By Xavier Auerbach
"To those of us gazing in from the outside in wide-eyed wonder, Krug is to Champagne as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is to Burgundy and Pétrus is to Bordeaux. It possesses a grandeur, an otherwordliness, an amplitude that is as lofty as its mesospheric price. Krug's grand hierarchy of prestige begins at a higher price than any other in Champagne and its single-vineyard wines rank among the most expensive in the world. Krug is the king of champagnes. And it has something mystical too." (Tyson Steltzer, The Champagne Guide 2014-2015, page 208).
No doubt, the mystery increases exponentially with price and scarcity. I have tasted and enjoyed the Krug Grande Cuvée on a good number of occasions (and found it quite variable) and I have some experience with the Krug Vintage too (and a small but growing stash in my cellar). Until recently however, I had not tasted the Krug Clos du Mesnil - let alone the Krug Clos d'Ambonnay (I still haven't). For me, Clos du Mesnil was one of those towering and virtually unattainable wines one discusses over a glass of modest non-vintage Champagne.
You will understand that I was very excited when I heard about a tasting of all sixteen vintages of Clos du Mesnil, to be held on 30 October 2015 in Düsseldorf. I was even more excited when I managed to secure a place. I was told later (by Richard Juhlin, who presided over the tasting) that this was probably the third time that someone had managed to assemble all extant vintages of Clos du Mesnil for a tasting. The previous two occasions had however not included the recently released 2003.
The auctor intellectualis of this event was Dr. Alper Alpaslan, a medical doctor from Düsseldorf, a champagne aficionado extraordinaire and a most generous man. The venue was restaurant Behrens am Kai (1 Michelin star) and the house of Krug was represented by Jessica Julmy, Head of Business Development for Europe and LatAMEC. After the tasting there was a "best-bottle dinner" with some additional Krug thrown in for good measure (Grande Cuvée and Vintage 1998 from magnum, 2000 and 2003 from single bottles). You will find my tasting notes on Cellartracker.
(photo credit: www.gayot.com)
The story of Krug Clos du Mesnil is well-documented and I will not repeat it here. There were clear differences between the sixteen wines, which is obvious as they are in different stages of their lives and hail from different vintages. There was a common denominator too - Krug Clos du Mesnil is an extremely terroir-driven wine. If I would try to describe the essential character of Clos du Mesnil, I would speak about its searing acidity and earth-shaking minerality, its intensity and power and about how all these elements are very tightly woven into a wine of great poise and laser-like precision that needs 20 to 30 years to reach its apogee (depending on the vintage). It is neither a friendly nor an obvious wine. It is like a complex piece of architecture that requires careful study by a well-trained eye. The intellectual effort required, is considerable but so is the reward. And when you sit back and relax, you can enjoy it as the simply beautiful wine which it is. The sixteen vintages were tasted in four flights of four vintages each, and were tasted from young to old. Here are my tasting notes.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 2003 - 96
Impressive nose, ripe citrus, wonderful mineral depth but with much more nuance to come; wonderful marriage of richness, wood and piercing acidity, marries weight to elegance, lovely balance; long and vinous finish. Will age well on the strength of its extract, acidity is ample.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000 - 97
Vinous nose, deep and complete, seems more developed than the 2003; very rich palate, slightly candied fruit, amazing acidity, rounded and rich but incredibly energetic, oaky warmth; very long finish, orange peel, lime zest. An absolute stunner.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1998 - 95
Floral, hint of nuttiness on the nose, darker notes, clearly a lighter style than the 2000, hint of crème patissière, relatively evolved; harmonious and flowing palate, charming and very harmonious, lovely pure citrus flavours, chalky minerality; relatively light finish, floral, lime zest, very good length. Seems fully mature.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1996 - 98
Nose is quite closed initially but opens up with air, vinous, spicy and complex, starting to develop some nuttiness and toasty notes; rich and slightly candied palate, powerful and surprisingly warm, the acidity covered in rich extract; lime finish, excellent length, will develop more complexity over time. Starting to show some maturity, has decades ahead of it.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1995 - 94
Mature but with piercing acidity, more evolved on the nose than on the really vibrant palate, masculine, slightly rustic even, really intense and powerful, deep and almost meaty, lovely oily texture, perhaps its complexity is slightly less than in the 1996, almost salty minerality, layered finish, lime zest, really excellent length.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1992 - 95
Floral nose, linden, a relatively light but very elegant and charming rendition of the Clos du Mesnil theme, juicy fruit, sweet orange, a charming wine in spite of the typical searing acidity, quite fresh and youthful for age, elegant and precise, and long finish. All about balance and finesse. Fully mature, drinking wonderfully well at its second plénitude.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1990 - 95
Rich and vinous nose, truffle, warm but not very detailed, glowing with a warm nuttiness; the palate too is rich and vinous but harmonious, not heavy owing its ripe but firm acidity and supporting bitters; not a lot of definition on the finish but length is good. May be too big? Seems to be in transition? Not much fun today and not really my style, a bit foursquare. The vintage dominates the terroir here. Firm structure, time in hand.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1989 - 92
Clearly the deepest colour of the wines in this flight; perhaps slightly muffled on the nose, with a hint of sherry or even white port, marzipan, beeswax, but does not seem oxidised or maderised; slightly estery on the palate, warm and rich, sweet but also a bit prickly; not really pure on the finish. Richard Juhlin assures us it is as it should be.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1988 - 100
Perfection. Perfect balance, perfect harmony, perfectly seamless, so fresh yet so complex, a perfect expression of vintage, vineyard and house style. Everything that Clos du Mesnil can be. Lives among the stars. A true vino da meditazione. Will age forever.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1986 - 95
Alarmingly deep colour, like a light sherry; amazing complexity on the nose, almost like an old Rheingau Spätlese, lemon and spice, honey, Firne, hint of vanilla; stunning palate, perfectly dry but so rich, piercing acidity, honeyed, spicy, incredible chalky minerality, slightly estery finish, hazelnut, vanilla, excellent length. Strange but attractive.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1985 - 99
A very complete and structured but elegant wine, some supporting bitters, deep and complex, exceptionally fresh for a 30 year old wine, harmonious and together, very complete finish, excellent length. Riper and more evolved than the 1988. A masterpiece but not as celestial.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1983 - 93
Only slightly less deep in colour than the 1986. Cognac-like nose, deep and nutty, with lovely candied fruit and older wood, deep and rich; very dry on the palate, firm acidity, rich flavours, candied fruit, juicy but almost austerely chalky; slightly pinched on the finish.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1982 - 97
Complete, deep, rich, structured, at full maturity, hint of salty woodiness, powerful and intense but playful and layered, malt whisky flavours, again that razor-sharp acidity, very long, almost a bit leathery like a Ben Nevis 1966. Top notch.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1981 - 96
A lively and playful style even after 34 years, lovely complex tertiary aromatics, honey, intense and powerful, bright and fresh and youthful structure, juicy, subtle bitters, really intense, layered finish with excellent length. A stunning wine from an off vintage.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1980 - 95
A relatively light Clos du Mesnil, incredibly floral and playful at 35 years of age, white peach, white chocolate, lovely mousse, hint of malt whisky and leather, intensity without weight, surprisingly good length.
Krug Clos du Mesnil 1979 - 99
This is how I imagine a perfect, fully mature Clos du Mesnil should be. Seamless, very complex, hint of malt whisky, concentrated yet elegant, subtle tertiary aromatics yet perfectly fresh, forceful yet gentle, subtle phenolics, red grapefruit, relaxed but with lovely tension, long and layered finish. Still has a lot of potential too. A dream.