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Q&A: Olivier Krug on why a glass of champagne is always better with music

The music you listen to can change the way your brain perceives the flavours from a glass of champagne. This unorthodox statement was broached to Olivier Krug at a conference in Malaysia, and the statement soon grew into a reality known as the Krug Music Experience, a music and champagne pairing programme that is now integral to the brand identity of the illustrious champagne house that bears his family name.

krug and music
A golden wave.

While most champagne producers feed consumers a romantic idea of preserving the traditions of winemaking in modernity, Krug’s foray into music has allowed the brand to market itself in a unique, and decidedly more intriguing manner.

Every bottle of Krug you buy now comes with a personal numeric code that, when entered into the complimentary Krug ID app, generates a dedicated playlist designed by a musician. What you are then meant to do is to revel in the playlist as you drink from the bottle, and try to experience how the champagne’s taste evolves as you receive aural pleasure.

krug and music
Olivier Krug.

This new form of champagne degustation is not to suggest that Krug is divorced from the traditions set by its founder Joseph Krug at all. The champagne house retains its unique practice of blending its Grande Cuvée with an extensive palette of wines, each created from a single plot. This is to ensure that the final product stays true to Krug’s ethos — that its Grande Cuvée is the fullest expression of champagne in any given year. But tradition is not an endpoint for how the house defines itself.

“Everything we do, in terms of craft, is in service of a goal,” Olivier Krug, Director de la Maison of Krug explained. “We are not selling you a craft. We are selling you pleasure.”

We recently got to experience the pleasurable union between Krug and music again, at the tasting of the latest 166th Édition of the Grande Cuvée — and it was enlightening. The light golden liquid, made from 140 wines across 13 different years, is a sparkling medley of toasted brioche, hazelnut and citrus notes that exemplifies the kind of pleasure Krug spoke of when talking about the brand.

krug and music
The Krug Grande Cuvée 166ème Edition.

It was then paired with a bubbly new-age track that formed a musical parallel to the champagne’s effervescence. As the track poured out of the Devialet speakers, it was as if someone turned up the volume on the citrus and mineral notes in the wine. A collision between a contemporary approach to champagne and music, as well as the storied practice of recreating the Krug Grande Cuvée for the 166th time in a row, danced across our taste buds.

“For me, tradition is not the past. Tradition is tomorrow. It is not a museum, it is the future,” said Krug. As profound as the statement is, we can’t help but believe the simple act of listening to music while drinking champagne perfectly captures its meaning.

Read on as we discuss the Krug Music Experience with Olivier Krug.

What should people feel when they have a glass of Krug?

I would like to quote an anecdote. I was driving my daughter, Blanche, to school one day, and [the radio] was playing a piece of classical music. She asked me, “Daddy, what is this music?” So I turned back to her and said, “why are you asking this, my dear?” She answered, “Because I can hear all the instruments.” She was eight years old, she knew nothing about classical music at all.

This is what I am asking people to do every time they taste a glass of Krug champagne. This is the champagne for which you do not need to be an expert, because, like music, it has been crafted to connect with your senses. When you drink a glass of Krug, your brain does not have to process it. It is supposed to incite your pleasure.

Is there a right way to drink Krug, though?

Of course. The champagne has to be served at the proper temperature, so not too cold.  You also need champagne to be served in a proper glass, so never ever in a flute, because it is too narrow. It’s as if you’re going to the opera with earplugs. 

Once you have done that, you take a sip of Krug, and you can feel that it fills your mouth. It’s very intense, very rich, You have a firework of aromas and tastes. That is Krug.

How did the Krug Musical Experience come about?

We once met a man in a conference in Malaysia who spoke about the connection between music and taste. The man managing Krug in Hong Kong then came up with an idea of a champagne dinner organised by musicians. 

Here is an example of what happened during the dinner. We came into the room, and they offered us a glass of Krug Clos du Mesnil. It is the purest form of champagne, so a violinist played, and the champagne tasted higher, more intense. And as we moved through champagnes, different musicians performed, and that was really the start of our music pairing experience.

krug and music
Entering the Krug ID into the app.
Was that the first time you had champagne paired with music?

It was the first time I knew about the effect, yes. At Krug now, we are building a music shower room to ensure that the music we pair with our champagne is done in the best way possible.

We are also working with a French music research institute, the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) for the project, and they spent a lot of time with us to work on this project. We’ve given them access to our tasting notes, and they have also worked with a semiologist to translate the words we use to describe champagne into music. We’ve really gone very far with the music experience.

Are there any rules you follow when creating a musical experience?

We try not to take ourselves too seriously. I did a music and champagne pairing once at a top wine and food festival in California, and I had to plan it all by myself. We had seven or eight champagnes paired with different songs, and for the last one, I paired Krug Rosé with a Jimi Hendrix song. I got a standing ovation. The song choice was unusual, but it worked.

Are there any dream musicians you wish could be part of the Krug music experience?

David Bowie would have been very cool, or Serge Gainsbourg, because he’s a maverick character and a Krug lover. I’ve had at least three people tell me Serge Gainsbourg loved Krug.

krug and music
We heartily agree that Bowie would’ve been a fantastic addition to the Krug Music Experience in his lifetime.
Do you ever have people tell you that they don't feel any different when they drink champagne with music?

Well, they don’t tell me personally! There are a few like that though. It usually comes from people who take themselves, and wine tasting, too seriously.

It is important to remember we are not trying to replace champagne tasting with musical tasting. It is an additional dimension.

Finally, what does champagne mean to you, personally?

Business and pleasure. It is my soul and my home.

Beatrice Bowers
Features Editor
Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.