Tasting Five Kings Of Krug Champagne

This was the only tasting that could get my friend out of bed this early on a Saturday morning after a night of drinking Sombra Mezcal and Patron Tequila. It was The Five Kings of Krug tasting at Halekulani hotel, part of the second annual Hawaii Food and Wine Festival. Five Kings, because we had all five of its collection – Grande Cuvee, Vintage, Clos du Mesnil, Clos d’Ambonnay and Rose – but we actually had eight wines including four different vintages. Along with panelists Joe Spellman, Richard Betts (both fellow Master Sommeliers) and Seth Box, director of education for Moet-Hennessey, I cast off into one of the great tastings of the year.


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A bevy of Krugs. Photos from Roberto Viernes

I put the eight Champagnes in pairs to compare and contrast, starting with the two multi-vintage Champagnes: Grande Cuvee and Rose. Both were undeniably Krug, with that gorgeous depth and maturity, but the Rose had a hand over the Grande Cuvee for me that day. It had an added dimension of fruit – red, naturally. It was fresher and livelier than Grande Cuvee. It’s also three times the price.

Next were the 2000 and 1995 vintages. This was the first taste of the 2000 vintage for me. Even at virtually 12 years old, it is extremely youthful with loads of potential. It has great balance, but still only in its naissance as a Krug. Alone, the 2000 would be terrific, but the 1995 is really showing well with loads of complexity and is approaching maturity much quicker than many antici pated. It is the yin to the yang of the 2000. The 1995 also was noted by attendees as the Champagne that impressed the most because of its quality despite an unheralded vintage.

Then came the 1998 vintage and 1998 Clos du Mesnil. The 1998 has the highest percentage of Chardonnay in any vintage Krug since 1981, and with good reason: 1998 was a great vintage for the Chardonnay vineyards in the Cote des Blanc region of Champagne. The 1998 was beautifully delineated, elegant and still has many years to go to reach maturity. It has perhaps the most citrus of all the vintages.

The 1998 Clos du Mesnil is simply phenomenal. Being 100 percent Chardonnay, it has an ineffable quality of elegance and finesse that makes it not only one of the greatest Champagnes in existence, but one of the world’s greatest wines. At the end of the tasting I was asked which was my favorite, and I had to give my allegiance to the 1998 Clos du Mesnil. Its combination of elegance, sense of place and complexity is haunting.

How can you follow that up?

We did with 1996 vintage from magnum and the “rarer than rare” 1996 Clos d’Ambonnay (only 3,000 bottles are produced on average). The 1996 was masculine in comparison to both the 1998s. I think the combination of coming from the terrific 1996 vintage and from magnum, this wine towered over the other vintage Krugs in complexity, stature and resonance – and it is nowhere near its full potential yet. The 1996 Clos d’Ambonnay was mes-merizing. I struggle to compare it to anything. First, it is 100 percent Pinot Noir or Blanc de Noirs, and it hails from the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay. If the 1996 vintage is masculine, the Clos d’Ambonnay is monumental. Nothing is subtle about this wine. It stains your senses with delicious flavors and amplitude that can only come from a combination of the finest fruit in the best vintages. It is extraordinary in every sense.

Betts early on threw his spit cup to the ground and encouraged all of us to do so as well. Even at 9:30 a.m. I couldn’t spit a drop of these heavenly Champagnes. Yes, we wanted to test the theory that Krug Champagne truly is the breakfast of champions.

I came away saying yes, it is.