“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)





06 October 2017


Chardonnay in the press, Clos du Mesnil, Champagne, 28th August 2014 ... first 2014 pick in the bin, below ... photos Olivier Krug

New Krug 2004 - a Chardonnay year for an early Chardonnay vintage

Olivier Krug had a barely got back to vintage in Reims, Champagne, after releasing the new Krug Champagne Vintage 2004 in London, and there was Peter Gago AC and the Penfolds Magill Estate people pouring one in Adelaide. 

It was a generous thankyou to a few privileged souls who had foregone the Royal Adelaide Wine Show tasting to respond to Treasury's invitation to Magill to taste the new Penfolds Collection. On rocket week. 

The Magill Estate restaurant people pride themselves in offering bottles of  nearly one hundred small Champagne producers barely-known (yet) in Adelaide; scoring this royal baby was like having the King or the Pope or somebody in the room to visit them. Encouragement, you know. 

It wasn't all that long back Mr and Mrs Prince of Wales dropped in there for a schlück, but they drank only Grange, poor dears. 

Hardcore Krugistes will shimmer with delight at this 2004: it's a finer, tighter, meaner drink than other recent vintages. It seems Olivier was so excited that it had finally begun to sing that he simply had to get it out and on the market: the wine was disgorged way back in 2014. It is 39% Chardonnay, 37% Pinot noir and 24% Pinot meunier. 

One could say it's the unusual Chardonnay dominance of the year that's beginning to give the wine some fru-fru and frisson, but while the Chardonnay produced a generous crop in 2004 the full assemblage story will be a much more complex business than Chardonnay alone. 

While I said "sing" I didn't mean to suggest you should expect the full mezzo soprano Dame Joan thing. So far this is more your Girl From Ipanema slinking by, the bright mirage shimmer of the ocean behind, blurring her sandy, slightly breathless edges. For now. Only once you get to look properly into those eyes do you realise the steely resolve and determination that will keep this show on track for what Olivier says will be a good thirty years. 

Julie Cavil, the Krug oenologist, calls this bright demeanour "luminous freshness." That'll almost do me. But I reckon it'll be so wild and bright you could add the possibility of that husky voice growing all silvery and shattering glasses in a decade. Empty ones, anyway. 

While all this kerfuffle and vintage and everything being coincident was tricky enough, Olivier dropped a rare fizzbomb in the water by suggesting too much of Champagne was picked too late this year. His candid criticism was a rare enough event for any Champenoise, but coming from such a mighty house whose wine usually makes all the speeches, Olivier's opinion sure rattled some parochial French rafters. And he wasn't talking about the management of the huge houses being responsible, or the Champagne committee which makes the annual vintage date announcement: he blamed village politics. And business. Local parsimony. 

While the Comité Champagne had set a start date of 26 August, which was very early due to unseasonal heat then humidity, Olivier told The Drinks Business that "the responsibility should lie with decision-makers among the grower-community in each village, who are tempted to wait until September for the start of the harvest to save on paperwork. 

"Usually there are people with a bigger voice than others who decide the start-date in the village; it is not coming from the houses," he said. "And these big muscle people said ... 'begin on Monday 4 September' because they didn’t want pickers to start in August because then they have to make two payrolls for thousands of pickers ... to pay a salary for the work in August and then another for September." 

Ha. On my way to the Penfolds tasting, a Persian friend, a cab driver, had asked how it was possible that using the same common plant, some winemakers charged hundreds of dollars for a bottle of their wine, while others charged only four or five. It was confronting, but refreshing to be asked such a simple question. My answer was about laziness, disease, greed, stupidity and such, as opposed to conservative and responsible garden husbandry and the respect of quality and provenance. 

Pity I'd not really been fully aware of Olivier's thesis until after I'd tasted the wine and taken my boggled brain home to do some further research. Around the digital chat alleys his harvest criticism was a bigger deal than the launch of one of the world's truly great wines of recent decades. If you read my in-tray after I'd written whatever I have describing recent less-than-ideal years in Australia, you'd think it was impossible for two-thirds of an industry to make a dumb mistake about something as straightforward as a picking date. They give me hell if I say they left it too long. What would I know. But here you go: this is Champagne. And it's simple. "Some might say start on 1 September, but, because it was a Friday, they waited until Monday," Olivier told London. "By delaying the beginning picking to 4 September, it meant that the harvesters could avoid working over two weekends." 

One can only forecast that when these 2017 village wines emerge, there'll be some riper fizz in that special big fridge at Magill. 

It's been a tricky year, rain and botrytis following a bistering summer. Krug sensibly started early, picking Chardonnay in Clos du Mesnil when the grapes offered alcohols between 10.2 and 10.3% and natural acidity of 7.5 to 8 grams per litre. It's another "Chardonnay year." But Bacchus be damned if we can afford to wait as long as the exquisite 2004 has taken. In fact, Bacchus can be damned that I can't possibly afford the hundreds that sublime luxury will cost once it more formally lands on our shelves.

Krug's Clos du Mesnil: The Champenoise take on the walled village: 1) plant Chardonnay 2) build a wall around it to make it a clos 3) build houses outside the wall

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