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Wine Legend: Krug 1928

Why it makes the Decanter hall of fame...

Wine Legend: Krug 1928, Champagne, France

Number of bottles produced N/A

Composition 70% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Meunier

Yield  7,000-8,000 kg/ha

Alcohol content about 12.5%

Release price N/A

Price today HK$165,000 (£15,000), Acker Merral & Condit Hong Kong, 2009

A legend because…

The quality of this wine, from an excellent vintage, was recognised early, and its reputation was aided by royal approval. As Nicholas Faith notes in The Story of Champagne: €’It remained a firm favourite with the English Royal Family even after the death of its greatest admirer, the late King George VI.’

Looking back

In 1928 the head of the house was Joseph Krug, the great-grandfather of the current director Olivier Krug. In those days there was no such thing as a chef de cave (cellar master). It was Joseph who would have been responsible for the blend, as well as for the ageing and marketing of the wine.

For Krug, the main emphasis has never been vintage Champagnes, but the patient assembling of a superlative cuvée each year, using both new wines and the stocks of reserve wines which have been held in magnums rather than tanks. Joseph Krug once remarked: ‘Krug cuvée Champagne is my baby. For vintage Champagne I have to share the credit with God.’ That has not, of course, deterred Krug from producing some of the greatest vintage Champagnes of the past century.

In the past, a kind of en primeur system operated, whereby key importers, such as Berry Bros & Rudd in London, would order and pay in advance for the wines they wished to offer their clients. This was the case in 1928. Being a vintage wine, it was not disgorged and released until 1939.

Although these wines were thus the property of the British importers, Joseph Krug astutely bought them back so as to incorporate them with the Krug stocks, which even the Germans were not shameless enough to steal. After the war, the wines were offered to the importers who had paid for them almost 20 years earlier. But fearing the wine might be too old, most asked for the 1937 instead.

‘That left us with considerable stocks of 1928,’ recalls Olivier Krug, ‘so for a while it was almost our house Champagne.’

The vintage

After a frost in May and irregular flowering, the 1928 summer was excellent. Some rain followed in September, but the harvest at the end of that month took place in ideal conditions. The vins clairs, the newly fermented base wines, were very rich, and in 1928 came from 33 different villages, of which the most important was Ambonnay.

The terroir

Given the diversity of sources for the Krug Champagnes, there is no way any single wine could be a reflection of a specific terroir. However, Krug has always worked on long-term contracts with its principal growers, and each generation of the family has always urged those growers to do their utmost to express the individuality of their particular site.

The wine

The Krugs have long maintained a distinctive style of vinification, fermenting the base wines in older barrels, and not encouraging the malolactic fermentation. In 1928, however, fermentation in oak would have been the norm throughout the region. The crucial part of the process would have been the tasting of the vins clairs and the gradual blending, which may not have been completed until February or March following the vintage. Olivier Krug estimates the dosage would have been slightly higher than it is today, at 9 to 10 grams per litre.

There were two releases of the 1928. The first was in 1939, though mostly delayed until the end of World War II, and the Krug Collection, released after 60 years of slumber in the Krug cellars. The 1928 Collection was never formally released, but wines exist with the Collection label. The blend would have been identical, but the disgorgement date would have varied.

The reaction

In 1957, Michael Broadbent noted that this was ‘the most magnificent Champagne I had ever tasted -€“ it would remain my touchstone until it finally tired (and 1961 Dom Pérignon usurped its position)’.

UK Champagne expert Tom Stevenson considers the wine legendary; but admits he believes the 1990 is even better. As with all very old wines, there will be considerable bottle variation.

Swedish Champagne expert Richard Juhlin discovered this the hard way: ‘The most famous of all Champagnes. Only tasted from a half-bottle. Incredible power, but maderised. Call me if you find a magnum!’

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