Coco Chanel, Bette Davis, Oscar Wilde, Madame de Pompadour, Marlene Dietrich, Winston Churchill. A list of famous Champagne fans reads like a line out of Madonna’s song “Vogue,” and last month marked the 2nd Annual La Fête du Champagne, a celebration of the iconic French wine region whose name is synonymous with glamour.
Held in New York City, the event is the brainchild of Daniel Johnnes, Wine Director of Chef Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group, and Peter Liem, American wine critic and world-renowned Champagne expert. Much like Johnnes’s Burgundian Bacchanalia “La Paulée,” La Fête paid homage to the Champagne region over three glorious days of revelry, featuring many of Champagne’s most esteemed producers and world-class Chefs and Sommeliers.
Perhaps the jewel in La Fête’s crown this year was a special dinner held at New York’s revered Daniel restaurant featuring the wines of Krug Champagne, a house whose wines are often equated to “haute couture” due to their unwavering attention to detail and commitment to excellence. Accompanying his wines was Olivier Krug, representing the 6th generation of the family who founded the legendary House in 1843. Also featured were Chef Arnaud Lallement, Chef and owner of both the 3 Michelin-starred restaurant, A. Lallement, and hotel, L’Assiette Champenoise in Reims and of course, our host for the evening, the esteemed Chef Daniel Boulud. Having had the pleasure of visiting Krug and staying at L’Assiette recently (for more on our visit, please click here), we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to experience the duo stateside.
Upon arriving at Daniel on an unseasonably warm November evening, we were greeted with glasses of Krug Grande Cuvée poured en magnum – not a bad way to start any evening! Johnnes and Liem’s event had warranted the attendance of many of the industry’s best somms, including Boulud’s own Raj Vaidya, Michael Madrigale, Edouard Bourgeois and Ian Hood as well as other notable names in the world of wine Master Sommelier Larry Stone, Eric Railsback and Patrick Cappiello among others. Passed hors d’oeuvres paired brilliantly with the Grande Cuvée and primed our palates for the deliciousness to come. As guests mixed and mingled, Chef Boulud playfully cradled a signed jeroboam of Krug Grande Cuvée while Lallement deftly handled a Champagne saber. Both were to be auctioned off later in the weekend to benefit ment’or, a nonprofit organization founded by Chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Jérôme Bocuse at the urging of legendary French Chef Paul Bocuse. The organization is devoted to inspiring culinary excellence and preserving the traditions and quality of American cuisine.
The evening’s 5-course menu began decadently (was there any other way?) with a duo of caviar from Chef Lallement. First, a delightful black tin of caviar was accompanied by the classic accoutrements of blinis, crème fraîche and a wedge of lemon. Paired with the course were two Krug Champagnes, the 2000 Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs and 2000 Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs. While from the same vintage, the two wines represent a yin and yang of sorts. The Clos du Mesnil is made exclusively from Chardonnay harvested from the eponymous, 1.84 hectare, walled vineyard located in the heart of Mesnil-sur-Oger, one of the most iconic villages for Chardonnay in the Champagne region. The Clos d’Ambonnay, on the other hand, is made entirely from Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay. This similarly tiny, walled vineyard plot dates back to 1766 and is located on the southeastern slope of the Montagne de Reims. The two fifteen year old Champagnes showed beautifully and while clearly aging with grace, both are still incredibly fresh and youthful. The Clos d’Ambonnay slightly edged out the Clos du Mesnil in pairing with the first caviar, perhaps due to the wine’s richer body and texture which synergized with the luxurious mouthfeel of the sturgeon roe. The second incarnation of caviar featured a decadent quenelle of roe atop creamy potato puree with haddock foam (shown above) which favored the acidity of the Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs.
While the first two Champagnes were crafted from one grape and one vineyard from one year, the next duo were quite different. The Krug 2000 is a blend of the three classic Champagne grapes (43% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier) from a variety of carefully selected plots from only one year. It represents a pure expression of the 2000 vintage, an exciting, chaotic year dubbed gourmandise orageuse or “stormy indulgence” by the house. The Krug Grande Cuvée (recreated in 2000) on the other hand was a blend of 118 base wines from 10 different years; the oldest vintage was from 1990, the youngest, 2000. Every bottle of Krug Champagne now features an iD code on the back which, when entered into the Krug website, provides a wealth of information on the wine including tasting notes from Chef de Caves, Eric Lebel, grape varieties used, disgorgement date as well as serving temperature and food pairing recommendations. Some wines even include a musical pairing which for the Krug 2000 is Keziah Jones’s song “Lunar” – how’s that for attention to detail? The two wines paired deliciously with Chef Boulud’s Scallop Saint Jacques with fennel, espelette pepper and orange sanguine.
Chef Lallement’s next offering was a succulent, perfectly cooked Halibut with Oignon Paille Vin Jaune which was paired with only one wine, the 1988 Krug Champagne. In contrast to the 2000, the ’88 is predominantly Pinot Noir (50%), followed by Chardonnay (32%) and Pinot Meunier (18%) and the bottle served at the dinner was one of only 200 bottles kept at the House until 2015, well after the vintage was released, to gain “additional refinement and complexity.” The wine’s rich body and opulent, yet elegant flavors of apple galette, hazelnut, mandarin orange and spice made a delightful accompaniment for the delectable halibut. Krug’s passion for his family’s wines was evident throughout the dinner as he commented on each course, sharing details about Krug history and founder Joseph Krug’s unwavering dedication to excellence. “The good house should offer two Champagnes of same quality with the same level of production…there is no hierarchy.” He also shared, “There are times you might be tempted to keep elements of mediocre quality and it might work when you blend, it might work out but you should never rely on this option! Otherwise you might…lose your reputation. At Krug, there is no compromise on quality!”
Our final savory course of the evening was Chef Boulud’s Veaux de Lait with Quenelle aux Ceps and Sabayon au Champagne paired with the Krug Rosé en jeroboam. This particular bottle was a blend of 56% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 14% Pinot Meunier, bottled in the Spring of 2014, after resting quietly in the Krug cellars for eight years. The heady aromatics of this Champagne never cease to release a surge of endorphins into my bloodstream, with fragrant notes of wild strawberry, freshly baked brioche and spice! Skin-fermented Pinot Noir imparts the wine’s seductive pink color which, together with its fine, lively bead of bubbles, is the vinous equivalent of a strip tease. On the palate, this wine delivered everything it promised and the pairing was exquisite. When commenting on this particular cuvée, Krug expounded on a comment made by a certain celebrity who has been very forthcoming about her infatuation with Krug Rosé Champagne. Of course I’m talking about my own personal idol, Madonna, who has confessed her guilty pleasure is enjoying Krug Rosé and french fries. To hear Krug’s comment on this, please watch the video below – I agree with his perspective 100%!
To cap off the evening, we enjoyed the Krug Collection 1985 en magnum paired with a generous wedge of Vivace, a small production, mixed-milk cheese from fromage goddess Soyoung Scanlan’s artisanal Andante Dairy in California. The delightful cheese had a thin, bloomy rind encasing a dense, rich paste which echoed the luxurious, nuanced texture of the Champagne. This offering displayed the beautiful patina of age with notes of toffee, honey, gingerbread and spice with a hint of white truffle and hazelnut on the lengthy finish. Aged Champagne is always a special thing but aged Krug is something else entirely – it is surely what is served as you are ushered into the pearly gates!
As far as wine events go, La Fête du Champagne‘s decadent Krug dinner was truly a food and Champagne lover’s mic drop moment. After kicking off the weekend with this heavenly dinner I couldn’t help but wonder how the other events would compare. Thankfully, this wonderful dinner, while the highlight, set a standard of excellence which was sustained throughout the weekend by a variety of well-curated events and seminars, but more on that later this week.