Uncorking the House of Krug

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My colleagues know me so well. When a wine-related book lands on our giveaway book shelf, it eventually finds its way to my desk. Some books I already have copies of, some I’ve been hearing about for months prior to publication and then there are the surprises, like this one.

I don’t follow the Champagne world too closely, or buy too much of it, but I have several friends who do. Among their favorites: Krug. There have been at least four gatherings in the last six months where we’ve popped Krug’s corks.

So when I saw the book cover of Champagne, Uncorked: The House of Krug and the Timeless Allure of the World’s Most Celebrated Drink, I immediately started reading. A week later, I feel like I’ve taken a crash course in both France’s Champagne region, and how Krug expertly blends 100-plus wines into a Grand Cuvee bottling.

Champagne Uncorked is a fascinating read, interweaving the ancestry of the 170-year-old Krug business with the multi-century history of the region and evolution of the the drink itself from a not-so-bubbly still wine to the glass of foamy vin mousseux we pour today.

From the days of King Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte, to the Nazi occupation of the region during World War II, to Champagne’s popularity among music moguls like Jay Z, Alan Tardi’s account also blends in Champagne’s cultural significance and details of Krug’s success meeting the needs of the changing times and its consumers.

Krug’s modern-day evolution from a tightly-run family business to one that maintains those strict values even though it’s succumbed to modern-day corporate titans, is also the story of a company who once protected its recipe and buried its records to one of increasing transparency.

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Today, those who drink Krug’s Grand Cuvee can enter a code in the company’s website and find out exactly what went into that bottle. From this example on the Krug website, a single bottle is only partly described as “a blend of 142 wines from 11 different years, the oldest from 1990 and the youngest from 2006.”

(I almost wonder if Tardi’s unprecedented access to write this book may be part of Krug CEO Margareth Henríquez’s transformative plans – discussed at the end of the book – to ensure the House of Krug stays relevant and prosperous in the modern age.)

Lacing together the different time periods and themes of this book isn’t easy for a writer, but Tardi found a nice balance for most of the book. He excels particularly well in the narrative of how Krug is produced today – and that’s where I found the most joy.

Standing in the vineyards inspecting the parcels, or during the fury of Harvest or standing among the cascading barrels in the cellar, he transports the reader to not just Champagne, but creates a wonderful journey in the details and precision necessary to create the Grand Cuvee. It’s nearly impossible not to be in awe of the House’s ability to consistently make a beautiful and unique glass of Champagne.

If you have a bottle of Champagne (even if it’s not Krug), pop it open as you read this book. You’ll gain a much deeper appreciation for each bubble that rises to the surface and be amazed at the depth of not just it’s structure, but its story.

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