Krug’s Crown Jewels

For centuries, the secret to taming the northern climate of France’s Champagne region and producing a balanced bubbly has been the art of the blend: mingling different grape varieties from an array of vineyards and multiple vintages. A small number of houses have turned around the paradigm and focused on a wine made from a single grape, vineyard and vintage.

Krug Champagne was one of the first and also most successful, producing consistently high-quality bottlings that are head and shoulders above most of its peers’ blended versions. The first is Krug’s Brut Blanc de Blancs Clos du Mesnil, made entirely from Chardonnay grown in the 4.5-acre Clos du Mesnil vineyard. This walled vineyard sits next to a church in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger, an area prized for its mineral-driven Chardonnay.

The Krug family purchased the Clos du Mesnil vineyard in 1971, and their first vintage was the 1979. The wine quickly became an exemplar of excellent Champagne, but one best known among connoisseurs. Since then, Clos du Mesnil has been made only in top vintages, for a total of 15 different bottlings through to the newly released Clos du Mesnil 2000.

With the success of Clos du Mesnil, the idea slowly developed among the Krug family that this bottling needed a partner. Olivier Krug, director of the house, explains that when he began his career with Krug his father said to him, “Maybe your responsibility is to find a Pinot Noir vineyard to be a little brother to Clos du Mesnil.”

The opportunity to do so came in 1994, when Krug purchased the 1.7-acre Clos d’Ambonnay vineyard. A foil to Clos du Mesnil’s Chardonnay grapes, Clos d’Ambonnay is planted exclusively with Pinot Noir, as the vineyard is in the town of Ambonnay, where Pinot reigns as king. The debut of the Clos d’Ambonnay was from the powerful 1996 vintage, followed by the rich 1998 vintage, which was released last year. These wines not only express the pinnacle of quality from Champagne, but also the ability of top producers to think outside of the box—and with success.

While any wine lover should jump at the chance to try these wines, they’re also made for the cellar and can be enjoyed for years to come. The Krug Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Clos du Mesnil 2000 (98 points in Wine Spectator, $859) is a study in the interplay of finesse and power. Racy acidity and intense minerality drive this seamlessly meshed wine, while the finely detailed texture and layers of grilled white peach, hazelnut, kumquat and crystalized honey display overall elegance.

Hints of fleur de sel and coffee liqueur echo on the finish. Drink now through 2027. The Krug Brut Blanc de Noirs Champagne Clos d’Ambonnay 1998 (95 points, $2,399) is rich and expressive, yet elegant overall, offering aromatic notes of honey and iodine, with the flavors of baked apple, toasted hazelnut, currant, chanterelle mushroom, chamomile and dried herbs. Lightly creamy and refined in texture, it is fresh and focused throughout. Drink now through 2025. December 29, 2012 6:21pm ET

The first vintage of Clos d'Ambonnay was 1995 and not 1996.

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