The Five Kings of Champagne

During the first week of September, Food & Wine magazine along with Chef Roy Yamaguchi
and Chef Alan Wong hosted the 2nd Annual Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. The four day event
featured numerous dinners, cocktail seminars and educational tours highlighting locally grown
products. Of course, since Food & Wine magazine was one of the hosts, several wine tastings
were also offered paneled by several Master Sommeliers. Way back in April when tickets first
went on sale, I knew I had to attend the Krug Champagne tasting which included the NV Brut,
NV Rose, the 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2000 vintages plus the 1998 Clos du Mesnil and the 1996
Clos d'Ambonnay. Of course, my enthusiasm in attending the tasting was purely altruistic in
nature since several local charities were the beneficiaries of ticket sales including the Hawaii
Agricultural Foundation, the Culinary  Institute of the Pacific, Leeward Community College,
Paepae o He'eia and Papahana Kuaola. Okay, I can't lie. The only thing on my mind was Krug
Champagne. Benefitting charity made it cooler.

The House of Krug

Started in 1843 by Joseph Krug, the vision was to create the ultimate pleasure in Champagne
that transcended individual vintages and was available every year. Though not every Champagne
enthusiast will state that Krug is their favorite, most tasters can identify it in blind tastings.
From the barrel fermentation of wine up to 15 years old which imparts just a hint of oak to the
use of only designated vintages - 10 to 15 different vintages - in their NV or multi-vintage
Cuvee to the extended period on the lees gives Krug a characteristic richness that you find in
their Grande Cuvee and Rose.

The Distinguished Panel

The tasting panel included Master Sommeliers Richard Betts formerly of the Little Nell Hotel in
Aspen, Colorado and the Betts & Scholl wine label, Joseph Spellman of Justin Vineyards and
Winery and Hawaii's own, Roberto Viernes of American Wine and Spirits along with Seth Box,
Director of Education at Moet Hennessey (the conglomerate that now owns the Krug house).
As the host Master Sommelier, Roberto introduced the panel then immediately stated for the
record that if he were to list the top wines he's every sampled in his career, Krug Champagne
would occupy several spaces on that list. And though the Halekulani graciously provided "spit
cups" in case you didn't want to swallow each Krug Champagne, Richard Betts immediately
chimed in that "this is a Krug tasting", "we don't need these" and tossed his "spit cup" off of his

The Tasting

The price that appears in brackets is the lowest price I found on the internet in the US. The
rating on a five point scale is from yours truly and I personally would purchase any wine with a
4/5 rating barring any cost prohibitive wines - most of these fall into that category.

NV Grande Cuvee ($179, 4/5)
As Seth Box stated, tastings at the Krug house usually end with the NV since it's the most
complex Champagne to produce. He likened it to visiting a nursery with a 100 infants and
accurately predicting that one infant would grow up to be a physician while another would be
President of Malaysia while a third would be in jail by the time they were 17 years old. AND,
you had to predict how well everyone would play with each other. Such is the predicament of
blending multiple lots of wine for a classic house Champagne taste.
Freshly baked bread on the nose with ripe stone fruit and citrus peel that expand on the palate
with a seamless flow and a medium long finish.

NV Rose ($250, 4.75/5)

First released in 1983 after years of the younger Krug generation trying to convince the older
generation to produce a Rose Champagne. Supposedly after a blind tasting in the winery, the
ruling Krug generation told the younger generation that IF, Krug did release a Rose Champagne
it would taste like this sample. Which actually was the experimental Krug Rose. Complexity
wise, combine the complexity of the Grand Cuvee then add some still Pinot Noir to the mix.
Light ripe cherry and orange peel on the nose with a lush mouth filling palate with a touch of
mineral on the back end and new flavor sensations that emerge with each sip with a long finish.

1995 ($194, 4.5/5)
One of the few samples of Krug that I actually tasted beforehand... I purchased a bottle for my
50th celebration.
Slightly toasted brioche and citrus curd on the nose with toast and rich citrus on the full rich
palate with a very long finish.

2000 ($200, 4.5/5)
The most recent vintage released by Krug... and if you haven't noticed, we're well into 2012.
That's because of the extended aging on the lees (expended yeast) then several more years of
final bottle aging before release. Most other Champagne houses have already released their 2004
With a very perfumed nose of citrus, brioche and a touch of mineral. Rich on the palate with a
seamless flow and a medium long finish. Drinkable now but definitely hasn't hit that sweet spot
of consumption.

1998 ($219, 4.8/5)
One of the few Krug Champagnes that was produced predominantly with Chardonnay.
With a very perfumed nose of citron and a touch of mandarin, freshly baked brioche and
mineral with loads of finesse on the palate and a very long finish. My personal favorite to drink
right now though it still has room to improve with additional aging.

1998 Clos du Mesnil ($680, 4.5/5)
Produced only from grapes from the vaunted Clos du Mesnil vineyard - arguably the greatest
source of Chardonnay grapes worldwide.
Rich citrus curd and toasted brioche on the nose with a touch of minerality. Initial toastiness
on the palate which gives way to citrus curd leading to a long finish.

1996 ($319, 3.75/5)
The latest of the 95+ point Champagne vintages - previous 95+ point vintages include the 1990
and 1985.
With citrus on the nose and brioche on the palate and a medium long finish this Champagne is
definitely years away from hitting its sweet spot of consumption - probably 5 to 10 years hence
the sub 4 point score. If you uncork a bottle for me in this time frame, my personal rating will
probably improve so I'll be waiting for the call.

1996 Clos d'Ambonnay ($1900, 4.5/5)
Probably the most expensive wine straight out of the winery. Mainly due to basic economics,
the purely Pinot Noir vineyards of the Clos d'Ambonnay are only about a third of the acreage
of the Clos du Mesnil (and look at how expensive that Champagne is).
Ripe semi-dried cherry and candied citrus on the nose with hints of mineral then expanding on
the palate with each sip. Unfortunately at this point, it's still very young at least 5 to 10 years
from its sweet spot with prominent acid on the finish. Give me a call in 5 to 10 years when you
uncork your bottle and it may end up close to a 5 out of 5 rating!

Final Words

If you add the lowest price of each Champagne, you'll see that this dream 8-pack would run just
South of $4000. Of course, if you did stumble upon these Champagnes in your neck of the
woods the cost would undoubtedly be a lot higher. During the tasting they poured about 2
ounce servings (and the Mrs. and I finished all of our samples) which translates to about $328
worth of Champagne. Considering that the tickets were $200 per person, I felt that I fully
received my money's worth and more, especially since I won't be purchasing any of these bottles
any time soon. Unless Lotto allows ticket sales to Hawaii residents over the internet.