“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





09 December 2010


Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey
Beautiful Things For Beauties
And Flavours That'll Teach You


Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey is an interesting outfit, if only because not too many prestige handbag manufacturers own so many of the world’s best wineries.

Because its business is making bags to contain the sort of squirty stuff and warpaint repair kits and other mysterious tools that women tote as sidearms, one pays particular attention to the way LVMH packages its wine, much of which is also squirty.

It should be good.

The vast perfume part of the business aside – it includes Dior, Givenchy, Guerlain, etc. - Louis was, in fact, a packer of women’s clothes. A Jura chippie’s son who ran off to Paris at fourteen, he soon found himself apprenticed to Monsieur Maréchal, who sent him to pack the clothes of the Empress Eugénie and her gang everytime they left the Tuileries. Folding, folding, folding …

But 150 years later, in France, particularly Paris, there is no better shopping accoutrement than the Krug shopping bag. These were available only to visitors to Champagne Krug, the world’s most exclusive winery, which also happens to make the world’s most exquisite wine. The bag was heavy paper, bearing the unforgettable Krug logo embossed in thick gold ink in its sides. Even empty it hung with great authority on posh champagne-coloured handle straps of braided silk.

Full, it held three individually boxed bottles of Krug.

As with LVMH’s perfume business, a Krug box is a work of art that almost matches the squirty stuff within. But the old Krug bag is a beast so much more scarce that this in itself is one of the principal reasons to lust for it.

Krug has no cellar salesroom. The winery is part of the integrated Krug family’s households, built around a modest courtyard and a beautiful garden clos in a leafy suburban street in the small provincial city of Reims. One must be invited to enter its cool portals.

Having preached for years the gospel that its Dom Perignon was the world’s greatest Champagne, LVMH had some difficulty when it bought Krug from the punch-drunk Remy Cointreau in 1998. The marketing architects had to quietly slide the smaller, more esteemed brand in on top, without making all those scrillions of dollars of Dom propaganda look like a stack of steaming merde de taureau.


And the difference? Now that one is old enough to drink, one drinks Krug when one can. When Mick Jagger was young enough to drink, he drank Dom. And although both lots are stuffed with the same blissfully-perfumed CO2 unique to the part of France where they make sparkling wine after the methode traditionelle, the Krug has fewer, more petite cavities.

That Krug bag was better than a black Amex. From Paris to Marseilles it opened great doors otherwise slammed shut upon meandering antipodeans, even when it held only a Bundy rum zip-bag chilling a six-pack.

Almost in return, LVMH has had a few buccaneering antipodean wine adventures of its own – owning as it does Cape Mentelle, at Margaret River in Western Australia, Domain Chandon, in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, and the giant Cloudy Bay, in Marlborough, New Zealand.

In 2006 it rather instantly dumped Mountadam, on High Eden Ridge, when its Paris board decided four wineries here was one too many. New owner David Brown has spent all that time attempting to get the business back to the style its creator, David Wynn, had planned. David’s son Adam sold suddenly in 2000, some time after his father’s death. David’s grand widow, Patricia, died only last week.

Perhaps to convince the writer that all’s tres bonnie in the matter of Kiwi Savvy-B, the big French bagman put extreme effort into the packaging of its latest Cloudy Bay, the 2010. The outermost layer was plain brown paper, decked with an alluring Par Avion sticker and a Customs Dec.

Regular subscribers to the research of the New York based Luxury Goods Institute should be aware that since all the money in the world went funny and shrank a few years back, public extravagance in purchasing fell from favour amongst the discerning rich, and while the Blahniks and Loubos still teetered in flocks from the shoethiers, the new purchases were discretely carried in plain paper bags.

So this brown paper was promising, even when it obviously disguised no shoebox.

Beneath the plain paper lay a tight layer of bubble-wrap. Bubbles again, see. In turn, beneath that, a stylish fitted sleeve of matte cardboard the colour of young champagne, tightly bound a single-bottle wine box. That sleeve off, one found three of its interior panels devoted to attractive photographs, full bleed. One of a whiskery young winemaker with a valence in one hand while his other pushed a snifter into his face, superimposed by the word “Aromas”. With a flourish.

The next, a platter of raw tuna with a glass of white, blurry in the background; “Texture”. An ECU of a hairy finger around the stem said “Vibrancy” in panel # 3.

A small white card dropped out, addressed personally in a standard computer cursive font, “A classic Marlborough vintage in 2010 has allowed us to produce a Sauvignon Blanc with brilliant intensity. We have added a small portion of barrel ferment to give it a weighty texture, which is balanced by a minerally-citrus acid backbone. It shows aromas of ripe lime, grapefruit, nectarine, papaya and mango and floral notes of orange-blossom, gooseberry and sweet fennel. The wine is refined, fleshy yet focused and refreshing. Feel free to e-mail me or contact your Moet Hennessy distributor if you have any comments. Cheers, Timothy.”

Then came the handsome iced coffee-coloured lined cardboard box, with CLOUDY BAY on the lid. While certainly not in the league of the Krug box, or indeed its legendary bag, this was a complex affair, held closed by hidden magnets until opening a little like an accordion, or the border between Germany, the ancestral home of the Krugs, and French Alsace. (“Back unt forth like a madwoman’s accordion, that border,” a vinolent grannie once explained across her beer in Kaiserberg.)

So, defeat the calm, persistent magnets, insist on the opening of the box, and behold a beautiful crimped sort of spongiform packaging sheet - three of them, actually – swells up, along with another type of packer - two blocks of it - deliciously coloured like nougat.

And lying there amongst all this dry froth, the form of a bottle, itself tightly twisted in two 1m. x 50ml. sheets of white tissue paper.

(Mustn’t forget the eighteen-page recipe book, explaining how one cooks the sort of food that Cloudy Bay aficionados are expected to cook while they drink, and also offering the uncertain wine critic the opinions of superior experts Michael Cooper, James Halliday (only 94 points for the 09), Wine Business Monthly, and Fergus McGhie.)

The wine seemed marginally more complex than the standard Cloudy Bay, but nowhere near as masterly as the one one saw there a decade back, when one suggested the standard one was simple and tiresome compared to what would happen if one had been made with wild yeast in old oak and held on lees. As winemaker Kevin Judd was absent on that day, his assistants huddled awhile and then asked one whether one could keep one’s trap shut if one were offered one which under no circumstance was the boss to know one had been shown. One agreed, and out came one which eventually became Te Koko, the twice-the-price king-hell proper Cloudy Bay Sauvignon blanc one can buy only if one persists.

It is heartening to discover some of this intelligence has finally hit the standard CBSB, and that not all the winemaker’s budget has gone into packaging.

The box of six new releases from Cape Mentelle, meanwhile, was your basic brown cardboard slab with bottle separators inside, to stabilise the necks, and another set along the opposite side, to stabilize the bottoms. The latter had collapsed completely, leaving the bottles to clunk dangerously against each other like a set of symphonic bell gongs. A little flat, if anything. Some genius has even changed those handsome, ageless labels to something shiny.

It used to be my favourite colour, chrome.

Like Cloudy Bay, Cape Mentelle is a much larger refinery than it was when LVMH took over. In reality, neither wine bears much similarity to its forebears, but I think the New Zealand product has not fallen as far behind the new wavers as have the Westralian blingsters, whose winemaking budget could even match its packaging. Maybe the Mentelles should be concerned that they do not soon follow Mountadam into oblivion: when the big handbagger decided it had to drop one of its antipodean adventures, that one went in a flash, with workers dismissed summarily, leaving tools scattered and wheelbarrows full of setting cement.

On the other hand, Krug looks safe. They’ve replaced the old paper bag with another three-bottle container, interestingly manufactured to order, not by Louis Vuitton, but trunk specialist Pinel & Pinel. Each of the thirty made took over 700 hours of skilled artisans’ time.

The Krug brown colt-hide exterior has corrosion-proof nickel-plated copper corners, hinges and handles, and one can have one’s own moniker added to the Krug logo in nickel-plated letters on the lid.

Inside, it’s all bright red calfskin. François Bauchet designed the ice bucket, WMF the truffle-grater; the tulip glasses are the bespoke Krug shape, the caviar spoons mother-of-pearl, and “another ingenious feature is that the trunk lid folds out to make an elegant table, while a wool and cashmere tablecloth, fine china and four leather stools appear as if by magic, ready for a sumptuous picnic, or an impromptu celebration.”

Most significantly, this handbag contains three bottles of Krug Grand Cuvée and will involve a consideration of, what? A smidge over $60,000, in Harrods? Oh, they sold out?

Then try the Krug Escape Artists series trunks, which hold only one or two bottles apiece but are a steal at $18,000 a pop. The Blue Trunk is set up for cigar lovers; the Red Trunk is for poker players, and the Silver contains a Samsung T9 MP3 video player with Bluetooth, a JBL “On Tour Plus” sound system, and a bottle of Krug Rosé.

Buyers must legally be over 21 years of age. Unless they wrap their trunks in brown paper.

Krug Champagne 1996
$500; 98++ points

Any duffer must agree with the Krug family when they call this vintage “extreme, eccentric champagne”. On another level, it’s that way because it’s so stubbornly, insistently Krug in its style, being a combination of the dogged determination of the Krugs to maintain their house distinction through a unique formula honed consistently since 1843, and one of the most formidably confounding vintages in a century.

1996 was the last Krug vintage to which Paul Krug II contributed: it was blended by him, his sons Rémy and Henri, and his grandson Olivier, who famously reported “Throughout his life, my grandfather shunned exaggeration of every kind. But on this occasion, he looked at us and said ‘I think this may well be the next 1928’.”

Which is saying something. While the 1928 was growing ricketty when I last tasted it in the early ’nineties, it still had the whiff of sublimity, a skerrick of its original fruit, and astonishing, living natural acidity holding its old flesh to its austere, rigid skeleton.

1996 was a freak year, weather-wise. The on-off summer alternated between sodding rain-driven humidity and extreme dry heat, which eventually surrendered to a sunny, clear autumn with freezing nights. The Krug system of pressing each parcel of fruit in or near its source vineyard, then fermenting and ageing the must in neutral, old Argonne barrels and taking complexity from deliberate oxidation and extended lees contact, whilst eschewing malo-lactic fermentation, the reserve then stored in chilled stainless steel away down in the chalk until required, always gives wine of character and finesse far beyond the sum of its components. And by deliberate oxidation, I mean it: once the Krugs have decided on the composition of each cuvée, its barrels are drawn from below and tipped on the blending room floor, from whence the wine flows back down a pipe through the chalk to the blending tank way below. The winery smells very good at assemblage!

The vagaries of 1996 have obviously bowed very low to the Kruggiste method, for this wine is indeed an astonishing, perfectly polished thing of beauty: the typical Krug counterpoint of extreme complexity with unlikely finesse. Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier have been blended to conjure a wine of such beauty and confidence that it seems almost matter-of-fact. Normal. The done thing. Oh how I wish! Ripe anjou and comice pears seep calmly through the bouquet, with some sort of exquisite honey and ginger brioche, yet to be invented. The palate is creamy and reassuringly smooth in that strangely assertive and matter-of-fact way, and ever-so-gradually tapers off, leaving a rapier of stern acidity and the feeling that something very very rare and special has just happened to your gustatories. The aftertaste is incredibly fresh and enlivening; the bead and mousse ever so fine, gentle, and persistent in its caress.

I once asked Henri how much research they’d done into the secret of Krug’s tiny bubbles. He said such information was a highly confidential secret of Krug but admitted he’d spent many years counting them. So. The price? Sell your car.

Krug Champagne 1998
$550; 97+++ points

There's an apocryphal yarn about the murderer who, upon being strapped into the electric chair, looked at his executioner and said "This'll teach me". This wine always reminds me of that. I don't really know why: the damned thing is so profoundly confronting in its beauty and intensity that the mind does go silly, in a willy nilly, electrocuted sort of way. Thoughts fall to the floor and shatter harmlessly about the drinker: they no longer count. Perhaps it's also the serene expectation that one will soon be found dead in one's chair with a really silly smile and a glass, empty, clutched in a grip that makes Charlton Heston's rifleman speech look like something uttered by a total softcock. The smell of an organic wheatfield, almost ripe, after the lightest rain. The smell of the most delicate brioche. Hazelnut. Wet chalk. Sliced, poached almond being fastidiously placed on a perfect marzipan icing in the kitchen of La Crayere. Oyster mushroom, and enoki. I can smell it for an hour, happy to postpone the execution. But finally, involuntarily, the glass finds its way to the lips, and like all Krug, just seems to evaporate into my organs. My body. The corpuscles, the genes, the chromasomes vibrate in immaculate harmony, and purr. This must send a transmission so powerful it can be received by other life forms, billions of light years away.

I remember Remi Krug remarking twenty years ago that he admired the way I guzzled the Grand Cuvee, rather than inhaling common air through it to make that obscene gurgling noise and spitting it like an Englishman. "But I am thirsty,” I responded, “and anyway, Krug comes properly perforated with bubbles installed by the Krug family. It needs no other air buggering it up." And so it goes. No need to change the technique. Gulp it down! Have it from a bigger glass! Pour yourself a tumbler! Do it again! Sell your house!


PS: for a touch of light and movement, go back to the handbag at the top and click its latch.


sinikle said...

so its true! The higher the price, the higher the points! What if they sent you the real expensive one? Maybe the didnt because they think it's ten points better than the vintage?

friend said...

I have just found out the most delicious historical trivia ... a Lady had seen the Adelaide views by Henn & Co on my site



and emailed for further information on an ancestor of her hubby, Frederick Sears.

I sought additional info on Louis Henn & co as the trail went cold despite dogged research so Frances replied:

"Thank you for your reply. I have read of Henn & co. in Hobart but it is all prior to 1880, he may have returned after the debacle with both the "Burn's note" (mock bank notes as an advertisement for J.H.Burns of 33 Hindley St. 22nd Sept 1881, someone tried to cash them at the bank and a shop) and the "Krug Champagne" (April 1882, attempted fraud by a Mr. Collins to have inferior Champagne passed off as Krug, they printed 400 of the requested 4000 before they discovered it was a sham) label, all designed and printed by Frederick Sears. Frederick sold up in 1883 and went to Perth, Brisbane (hand writing expert and inventor of a Butter Cooler) and on to Wellington New Zealand where he invented the High Light process used in modern day printing (before computer printing of course). He was also the photographer on Richard Seddon's (1st Prime Minister of New Zealand) tour of the Pacific in 1900. Quite an interesting man."

Anonymous said...

so you capitalism personified or lights out in wonderland?

emulsional said...

Why's the pic blurry, Philip?