I wear a tuxedo once a year. I used to rent a tux but several years ago I bought one. It made sense. My tux has paid for itself in saved rental fees. Still, when you own one, it’s nice to be able to take it out more than once a year to be with others of its kind.
That’s why I was pleased to learn a dinner I’d agreed to attend would be a black tie affair. I was invited by Krug Champagne to attend a champagne dinner (the first ever held in St. John’s) at Raymonds.
Krug champers, by the way, is not sold in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The fact that its bubbly is not sold in this province has not gone unnoticed by the House of Krug, one of Champagne’s luxury houses. The dinner, and making the rounds to visit players in the industry, was part of Krug’s campaign to encourage our liquor commission to sell Krug products.
The dinner was hosted by Eric Lebel, Chef de Caves of the House of Krug. It’s an important sounding title because Lebel has the most important job at Krug. He’s the guy who actually makes the champagne, which is, after all, one of the finest champagnes in the world.
The first thing I noticed at the dinner was that the champagne was not being served in champagne flutes.
That’s the tall thin glass with the narrow rim, thought for years to be the perfect champagne glass because it concentrates the bubbles so they last longer.
Lebel told us that several years ago the House of Krug smashed all of its champagne flutes, abandoning forever the notion that champagne should be served in such a glass. With the help of the Riedel Glass Company they created what they believe is the “perfect” wine glass.
It’s called, the Joseph, after the founder of the House of Krug, Joseph Krug.
Essentially it’s a white Burgundy glass, fat with a wide rim.
So, why such a departure?
Wider is better
Lebel said real champagne holds its bubbles anyway, and the important aspect of enjoying champagne is to be able to get your nose down in the glass to appreciate the beautiful aromas coming off this premium wine.
Jeremy Bonia, Raymonds’ sommelier, agrees.
“All the wineries in Champagne are pouring in wider glasses now,” he said.
“The champagne really shows its full flavour profile, and the aromas are much more prevalent in the wider glass versus the flute, which tends to mute the flavour of the wine. Raymonds has already switched its glasses.”
Lebel told us that of the cuvées (types of champagne) he makes for Krug, the Krug Grande Cuvée is most important because “it is the reason for the House of Krug.”
Joseph Krug felt that great-tasting champagne should be available every year, not just in years of perfect weather and exceptional harvests.
To accomplish this he decided that he would, on an ongoing basis, stockpile wines from truly great years and then, annually, blend these reserved wines with the best quality wines available on any given year.
This way he could maintain a constant supply of a top-quality champagne, and he called it, Krug Grande Cuvée.
Our first course was an arrangement of small appetite enhancers: St. Simon oyster with cucumber pearls, foie gras and rhubarb (sensational) Iberico chorizo, and scallop tartare with beef suet fried potato chip and Acadian sturgeon caviar.
The bites were served with Krug Grande Cuvée. It was a lesson in how beautifully Grande Cuvée can pair with many textures and tastes: salt, sweet, tangy, umami, crisp, dense, soft, and gelatinous.
Bonia says champagne is “very versatile in regards to matching with different flavours of food,” adding, “I’ve had champagne pair well with everything from sushi to curries.”
Next came a plate featuring a Trinity Bay diver scallop with its roe (which had been roasted), parsnip purée, roasted parsnip, grilled mushroom, charred green onion and mushroom sauce.
You’ll often see scallop served with roe in Europe, but not here.
I was happy that Raymonds chose to include the delicacy for us. Pan-roasted scallop and parsnip purée make great partners.
The scallop dish was paired with my favourite champagne of the night, Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000. Clos du Mesnil has an aging capacity of, according to Lebel, “at least two to three decades.”
It is a blanc de blancs, meaning it is made from only the white grape, Chardonnay.
This was an extraordinary wine with exciting, dynamic aromas: fresh citrus, herbs, honey and a touch of smoke, all rushing up out of the glass at once.
The parade of courses continued with halibut with lobster, crispy veal sweetbreads, golden mille-feuille potato and creamed spinach; and then it was Point Leamington Farm piglet, roasted Jerusalem artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke purée, savoy cabbage, roasted onion and pork jus. Both courses were outstanding.
Krug Vintage 2000 and 2003 were served with these plates and made good pairings. Both wines were similar in that they were made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
Lebel told a fascinating story about the 2003 vintage. There had been a mild winter in 2003 but a hard frost in April of that year.
“After this frost we had tremendous heat,” he said.
“Throughout Europe it was very, very hot. Harvest started on the 23rd of August for Krug. Usually it lasts until mid-September. We thought we would find grapes that were over mature, very bold, very powerful because of the heat. While some of them were over ripe and quite bold, a lot of them were actually under ripe because, to protect themselves from the heat, they had stopped the photosynthesis process.”
Despite the unusual weather, and the fact that the harvest had to happen in two different stages, because of the under-ripe fruit, Lebel found qualities in those grapes that made him think the 2003 vintage had the potential to produce a champagne worthy of being sold.
A perfect example of the role intuition plays in the art of wine making. Lebel could only imagine what that champagne would taste like 10 years on.
He made the right decision.
Our evening finished with a light and creamy rhubarb and strawberry dessert paired with Krug Rosé.
This was my second favourite champagne of the event. Despite one of the Krug elders saying, “rosé is for ladies’ bars and birthday parties; we are not going to make rosé,” eventually Henri Krug, a man of vision, decided to make the blend.
It’s a delicate, very pale pink champagne with peppery notes and the fresh aromas of ripe red fruit and pink grapefruit.
I loved it, as well as the previously mentioned fine blanc de blancs, Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one day we’ll be able to buy Krug Champagne locally.
Meanwhile, my memories of that wonderful champagne dinner at Raymonds will have to keep me going.
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian
Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through
his website, www.karlwells.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells.