Every now and then, an invitation arrives that can’t be ignored and last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited by Krug to join them at their launch of the 2000 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay at Andrew Fairlie’s new Secret Garden in the Perthshire Countryside.
Andrew Fairlie is Scotland’s most celebrated chef and his restaurant at Gleneagles is the only one in the country that has two Michelin stars (one of only fifteen two star restaurants in the UK). As well as being an exceptional chef, he is an exponent of matching champagne with food and Krug, with its seriousness and quality, is the champagne house he champions the most.
Most serious golfers try to play at Gleneagles at least once their lifetime, so it was a little unusual to be arriving at the hotel minus golf clubs at 7pm on a Tuesday evening with the sole intention of eating and drinking – not that this proved to be much of a hardship. Our little group was made up of a smattering of UK merchants and journalists and was hosted by Olivier Krug, as we embarked upon a remarkable dinner including the house speciality of home smoked lobster, roasted pigeon, and an apricot tart with toasted rice ice cream.
Andrew came to join our table afterwards and spoke about the food, all local produce. I was particularly impressed by the lobster, which is a good a dish as I can remember eating in the UK (apparently smoking them in their shells makes the difference). The Krug Grand Cuvee accompanied this and the apricot tart and we all religiously looked at the phone app to match the bottle’s ID 413062 with its release date from the house. The Krug Rose (ID413069) accompanied the pigeon quite brilliantly and I would not hesitate to pair the two again.
The evening was rounded off with 1987 cask strength Mortlach from the Adelphi Collection and we sensibly called it a night early in order to meet the morning’s challenges with a clear head.
The next morning, a short drive through the Perthshire countryside saw us swing through some stone gates into a well-manicured country estate, where we made our way to the old walled garden with ‘The Secret Garden’ written on the door. The restaurant signed the lease on this rather lovely spot two years ago and has undertaken an exhaustive replanting since with rows of different vegetables and local fruits, working in unison with the environment by undertaking various projects such as the introduction of Scottish black bees.
Olivier Krug is a gifted raconteur and appeared as excited as they rest of us to try all four vintages of Clos d'Ambonnay together - this was also his first time to undertake such a challenge. Krug are quite rightly famous for their superb Grand Cuvee, which is based on longstanding relationships and contracts held with their growers, whom they allow great freedom to produce and harvest grapes before being passed over to Krug to vinify. Some of the growers’ contracts go back seven generations. Each plot is vinified separately and this detailed plot management allows their various releases of Grand Cuvee to be distinct from each other whilst at the same time all retaining the quiet elegance and power that is the hallmark of the house.
The importance given to each individual plot underpins the house’s philosophy and this is very much continued through to their single vineyard Clos de Mesnil and Clos d'Ambonnay. Both vineyards are only released in vintage years, when they believe the plot has delivered the superlative quality necessary for a release. Clos d’Ambonnay is Krug’s finest plot and is planted exclusively with pinot noir.
The tasting was held in the garden and we were talked through the four vintages before the Scottish weather intervened and a rain shower had us scurrying back to the tent for lunch. The first course was taken exclusively from the garden and was my first experience of eating raw baby turnips (ID 413062) - do try some if you have the opportunity. The sea trout and barbecued lamb were truly excellent and this was rounded off with a dessert consisting of 50 wild strawberries each. We drank the 2000 and 2003 Krug (I really like the 2003) and the Krug Rose (ID413069) was a perfect match for the lamb.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent exploring the garden before clambering back onto the coach and heading back to the airport.
I have learnt three important lessons from my brief trip: you do not need to go to Gleneagles to play golf (Andrew Fairlie's restaurant is cause enough), Krug d'Ambonnay is very fine indeed even if the price puts it out of most people's reach, and you can drink a great deal of Krug and not have a hangover.
My tasting notes for the d’Ambonnay are below.
1995 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
Still pale in colour , with an extraordinary toffee style nose that develops into lemon grass and spice, quite exotic and very inviting, still very fresh, mouth filling and enticing, there is weight and body here that gives way to a lovely round finish that lingers. Difficult to ignore, vey fine. 97 pts JG
1996 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
A little darker, nose is still quite closed and takes a little time to open up, a hint of apples but very complex, focused and linear on the palate, beautifully balanced with hidden depth with weight pushing through the acidity. Very long length, continues to open up in the glass, very pure, very focused. outstanding. 98 pts JG
1998 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
Darker colour again and a little more lively mousse than the previous two vintages. Very expressive, deep nose with plums and crushed flowers, opens up nicely on the palate and seems to be quite mature, expressive, with good balance and nicely soft acidity, again very long on the palate. 96 pts JG
2000 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay
Price still to be released by Krug
Energetic mousse with a touch of gold, still tight, mineral and focused on the nose with great intensity that pushes itself from the glass. Lively in the mouth showing the wine is still very youthful, vibrant but very big with layers of intensity, ripe but restrained, powerful and well knit, very, very good indeed with a long finish. This is a tremendous wine that is still very youthful, it should age gracefully if you can wait that long. 98 pts JG