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First stop Krug - Jiles Halling - Champagne

Jiles Halling,
UK’s leading Champagne host

What do you do when you have an invitation to visit Krug? You drop whatever it is you're doing and you say 'Yes please'.

I hadn't been back in Champagne 48 hours when I got exactly that opportunity, so unpacking boxes and putting up pictures had to wait whilst I went off to Rue Coquebert in Reims last Friday morning.

Despite it's huge reputation Krug is not a very large champagne house. Annual production is only around half a million bottles, which is small compared to the many millions produced by the largest houses.

There's no imposing mansion in Rue Coquebert, just a modest, although very elegant, building tucked away down a quiet side street - you could easily drive right past without knowing it.

It was 10.30 by the time we arrived and it was encouraging to see that a bottle of Krug Grand Cuvée was all ready cooling in an ice bucket on the table in the reception room. I suspect there is one there permanently.

Since your tatste buds are at their most receptive in the late morning it was the perfect time to open the bottle and our hostess, Julie-Amandine, was not slow to do the honours.

There are a number of things that set Krug apart from most other champagne houses

Grand Cuvée is Krug's main brand and unlike most other cuvées de prestige, Grand Cuvée is not a vintage champagne. In other words it contains reserve wines from previous years, just like any other non-vintage champagne (or multi-vintage as Krug prefer to say).

It's precisely these reserve wines that contribute to Krug's distinctive character and depth. The reserve wines are kept for many years, 15 years or more in many cases, and always represent a minimum of 40% of each year's blend. That's unusually high and the result can be tasted in the amazingly long finish and powerful flavours.

Another secret to the Krug style is the fact that all the first fermentation of the grape juice (or must) is done in oak barrels as opposed to stainless steel vats.

Not that Krug is looking to add any over-powerful woody, vanilla-like flavours to their champagne.

The new barrels are conditioned for several years by being used to store wines from the second (lesser quality) pressing of the grapes and these wines are then sold off to third parties.

By doing this most of the excess tannin and woody characteristics are eliminated from the barrels before they are used in earnest to ferment juice destined to be part of a Krug champagne.

A third factor in the unique Krug style is the use of Pinot Meunier. Whilst most of the famous prestige cuvées are blends of the two so-called 'noble grapes' Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with no Pinot Meunier, Krug takes an diferent view and Pinot Meunier always figures prominently in their blends.

The result is quite unique.

I may be shot down in flames by avid fans of Krug, or Krugists as they are called, but I have to say that Krug is something of an acquired taste.

The first thing that struck me is the amazing balance between on the one hand the powerful aromas, rich flavours and extra long finish that rolls around your mouth long after you've swallowed and on the other hand, the striking freshness, almost austerity, that you feel when you take a mouthful.

It's a combination that's difficult to describe and no doubt volumes have been, and will be, written on the subject. All I can say is that Krug leaves an impression that you've certainly drunk something remarkable, but it's not a champagne that's leaves you with a warm glow, eager for another generous glassful.

Perhaps it will grow on me and I certainly hope I have the chance to put the idea to the test again in the near future.

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