The city of Reims has a heart of stone: its cathedral. This imposing structure for centuries received the ascending French kings, whose heads, by tradition, were crowned beneath its vast vaults. Today, of course, the retinues that pass under its rose windows are of the touristic rather than the royal kind, but the life’s blood of the Champagne-Ardenne region still circulates around this ancient heart in the form of sparkling wine, which bubbles forth in the cafés, bars, and wine shops that crowd its streets. And nowhere does it bubble more brilliantly than in the cellars of another of the town’s sacred sites, Maison Krug.
Johann-Joseph Krug, a visionary and a pragmatist, founded the firm in 1843 to pursue his dream of creating a perfect Champagne through meticulous blending of a range of outstanding wines from outstanding vintages—a unique approach at the time. Unlike houses whose grand châteaux lend prestige to their labels, Krug emphasizes elegance of structure in its wines rather than in its winery, a modest complex not far from the cathedral. "We have nothing fancy," says Olivier Krug, the house’s director. "There are no chandeliers. There are no bronze or marble staircases. Only the bottles. It’s very atypical—like Krug."
Krug’s distinctive model has been likened to that of a fashion house with no ready-to-wear line, only haute couture: As members of the wine press have noted, Krug begins where Champagne leaves off. While other producers offer a range of Champagnes that begins with a nonvintage blend and scales upward, culminating in a special prestige cuvée, Krug’s signature wine, the Grande Cuvée—a complex blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier that combines as many as 50 different wines from six to 10 different vintages—establishes a house style that lies at the center of a portfolio of more specialized wines offering singular expressions of the Krug personality. Krug Rosé, for instance, accentuates Pinot Noir in the blend, while Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs captures the character of a single vineyard and a single varietal, Chardonnay, as expressed in a single vintage.
Until very recently, Clos du Mesnil represented the sole exception to Johann-Joseph’s innovative philosophy of ?blending. Yet Olivier’s father and uncle, Henri and Rémi Krug, sought for many years a bookend to Clos du Mesnil—a Pinot Noir vineyard of extraordinary character from which they could produce a single-vineyard vintage Blanc de Noirs. Their search bore fruit in 1994, when they secretly acquired Clos d’Ambonnay, a tiny, walled vineyard of less than 1.7 acres at the southern edge of the Montagne de Reims.
"We had identified the vineyard in the 1980s," says Olivier. "Eventually, we were able to buy it from the grower. Our first harvest was in 1995, and now, 13 years later, we are ready to release our first new wine in 20 years."
Only 3,000 bottles of this rarest Krug were made; but if the available quantities are not generous, the wine itself certainly is. The Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1995 ($3,000 per bottle) is a landmark wine to rival in structure, ingenuity, and complexity the Reims Cathedral itself. The color is a delicate bronze that glows like the backlit panes of a medieval stained-glass window. The bouquet arches upward, revealing a delicate tracery of candied lemon, anise, a touch of brine, and cardamom-laced panettone. On the tongue, Clos d’Ambonnay exhibits a texture as light and airy as meringue, while the flavors of buttery brioche, dried apricot, citron, orange zest, and preserved lemon provide an overture to a lingering, savory finish of toasted almonds.
Krug, +33.326.844.420, www.krug.com