Ring in the millennium with these five prestige champagnes (if you can find them)
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The name Krug has a special resonance in Champagne circles. Henri Krug and his brother Remi represent the fifth generation of the family to operate Krug, a small firm that proudly sticks to traditional wine-making methods and prices nothing at less than $100 a bottle. Krug is not your typical Champagne business, nor is it your typical Champagne.
Krug's biggest production item is a multivintage blend called Grand Cuvée that tastes so much more mature and exotic than the average Brut that it's easy to mistake it in a blind tasting for a grand old vintage Champagne. Krug's vintage Champagnes are legendary among wine collectors, and often fetch the highest prices at auction for Champagne.
But the rarest, most coveted Krug Champagne is Clos du Mesnil. This unique Blanc de Blancs is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes grown in a small vineyard in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger south of Epernay. Clos du Mesnil operates similarly to a domain in Burgundy or a château in Bordeaux, rejecting the widely held belief in Champagne that one must blend different grape varieties grown in different parts of the region to achieve the best-quality wine.
A stone wall which dates back to 1698 surrounds the 4.6-acre plot of land where the grapes grow. Clos du Mesnil's first vintage was 1979, practically yesterday in Champagne terms. The vines yield just enough Chardonnay in good years to make 1,000 cases. This is a tiny production compared with the other prestige Champagnes.
Clos du Mesnil is a memorable wine to drink. At first sip, it's reserved, crisp, even steely. But its flavors of minerals, citrus and almond open up slowly as you savor the wine, and its sense of finesse lingers on the finish.
Clos du Mesnil shares traits with other Krug wines, partly because all of them are barrel-fermented--a rare practice in Champagne today. But it also has its own distinct personality. Henri Krug says the flavors remind him of grapefruit or lime, and a hint of a stony, flinty quality that other Champagnes from this village share. So, Clos du Mesnil gives the better of two traditions.
A stunning 1989 Clos du Mesnil ($300) and a somewhat leaner 1986 ($315) are currently on sale. With seven vintages dating back to the original, there isn't a weak year in the lineup. All are aging remarkably well and destined to become collector's items.
Jim Gordon has been writing about wine for 15 years.