles from the cellar. Well, at least that was the general direction in which my thoughts wandered, although I failed to arrive at any firm memories. How long had it been? Three years? No, surely it had been much longer than that. Maybe five or six years? When did I buy them? Six or seven years ago, I thought. I quickly realised (not for the first time, and certainly not for the last!) I would have to check my cellar records.
“The sands of time are quicksands… so much can sink into them without a trace”, wrote Margaret Atwood, in The Year of the Flood (Bloomsbury, 2009). I suspect Atwood had no thoughts of Champagne when she penned these words (this being a novel set in another of her dystopian futures, I think that is probably a given), but her words still came to mind when I cognised that it had been seven years since I last popped one of these corks. And, to my even greater surprise, that it had been a full fourteen years since I had welcomed them into the cellar, back in 2006. Time seems to pass so quickly these days, years and years disappearing into a quicksand melee.
True acolytes of this particular Champagne house will, I suspect, now be scrutinising the label image below to determine the age of this wine, which languished for so long in my cellar, on my behalf. Krug have in recent years made it much easier to date their bottles, beginning in 2011 with the introduction of a back-label code which facilitates the precise identification of the cuvée; type in the code in on the Krug website and they will tell you the story of your bottle. A few years later Krug made the job even easier when, in 2016, they began printing edition numbers on the front label.
Back when my bottles were produced, at a time which predated these helpful hints from Krug, the more curious Champagne drinker keen to determine the age of their bottles had to undertake a slightly weird vinous sleuthing, examining label, capsule, glass and cork for clues. The label pictured above was introduced in 2004 (you can see the older style of gold and red label here), which gives us a maximum age of about fifteen years. Cork codes can, I am told, also provide some clue as to the bottle’s age; the code printed on my cork is M44. I have to confess that doesn’t help much so if you have any idea what it means, do fill me in. I tried searching on the internet and came away thinking my bottle was either a Manchester postcode, a Spanish machine gun or a World War II self-propelled howitzer.
Pinning down the age of a bottle is useful with a high quality non-vintage (or multi-vintage as they prefer) cuvée such as this because the Krug family’s aim with the Grande Cuvée has never been absolute consistency from one release to the next, but rather to capture in each bottle the generosity and style of the principal vintage (or vintages). If the style of this wine captures the essence of a vintage it seems like 2002 to me; not only would this be compatible with my purchase date, the pure and focused style seems right for what I recall of the vintage. But with every release blended typically from 250 base wines, usually across a dramatic range of vintages, with reserve wines often accounting for 40% (or more) of the blend, making guesses based on a few distinctive features of the palate seems to me to be a surefire route to an embarrassing MW-level faux pas. Especially as I am not certain that I am not conflating my memories of 2002 Champagne with 2002 Vouvray.
In the glass this non-vintage Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée displays a modest, straw-coloured hue, with no suggestion of great age, and this is a feeling reinforced by catching sight of the bead in the glass which is tight, with tiny bubbles, but in no way is it light or deficient. The nose is a very confidently expressed interplay of dried fruits with a vigorous citrus freshness, coming across as evolved but still decidedly youthful. And this first impression is nicely maintained on the palate, which features the desiccation of orchard and citrus fruits on one hand, and the crisply defined and incisive mousse on the other, which along with the palate’s precise frame of acidity does much to lift it through the middle. It finishes confident and long in the mouth, elegant yet far from shy. This is a great wine, beautifully composed, and it has a fine future ahead of it. I would suggest that, despite it having already seen out many years in my cellar, it will perform well for several decades yet. Which, given my penchant for forgetting about bottles, my memory of them slipping into the quicksands of time, is probably a good thing. 96/100 (6/1/20)