Krug launches 2002 vintage & changes Grand Cuvée label (slightly)

Yesterday I had the chance to try the newly released Krug 2002

Bjoern Weissgerber, group executive chef at Zuma restaurants was kind enough to take this picture of Eric Lebel with me at the 2002 launch

Bjoern Weissgerber, group executive chef at Zuma restaurants was kind enough to take this picture of Eric Lebel with me at the 2002 launch

vintage, along with a group of top sommeliers and chefs, many of whom are Krug ambassadors. One of the last, if not the last, major house to put its ’02 offering on the market, the expectations were high. The wine isn’t a disappointment. Subtle, gentle, harmonious, it has that indefinable quality, that extra dimension, lift and intensity that only the top vintages in Champagne offer with a silky texture and long finish.

To put the new wine in context after a mandatory glass of Grande Cuvée, the current release based on the 2007 harvest and 163rd version of Krug’s flagship wine (we were told for reasons that later became clear), we first had the chance to sample the 2003 vintage initially launched at the start of 2014. As 2003 was the earliest and hottest harvest in Champagne since records began, at launch it was a major surprise to see how fresh this Krug’s wine was. Something weightier was expected.

Eric tastes while Olivier Krug talks

Eric tastes while Olivier Krug talks

At the time head winemaker Eric Lebel accurately compared it with an ’88 style vintage, not warm sunny years like 1976 or ’59. His explanation was a higher than usual 25% of Meunier in the blend, a crop picked late in October from Marne Valley vines earlier damaged by spring frosts – most of the 2003 harvest took place in August – that did retain good acidity. Today it has opened up, seems more obviously in the Krug family and shows the typical richness of the vintage with an attractively creamy texture, nicely balanced by the freshness that remains.2016-01-12 12.38.27

The logic of releasing it first, out of sequence, just as Krug did with the reticent ’88 that followed the richer more forward ’89, is now clear as it has become more evolved. That the 2002 seems already complete and attractively drinkable at initial launch is a tribute to the balance and the quality of the vintage. However it’s a wine you’d be happy to have in your cellar in a decade’s time when more of its riches will undoubtedly be revealed.

2016-01-12 12.15.22To follow the main event – the 2002 – we were treated to the version of Grande Cuvée that Lebel bottled in 2003, also based on the 2002 harvest. This was sublime. Living proof for any doubters that fine, multi vintage champagne can age for a significant time, gathering many nuances of complexity, especially if it’s Krug. It was interestingly, the third of three different consecutive blends of Grand Cuvée – 2000, 2001 and 2002 based — shown in the first comparative tasting of its kind in London in December 2010. At that time, in an effort to distinguish them, they gave them names and there were dubbed: ‘Memoires’, ‘Finesse’, and this ’02 based wine ‘Savoir-faire’.

While this last name certainly seems appropriate, in future from the 2016-01-12 12.15.44next release of Grand Cuvée based on the 2008 harvest it won’t be necessary, as the wines will be given an ‘edition number’ and the first, to be released towards the end of 2016, will be No 164, that is the 164th such blend the Krugs have elaborated.

The ID codes for these four respective bottles reveal:
Krug 2002 ID code 414017: blend 40% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay, 21% Pinot Meunier; disgorged in autumn 2013.
Krug 2003 ID code 114002: blend 46% Pinot Noir, 29% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Meunier; disgorged in winter 2013/14.
Grande Cuvée Edition 163 ID code 414067: blend of 37% Pinot Noir, 32% Chardonnay, 31% Pinot Meunier, based on the 2007 harvest with 183 different wines from 12 different years the oldest being 1990, disgorged in autumn 2014.
Grande Cuvée Edition 158 ID code 108001: blend of 44% Pinot Noir, 36% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier, based on the 2002 harvest with 76 different wines from 10 different years the oldest being 1988, disgorged in spring 2008.

2016-01-12 12.17.45

 

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Great offer on some of my favourite fizz

The Wine Society has some great offers on champagne running until the year end. And they have put together a mouth-watering six bottle case you can order up until 27 December for delivery by New Year’s Eve. And they’ve extended the deadline for pre-Christmas delivery to midnight on Sunday (20 December).

The case includes one bottle each of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, consistently one of the best and most complex NV champagnes on the market over the past decade; the Society’s superb barrel fermented Alfred Gratien; Boizel’s Brut Réserve — excellent fizz from an under-rated producer I visited earlier this month and great value; plus a bottle each of Louis Roederer Brut Premier, Bollinger Special Cuvée and Pol Roger Brut Réserve, three brands that deservedly have the highest of reputations. All this for £149 (that’s less than £25 a bottle), only snag is you have to be a Wine Society member, but that doesn’t break the bank and gives you access to a whole load of other vinous goodies.  www.thewinesociety.com

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Taittinger to make fizz in Kent   

Taittinger has bought land in Kent with the plan to produce high quality English sparkling wine. In a deal signed on 18 November, Taittinger has purchased 69 hectares of farmland orchard at Stone Stile Farm, near Chilham, from the Gaskain family who are established Kent fruit farmers. It’s estimated that between 35 and 40 hectares of the farm, located on a sheltered site just to the west of Canterbury, are on suitable, predominantly chalky soils to plant the classic Champagne varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Before clearing the land or planting any vines, the initial investment in the project is around £2m, it is estimated.

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and Stephen Skelton

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and Stephen Skelton

After years of speculation around the Champenois investigating suitable sites in southern England, with Louis Roederer and Duval-Leroy known to have spent time visiting already established vineyards in Kent and Sussex, Taittinger, in a joint venture with its UK agent Hatch Mansfield and private British investors, is the first major champagne house to take the plunge. The deal was announced on Wednesday by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, chairman of the eponymous house and Hatch Mansfield MD Patrick McGrath MW, at Westminster Abbey. The new wine estate is to be called Domaine Evremond, after the French 17th century writer, epicurean and literary critic Charles de Saint-Evremond, who is widely considered the first true ambassador for Champagne in the UK and who is buried in the abbey’s Poet’s Corner.

Advised by leading UK viticulture specialist Stephen Skelton MW, they have been

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and Patrick McGrath announcing the investment

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and Patrick McGrath announcing the investment

looking for a suitable site in either Kent, Sussex or Hampshire over the past two years. As Skelton explained at the launch press conference, the site on the North Downs in Kent, just to the south of the A2 between Faversham and Canterbury is on chalk with a loamy, silt topsoil and below 100 metres high. “We were looking for a sheltered site and thinking a fruit farm would be ideal. They [the Gaskain family] have been growing Braeburn apples here and that is a very late ripening variety in the UK sometimes not being picked until November. And we see that as a good sign [for ripening grapes].”

Apart from recognising the huge strides forward in quality that have been evident in the wines of both the main established English wineries – Nyetimber, Chapel Down, Ridgeview and Camel Valley in Cornwall to name four — and some notable newcomers like Hambledon, Herbert Hall, Henners and Exton Park, one of the main attractions of investing in southern England rather than in Champagne is both the availability of land and the much lower price.

Examining the soils at Domaine Evremond

Examining the soils at Domaine Evremond

While very little grands crus vineyard in Champagne ever comes up for sale on the market, the price of a good mid-slope site is at least €1.8m per hectare (£1.3m), while suitable farmland in Kent costs between £10-000-£15,000 per acre (between £24,600 and £37,000/ha). And, said Taittinger managing director Damien le Sueur who has also been involved in the project from the early days visiting sites in southern England with Taittinger vineyard manager Vincent Collard, the price roughly doubles if you include the cost of planting. So that makes planted vineyard land in Kent move than fifteen times cheaper than vineyards in Champagne.

The first vines are unlikely to be planted on the site, still covered in apple trees, until May 2017 though it is possible, says McGrath, “some vines will be planted in May 2016”. Decisions on suitable clones to use have not yet been taken, and there are also issues about getting hold of the appropriate rootstock once they have. The aim is to produce what Pierre-Emmanuel describes as a “top, top quality sparkling wine” with production growing to around 20,000-30,000 cases a year (300,000 bottles) in time.

Whether the company will go down the vintage route or produce a multi-harvest blend is not yet decided. McGrath and Taittinger both talked about a “range of sparkling wines”. Nor has a decision been made about building a winery. It terms of the projected price of a bottle of sparkling wine from Domaine Evremond – the name of the wine hasn’t been agreed yet — it will be pitched at around the level that established brands like Nyetimber are likely to be selling for at the time, says McGrath.

With the initial fruit from the site unlikely to be harvested before 2020, it’s going to be at least eight years before the first release from Domaine Evremond.

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The lowest prices may be past but still great deals on big names

The major deals at Sainsbury’s, thanks to the 25% off six bottles, have passed for the moment. Although Lanson Black Label and Rosé, remain at attractive single bottle prices of £20 and £25 respectively, these are matched in the new offers at Tesco (that started on 9 December) while Moët Brut Impérial is now £2 cheaper at Tesco at £23 a bottle.

But you can buy a lot more depth of flavour and richness (at Tesco) in the shape of Chanoine vintage champagne, which should finally have moved on to the superior 2009 and is just £20 a bottle. The 2007 if you see that is good, nicely mature now, but the ’09 is classier and shows the fact that Chanoine has sourced some Fab material to make this wine.

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Last day for Sainsbury’s 25% discount deals

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Today, Sunday 6 December, is the last chance to take advantage of Sainsbury’s really low prices on Champagne and wine under its 25% if you buy six discount. On the champagne front, if I was buying six bottles of fizz … Continue reading

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Ruinart: secrets of Blanc de Blancs

Not many of my friends see tasting champagne as work and sampling Ruinart Blanc de Blancs in bottle, magnum and jeroboam is even less likely to qualify in their eyes, though they’d mostly be puzzled to see the point in that – tasting the same wine* in three different formats that is. Add three different vintages of Ruinart’s prestige line Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, including my favourite vintage of the 80s, and even I have to admit it just sounds like an extremely pleasant morning. And it was.

Frédéric Panaïotis took over as head winemaker at Ruinart in 2007 and I knew him for many years before that, when he was one of the main winemakers in Jacques Peters team at Veuve Clicquot. A skilled linguist and very articulate man, with a passion for fine wine outside Champagne, his tastings are always interesting and informative.

Ruinart is the only house within the LVMH stable to make a Blanc de Blancs style other than Krug’s single vineyard Clos du Mesnil. Moët did produce an all Chardonnay single village champagne from the grand cru of Cramant in its Trilogie range, but that was to my knowledge only made twice. The idea behind this tasting was to look at Ruinart Chardonnay and see how it develops, both in the vintaged prestige cuvée Dom Ruinart — a wine that used to be my Christmas morning treat in the days before we had children — but also to see how format size might affect the non-vintage Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.

The first major point of difference between the two styles – apart from the price – is the source of the grapes. Dom Ruinart all comes from grand cru vineyards but unusually from a mix of Côte des Blancs villages, which you might expect, but contrasted with lesser known Montagne de Reims sites. The non-vintage blend uses premier cru sites in the same locations, but also Chardonnay from the slightly warmer Sézannais region which is some 40 or so kilometres to the south-west of the Côte des Blancs.

As the popularity of the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs style has increased, and despite a regular price of around £50 a bottle, it has grown at an extraordinarily fast rate and now accounts for a quarter of Ruinart’s total volume, the main issue Panaïotis has had is sourcing enough suitable Chardonnay in Champagne to keep pace with demand. The Sézannais Chardonnay has become increasingly important in the blend.

We began the tasting with some vins clairs (still base wines) from the just completed 2015 harvest, including a sample from near Sezanne which had a very expressive grapefruit zing to it, as well as some tropical fruit flavours and which Panaïotis described as “perfect non-vintage blending material”. Grand Cru Chardonnay samples followed and he liked the fact that they are “not too lean and show some ‘fatness’,” but he’s wary of calling 2015 ‘the vintage of the century’ as he feels some may have exaggerated its quality. “The 2012 harvest looked perfect but in fact the Chardonnay lacked vibrancy and we didn’t make 2012 Dom Ruinart.”

In the tasting proper we compared Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV in bottle, magnum and jeroboam. Although the blend for all three was very similar, the harvest base year* for each wine was different, with the bottle 2012 based, plus 27% reserve wine from the two previous harvests (2011, 2010), the magnum 2011 based plus 2010 and 2009 reserve wine, while the jeroboam was built round the 2008 harvest.

The style of this wine is very much fresh, clean and crisp, with a pure fruit character. Dosage is pretty much standard at around 8-9gm/l. Panaïotis wants a certain fleshy, creamy character as that makes the wine very accessible. He once told me it was the perfect aperitif for four people consumed in about ten minutes.

With a little bottle age this is a wine that develops a recognisable toastiness, as the magnum, which typically gets about eight months extra ageing on its lees, showed. Plus more palate texture/mouthfeel and a longer finish. These wines are made in a reductive style and the jeroboam, which had turned quite a rich golden yellow, had the classic ‘struck match’ aroma and still more developed toastiness with hints of mocha too.

We then turned to Dom Ruinart, looking at the current 2004 vintage first launched last year, the 1998 vintage in magnum and lastly 1988, a wine I hadn’t tasted since October 2009 when in Paris. There, in the company of Serena Sutcliffe and Jancis Robinson, the only two other Brits present, I sampled 18 different vintages of Dom Ruinart out of the 21 that had been made (at that time). Then the 1988 was one of the stars of the show (see Ruinart celebrates 50 years of Dom Ruinart, 16 October, 2009).

Interestingly the dosage on Dom Ruinart has come down over the years. Back in 1988 it was 9.5gm/l, by 1998 it had dropped to 7.5gm/l and in the 2004 it is just 5.5gm/l. The 2004 has opened up noticeably even since I last tried it a few months back, when it was still ‘very shy’ as Panaïotis himself said, and quite a contrast to the super concentrated powerhouse of 2002 which preceded it. It’s now attractive showing lemon peel citrus notes with a creamy middle palate, textural grip and overall elegance, which is the direction that Panaïotis wants to go.

The 1998 is a bigger wine with impressive complexity and a very long nuanced finish. The gorgeously golden hued ’88 has lost none of its luscious, toasty, richness, though for Panaïotis the ripe butter, even butterscotch note, is a slightly lactic character he wants to move away from now in favour of greater elegance. It’s hard to believe that this is a wine made from grapes that barely reached 9.7deg potential alcohol. For lovers of mature vintage champagne this is still a great experience, mature white burgundy with bubbles.

Ruinart stockists:
Ruinart
Blanc de Blancs NV 75cl (£45-£66)
D&D Wine, The Champagne Company, Jeroboams, J&B, Hedonism Wines, Oddbins, Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, Majestic Wine, Harvey Nichols.
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV magnum (£95-£135)
The Champagne Company, Majestic, Harvey Nichols, Jeroboams (3 mags £324).
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV jeroboam (450-£575)
The Champagne Company, champagnedirect.co.uk , Majestic.
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2004 75cl (£115-£141.10)
Berry Bros. & Rudd, Majestic, Hedonism Wine.
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 1998 75cl (£140- £175)
Millésima Bordeaux, The Finest Bubble.
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 1998 magnum (£299.99 – £306)
The Finest Bubble, Berry Bros. & Rudd.

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Tesco reacts to Sainsbury’s cuts with £7.50 champagne

Terrific deals which started yesterday at Sainsbury’s (25 November) that have resulted in the price of its excellent Own Label Blanc de Blancs falling to just £11.25 (if you buy at least six bottles of wine and champagne) have apparently … Continue reading

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Sainsbury’s slashes already low prices with further 25% off from Wednesday

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Bollinger Special Cuvée £22.50 and magnums of Cliquot £45 Hopefully you haven’t been out today to stock up on fizz bargains because from Wednesday next week, prices are getting even lower. Sainsbury’s, which has already cut the price of several … Continue reading

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Major marques join discount boom

After deals on obscure brands and supermarkets exclusives have grabbed the headlines, there are now widespread offers on the major international marques. Reductions of at least £10 on a single bottle purchase have become commonplace. Sainsbury’s and Tesco have Piper-Heidsieck … Continue reading

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As price war hots up Tesco reacts with £9 champagne

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As the pre-Christmas competition between the supermarket giants in the UK hots up, Tesco has just reduced in own label exclusive Louis Delaunay Brut NV from £14 to £9 a bottle in a deal that runs for another six days … Continue reading

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