The cellars at Krug are a stark reminder of how this ancient house has weathered many a previous storm – villagers from Rheims sheltering in the cellars while the city was pounded by the German guns in 1918. At the launch of the Krug Grande Cuvée 168th Edition, Olivier Krug referred to previous storms saying that Champagne was readying itself to start shipping again, that the Champenois work together and that “Champagne shows how strong we are” – even though this is the first time in his career he doesn’t have a plane ticket on his desk. It was also a tasting with some other firsts – the first one presided over by new chef de cave Julie Cavil and the first one conducted online. Anne Krebiehl MW stayed home, saved lives and sipped Krug.
“The idea of time in Champagne – one key ingredient in its style – lends wholesome and necessary perspective: The grapes for the 168thedition ripened in 2012, were bottled in 2013 and released in 2020,” writes Krebiehl.
That the Champenois are business savvy is documented well: when Napoleon’s Continental System cut off the lucrative British market, they pivoted towards Russia; so when a devastating virus makes business-as-usual impossible, they use technology and launch their latest prestige cuvee virtually.
Joseph Krug, whose dream it was “to craft the very best Champagne he could offer, every year, regardless of annual climate variations,” would certainly approve.
Bottles were thus sent out along with zoom passwords for the first virtual launch of a Champagne in the UK: the Krug Grande Cuvée 168th Edition. Clearly the corporate machine behind Krug, the luxury conglomerate LVMH, demands that the wheels keep on turning. With some of LVMH’s cosmetics factories “retooled” to making sanitising gel, a hit in global sales and dividend cut by 30%, the message from Champagne is clear: keep calm and carry on sipping.
It was new chef-de-cave Julie Cavil who introduced the wine along with Olivier Krug. He noted with some sadness that this was the first time in his 30-year-career at the house that he did not have a plane ticket on his desk. Cavil said “just as lockdown happened we were in the middle of creating the 175thedition of Krug,” noting how this would give her wonderful anecdotes to tell when the cuvée will be released seven or eight years down the line.
Both Krug and Cavil in their own ways spoke of the house’s philosophy. Krug emphasised the “plot-by-plot approach” which meant that “last year me made 19 wines from [the village] of Mesnil-sur-Oger alone: five from Clos du Mesnil, 14 from other vineyards.”
Cavil recounted the rigorous process of the tasting committee where “everyone has the same share of voice” of going through each of the wines made from each individual plot just after fermentation when the wines are still “shy, austere, acidic. But we never take any decisions at that time. Then in January we taste all the wines from the reserves. And then we come back to the current wines.”
Based on a wealth of tasting notes on each base wine across a number of vintages and historic tasting notes, decisions are made. Cavil has been part of this annual rhythm since 2006 when she joined the house, noting a slow and long transition from former chef-de-cave Eric Lebel. “I have one position but three different roles,” Cavil explained: “I really have a duty to memory, to look to the past and recreating that dream. Then to the present, how to give birth to an edition every year. Third how to transmit, how to give the keys to the next generation.”
A key part of this are the records and tasting notes kept. “We work on how to transmit our knowledge,” she says. “We have treasury of data on each plot,” which she hopes will enable the team at Krug in twenty years’ time “to see if they are using the same words to describe these wines.” Her two watchwords are “continuity – how we protect and preserve the fundamentals that we inherited from previous generations and acclimatisation – how we can make the necessary changes to our changing environment.”
The Krug Grande Cuvée 168th Edition is already available in Japan and the US and will be the current cuvee on sale in the UK for the coming ten to eleven months, Krug said.
Based on the 2012 harvest and bottled in 2013, the 168th edition is a blend of 198 wines from 11 vintages, the youngest of which is 2012, the oldest 1996. 42% of the blend is made up of reserve wines and the overall composition is 52% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 13% Meunier.
Cavil noted: “2012 was a very good vintage in Champagne, even if the nerves of the growers and us were severely tested by frost and hail. It led to a great harvest and a small yield; it was a fantastic year. It was quite easy to recreate the 168th edition. We looked how to dial down the concentration of 2012 and one small but “favourite” plot of Pinot Noir from Verzenay was key to that, Cavil noted. Its 1996 vintage transmitted “this feeling you get when you open the door of an antique shop, that beeswax on furniture…this amplitude of aromas, from fresh fruit, dried fruit, candied fruit, then the beeswax from this 1996 wine…,” she smiled.
The idea of time in Champagne – one key ingredient in its style – lends wholesome and necessary perspective: The grapes for the 168thedition ripened in 2012, were bottled in 2013 and released in 2020. As I write, Julie Cavil and her team have decided on the blend of the 175thedition that is to be bottled this June and to be released in 2027/28. All the other editions in between already mature in the deep, cold cellars, biding their time, to be cracked open in hopefully less fraught times.
Krug noted that Champagne had weathered many crises before, that Champagne was readying itself to start shipping again, that the Champenois work together. “Champagne shows once again how strong we are. It’s early to say, we are confident, but it is not easy, either.”
Krug Grande Cuvée 168th Edition
Creamy, buttery, salty shortbread notes on the nose signal generosity right away. That lovely, salty sense of richness persists as the Champagne warms up and a streak of candied lemon peel appears. The palate unites that salt-driven depth with great intensity and backs it up with luminous briskness. Yes, there is generous, buttery richness but also real raciness. Persistent bubbles serve up nuances that have yet to blossom: a hint of maple syrup, a pigment of dried shiitake against that enduring notion of crumbly, buttery shortcrust, enlivened every now and then by an ozone breeze.
Krug Grande Cuvée 168th Edition will be available commercially from Friday 14 May with a RRP of £150.