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Krug: the secrets of the Rolls-Royce of champagne

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‘I love the whole process of champagne making,” says Olivier Krug, standing in one of his vineyards in northern France and laughing at the mud on his stylish shoes. “I love the harvest as much as I love going to a bar in a city and meeting a beautiful 23-year-old sommelier.”

Krug, 44, has probably one of the best jobs in the world. The sixth generation of his family to run the eponymous champagne house, now owned by the corporate but relatively hands-off Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, he travels the world, meets a diverse range of interesting people and drinks immoderate quantities of his own expensive bubbly (although he does also profess to enjoying beer).

Krug makes an average of only 450,000 bottles a year – well under one per cent of the world’s champagne – but it is often described as the Rolls-Royce of the industry. Its devotees, who have called themselves “Krugists”, include Ernest Hemingway, John le Carré, Sir Alec Guinness, Naomi Campbell and the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who used to sneak in bottles whenever she was in hospital. Their biggest market is Japan, followed by the US and Europe, and they will soon be shipping bottles to Nigeria, where the president’s wife is a fan.

Today, Olivier is in Mesnil-sur-Oger, a pretty village near Reims in Champagne, supervising the second day of the harvest – a job that involves hard-nosed business negotiations (one contracted grower has just threatened to sell his crop to a rival), plenty of charm and trying not to drink every glass pressed into his hand.

Krug owns a tiny, 1.84 hectare vineyard in the village called Clos du Mesnil, protected by the warm walls of the surrounding houses. Although vines were first planted on this spot in 1698, it has only belonged to the Krug family since 1971. “We had no clue what a gem it would be,” says Olivier. “It’s a darling vineyard.”

He bends down to pluck one of the chardonnay grapes. “You see how beautiful they are?” he enthuses. “They are all the same size. Very juicy, a hint of pineapple.”

Could he sell them in the local market, I ask. He laughs: “I think we make more money out of champagne.” Later, I look up 1998 Krug Clos Du Mesnil on the Berry Bros website. It retails at £751.30 for a standard bottle.

As someone who doesn’t know a great deal about wine with bubbles – like many in Britain, I suspect, I glug it happily at weddings, blissfully unaware of whether it’s Prosecco, Cava or something more expensive – I’ve always been sceptical about the champagne industry. How hard can it be: leave some not very good wine to go off; wait for the fizz; put a fancy cork in it; get protection from the EU; quintuple the price. Santé!

After spending a day with Krug for the harvest, however, I realise just how much care, expertise – and, indeed, love – goes into the whole fascinating process.

Julie Cavil, 37, is the wine-maker in charge of Clos Du Mesnil. “We are at the extreme northern limit for wine-growing,” she says. “We get scared every time we watch the weather forecast. Ideally you want everything in moderation – a mild spring, some sun, regular rain, but not storms.”

In 2003 an April frost damaged 80 per cent of the grapes. This year, despite some bruising from a hail storm, they’re looking in excellent shape. And after a warm spring they’re ready for picking earlier than ever. Speed, as always, is of the essence. Wine-makers are fond of sharing the story of a woman who delayed her harvest by a few days so she could attend a wedding. She lost the entire crop.

Krug employs some 40 seasonal pickers, mainly factory workers who have been doing the harvest for generations. “Line sheriffs” gently chivvy along their snapping secateurs. Olivier walks around greeting familiar faces. “It’s not as much fun as it used to be,” he confides, a grin on his face. “There used to be a lot of parties, and a lot of babies born nine months later.”

Olivier, who in accordance with Krug family tradition had a sip of champagne as a newborn baby, before tasting his mother’s milk, used to help with the harvest as a child. Janine, a no-nonsense lady driving a forklift in the courtyard, jokes that he wasn’t much help.

Harvest is a joyful, sociable time in the calendar – but it’s also a hectic one. Candles are lit in the local churches to St Vincent, the patron saint of wine-growers. After the grapes have been picked, they’re loaded, 4,000kg at a time, into a giant pressing machine. Calibrated to squeeze the grapes no harder than if between two fingers – snails and ladybirds caught up in this most organic of fruits always survive the process – it takes four hours to produce 2,550 litres of juice.

The last 500 litres of each press, a more acidic juice known as les tailles, are sold to less discerning houses. The other 2,050 litres – not looking too dissimilar to sewage – are put into oak barrels for eight to 12 days’ fermentation.

They won’t know how good the harvest really is, however, until the wine returns to Krug headquarters, a cobbled courtyard on a quiet street in Reims, which will be its home for at least six years.

Here a tasting committee has the enviable task of trying thousands of wines, including a huge selection of reserve wines stored in vast underground cellars. Unique to Krug is its long-term isolation of wines from different vineyards – even different parts of a vineyard – whereas most champagne houses will mix each year’s harvest together.

This process not only provides invaluable quality control over individual growers, it allows Krug, even in a bad year, to create its signature Krug Grand Cuvée, a blend of 100 or so wines, made of 10-12 vintages, and ideally tasting the same each year.

The attention to detail to produce this is quite remarkable, part-art, part-science; by the time one of those 100 wines reaches a single bottle it might have been in Krug’s cellars for 25 or more years, awaiting its perfect blend. Olivier is able to tell any one of his wine growers that certain grapes they grew eight years ago are in this year’s Grand Cuvée.

Krug makes vintage champagne, too – if less often than its competitors. We try a Krug Clos Du Mesnil 1998 and a Krug 1998, as well as the Grand Cuvée. They inspire Romain Cains, Krug’s business development manager and our charming guide for the day, into paroxysms of delight. The Clos Du Mesnil is “misty on the nose; ethereal; soft; citrus; vanilla; strong, but not aggressive; full of minerality; chalk; touchable; beyond an aromatic nose; precise; neat; impressions of a meringue; like a line going down your chin…”

The Krug 1998 is “pear; pineapple; peach juice that’s all over your face it’s so good.”

He is so endearingly enthusiastic that I have to pretend I, too, can taste the chalky, touchable meringue – as opposed to something nice and chilled and bubbly.

I have a cold. And probably an appalling nose. But I do at least feel wonderfully tipsy. And intent on taking my respectful time over the next glass of wedding champagne.

www.krug.com 

Written by: Iain Hollingshead

Around The World: India Edition Friday October 23rd

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Come experience an incredible evening of food & drinks as we continue our Around The World  event featuring India on Friday October 3rd. Enjoy gourmet  indian cuisine for one night only! Our regular menu will be available but we will also feature an amazing authentic Indian set menu!

 

Book your reservations today, as these events fill up quickly!

The 9 Popular Ingredients Showing Up in Cocktails Right Now

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From mushrooms and kale to oysters and foie gras, it’s safe to say cocktail ingredients have stretched beyond straight spirits and citrus wedges. Bartenders are finding ways to infuse savory substances (think: duck fat–infused mezcal) and sweet (see: fig jam) into atypical libations. Maybe it’s time you make a checklist.

1. No Shrubs

The Sleight of Hand, made with beet-grapefruit shrub. Image: Posana Restaurant

Typically made with fruit juice, sugar and acid (like vinegar), shrubs in cocktails are nothing new, but inventive flavors are popping up everywhere. Posana Restaurant in Asheville, NC offers the Sleight of Hand made with beet-grapefruit shrub; at The Rooftop at The Vendue in Charleston, Tolerating the Beet features beet-cinnamon-ginger shrub. And at Coppa in Boston, beverage director Brittany Casos came up with the Concord Crush, made with concord grape–rosemary shrub.

2. Meat Lovers’ Delight

Ramen-San’s duck fat–infused rye cocktail. Image: Ramen-San

As savory as a beverage can get, broths and meat are finding their way into cocktails. (We predicted it earlier this year.) At Ramen-San in Chicago, the team found a way to infuse duck fat into Rittenhouse Rye by steeping roasted duck skins in the rye for 72 hours. The result? A Tribe Called Quack Whisky Sour. At Pistola in Los Angeles, find From The Kitchen With Love, a sipping broth cocktail made with lamb consommé and only found on the spot’s secret cocktail menu.

3. Dairy Queens

House-made ricotta provides the whey for this frothy cocktail. Image: Mezzanine

Milk and eggs are one thing but when yogurt and cheese find their way into drinks, it gets interesting. At the Baldwin Bar at Sichuan Garden in Massachusetts, the I Put a Spell On You cocktail is made with Greek yogurt as is Get Her To The Greek, found at Capa Restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando. The bartender at the Mezzanine at LA Chapter uses whey as a frothing agent instead of egg white in making the Amaretto Sour. The whey is a by-product of the ricotta made in-house and is mixed with a bit of half and half.

4. Up in Smoke

The Smoked Hibiscus Aviation at Cameo. Image: Cameo

At Cameo Bar at Viceroy Santa Monica, bartender Gary Cahill incorporates hibiscus smoke into his version of an aviation (the Smoked Hibiscus Aviation) by smoking hibiscus tea leaves, filtering the smoke into a glass bottle and sealing shut. The cocktail is strained into a glass bottle filled with smoke, shaken and served. The Flaming Ramirez, made and named for bartender David Ramirez, is topped with an ancho chile set on fire before getting dunked in the cocktail. Find it at Ruggles Black in Houston.

5. Health Kicks

Bee pollen is the perfect garnish for this honey cocktail. Image: Public

While green juice mixed with booze is one way of incorporating health into cocktails, we’re now seeing even more out there ingredients. At Public in New York City, Eben Freeman has created Smokey The Bee, which uses bee pollen as a garnish to emphasize the drink’s honey notes. At The Spare Room in Hollywood, beverage director Yael Vengroff utilizes coconut oil in a fat-washed Aylesbury Duck Vodka and incorporates the result into her creations.

6. Better Butter

The Brown Butter Camarena Reposado. Image: Xixa

If Paula Deen taught us anything, it’s that everything is better with butter. Bartenders have taken note and at the Slurping Turtle, a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, they serve Staring at the Sun, a cocktail made with fig butter. At Xixa in Brooklyn, the Brown Butter Camarena Reposado is made with tequila infused with brown butter and served neat.

7. Saline Solution

House-pickled onions make the Silvertone cocktail. Image: Midnight Rambler

Bartenders are finding new ways to utilize salt in their creations (see pickle salt, coffee salt and worm salt). Some are taking it one step further. Eben Klemm, partner and beverage director at King Bee in New York City, created The Nast, made with soy sauce and at the Midnight Rambler in Dallas, Crazy Water is used in drinks to increase the minerality: The Silvertone is garnished with house-pickled onions for extra bite.

8. Powders, Baby

The Pillow Talk is crafted with toasted milk solids. Image: The Gorbals

Dried and dusted is the way to garnish cocktails these days, and Petrossian in West Hollywood has found a way to do exactly that with caviar. The Caviar-tini is an update on the martini and made with, yes, caviar powder. At Café Clover in New York City, the Harajuku Gimlet incorporates matcha powder into its house-made yuzu cordial and over in Brooklyn at The Gorbals, beverage director Christine Kang has crafted a cocktail featuring toasted milk solids, called Pillow Talk.

9. Everything Else

The Aguacatero is rimmed with worm salt. Image: Tacoteca

In New York City, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse uses snow (yes, really) in its Snowed In Negroni. For obvious flair, the Sparkle Plenty served at the Swizzle Stick Bar in New Orleans is made with house-made gold dust bitters. And at Tacoteca in Los Angeles, the Aguacatero is garnished with chapulines (seasoned and cooked Mexican grasshoppers) and rimmed with worm salt (ground up gusano worms with rock salt and chiles).

Written by: Source: www.Liquor.com

Around The World: France Edition September 4th

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Come experience an incredible evening of food & drinks as we continue our Around The World series as we feature France on Friday September 4th. Leave Edmonton for a night and dine like you are in Paris! Our regular menu will be available but we will also feature an amazing authentic french cuisine set menu which includes Escargot & coquille st jacque along with a few other surprises!

 

Cliff Lede Vineyards, Napa Valley

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Owner Cliff Lede, Vineyard Architect David Abreu and Winemaker Chris Tynan have come together to form an unrivalled team, making the most of this remarkable property.

Completed in 2005, the gravity-flow winery boasts a berry-by-berry sorting system and conical tanks commissioned using a design inspired by the tanks of Château Latour. One tank per vineyard block ensures each lot evolves at its own pace and acres of caves with single-layer barrel storage ensure access to each barrel at all times. No corner has been cut.

The winery produces Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The flagship, Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, is crafted from the steep hillside portion of the estate. The land, the talent, the tools and the passion: Cliff Lede Vineyards, a notable addition to the Stags Leap District.

ESTATE VINEYARDS

STAGS LEAP DISTRICT

Our sixty acres of vineyards stretch from our valley floor Twin Peaks Ranch to the steep hillside terraces of the Poetry Vineyard.

The valley floor vineyard that encircles our winery is known as the Twin Peaks Ranch. More varied in soil type than our hillside property, we farm small bespoke blocks comprised of a selection of root stocks, clonal selections and varietals. This property forms the backbone of the Cliff Lede Cabernet program.

The steep, southwest-facing hillside portion of the property is known as the Poetry Vineyard. Reaching from the highest elevation of the Stags Leap Appellation down to the valley floor, this is a high exposure site. These blocks boast a gritty combination of shallow soils atop fractured shales with low-yielding old vines of Cabernet Sauvignon.