When Krug released its single-vineyard Clos d’Ambonnay Champagne 1995 in 2008, it caused a sensation. The 100% blanc de noirs, made entirely from pinot noir grapes, became the world’s most expensive Champagne – retailing for around $US 3000 a bottle.
At the time Krug justified the whopping price tag by noting that in comparison with other prestige wines from top estates, the prices for the very best Champagnes were too cheap. Comparatively, the retail price of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s La Romanée-Conti, for example, was up to $US4,300. (Eric Asimov, Effervescent Prices, The New York Times 29 February 2008)
Rarity, perhaps more than quality and reputation, is the main influencer on price. The Clos D’Ambonnay is even rarer than Krug’s other single vineyard offering, the Clos du Mesnil Blanc des Blancs, which normally retails for around $US800, and is also among the world’s highest priced Champagnes.
Clos refers to the fact that the vineyard is entirely ‘closed’ or walled. The Clos du Mesnil is only 1.84 hectares with the Clos d’Ambonnay being less than a third of that size. In a cold region like Champagne, where hail and wind are common hazards, the walls help retain the heat and to some extent protect the vines from the elements. Within the walls, the vines are meticulously tended. The Clos du Mesnil, for example, is farmed and vinified in five or six separate parcels with only the best included in the final assemblage.
So what do these extraordinary wines taste like? Recently the Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni attended a complete vertical tasting of the Clos du Mesnil and the Clos d’Ambonnay. Certainly his notes reflect how vintage can affect the character of the wine. The Clos du Mesnil 1989, for example, was from a warmer vintage than the 1989 and consequently a bigger, fatter wine than the 1988, “caressing the palate with layers of expansive fruit…yet preserving fabulous minerality and freshness.” Superlatives like multi-dimensional, pure, fresh, harmonious, superb balance, breathtaking elegance and extraordinary finesse were commonly used to describe all of the vintages! (Antonia Galloni Krug: Clos du Mesnil 1979 – 1998, Wine Advocate July 2011)
Since its founding in 1843 by Johann-Joseph Krug, the Champagne House has always focused on prestige cuvées. The House style, the Grand Cuvée NV, sets itself apart from it non-vintage competitors by being the only non-vintage Champagne to be fermented in small oak barrels. Only good or declarable vintages from mostly grand cru vineyards are used in the blend. Malolactic fermentation is suppressed to preserve freshness and fruit purity. These qualities are complemented by a richness and toastiness imparted to the wines from the oak barrel fermentation and the extended period on lees.