What is the best champagne of all time? In my opinion, this is a question for which there is no one answer. And yet so many wine magazine articles written by so many wine experts still try to find the ultimate answer year after year.
It’s a question that seems to have a different “right” answer every time, depending on who is doing the questioning and when.
This is a question whose reasonableness—or even necessity—might have numerous points of view. It is also a question for which, I believe, no one else but the person asking it could possibly provide the right answer. The answer you invariably find is entirely subjective – all others are virtually meaningless.
In my own case, I found that ultimate answer in a cosy showroom at the Krug champagne house, where I was privileged to join Rémi Krug for a taste of one of the world’s most rarest and most famous champagnes - the Krug 1928. The champagne was perfection itself, quite likely the finest champagne I have ever tasted. But is it the best champagne of all time? For me it most certainly is!
The tasting alone put the Krug 1928 at the top of my personal list, and when this experience was further expanded and deepened by the many chapters of the Krug 1928’s history, told to me by Rémi as we savoured this ambrosia, there was no room for any doubt.
“In those days Krug’s primary market was England—especially for Krug Vintage—and England’s top wine merchants usually ordered and paid for an allocated amount of Krug Vintage at an early stage;–that is to say, right after bottling and long before delivery. This is largely the same practice used today with en primeur purchases in Bordeaux. Indeed, English merchants purchased the 1928 vintage at a very bad time, just when the economic crash of 1929 affected livelihoods and there was even the threat of war looming on the horizon. The high expectations that experts had for this rare vintage, the Krug reputation, the lack of good vintages from the beginning of the 1920s and the limited availability of the Krug 1928 made it a major commercial success.
When war broke out in 1939, our cellars still held a large quantity of lots already paid for by the English, so my grandfather Joseph very wisely decided to buy them back in order to save them from falling into German hands. When the war ended, he offered the wines he had saved to the original buyers, but some of them no longer wanted the entire quantity of this vintage, instead opting for a partial or whole substitution with a later vintage (1937). So, my grandfather kept the “surplus” (what a strange word to use for a Krug!) for himself. This is why we’ve been able to enjoy this one-of-a-kind vintage and follow its development!”
Rémi was also kind enough to tell me a bit about his own, personal recollections of the 1928 Krug:
“I got my first taste of the 1928 at my grandfather’s house, where each of the five grandchildren took turns visiting for lunch every week, each on our own day. My day was Thursday. Because the middle of the week was free at that time in France, I got to stay at my grandparents’ house after lunch and listen to stories about their lives, our family, the town and the wars - this was something about which they had a lot to say!
At lunch I always got a small drop of Krug in a tiny children’s champagne flute as well as Bordeaux – this is how I found most of the Bordeaux I adore. The Krug was, naturally, a Grand Cuvée, but once or twice a year we got to enjoy the famous Krug 1928 – I can still remember the rich, tender, enchanting magic in those few drops of divine nectar from my childhood.
Later, when I started working for Krug in 1965, I was allowed to join my father and Henri on those special occasions, when a bottle was opened and shared with guests. This might have happened once a year, so these occasions were not to be missed - or forgotten. On one such occasion, we were tasting two bottles of Krug 1928 with Serena Sutcliffe and David Peppercorn; one of the bottles was from my grandfather’s stores and it was corked before the war in 1939. The other bottle’s second corking was done at the end of the 1940s. The tasting was completely blind – we didn’t even say what Krug we were drinking. Naturally Serena and David recognised these as being the same wines, and found a bit more vivaciousness and passion in, as it turned out, the wine whose bottle had been corked before the war; yet another demonstration of our long-standing "apathy" regarding the importance of a second corking.
To the last drop!
I’d like to close with a very personal and cherished anecdote: At the end of the 1960s, when my grandfather, Joseph Krug, was approaching the venerable age of 100, he summoned Henri and me to ask how much Krug 1928 he had left in his personal stores. When we told him, he proclaimed: “Well boys, I know I’m supposed to be cutting down on my drinking, but when I turn 100 we are going to have a big party and drink all of that Krug 1928 – right down to the last drop!” I was stunned, but overjoyed by this proclamation! Here was a man who was very old in years, but very young at heart, still possessing such joie de vivre that he was prepared to give up this extremely valuable wine in one fell swoop, while most people hold on tightly, guarding their treasures jealously as they aged. What a lesson in youth it was for us all! This reinforced my belief that even the most magnificent wine is nothing if it can’t be enjoyed and shared, that the only things worth collecting and keeping are the memories of those epiphanous experiences when the magic of a Krug, just like the magic of an Yquem, a Pétrus, Shakespeare, Mozart or Charlie Parker, transforms a transient moment into an unforgettable memory.
The sad part of this story is that we never did get to have that big party – my grandfather passed away a few months after this, just shy of his 99th birthday, thus leaving us those precious bottles to enjoy. But I shall never forget that moment and what it really meant."