JJ Prüm – Riesling Royalty
German Rieslings are notoriously difficult to decipher. The classification is based on the amount of sugar in the grapes – the higher up you go, the more potential alcohol and the more sugar, or sweetness is left in the wine, which is referred to as residual sugar:
Kabinett – light in body with high acidity and a touch of sweetness
Spatlese – means late harvest, often fuller in body and medium sweet
Auslese – more body and more tropical flavours.
Beerenauslese – individually selected, over-ripe grapes
Trockenbeerenauslese – even more concentrated, more sweet, and more expensive!
The word Trocken on a German wine label means dry – these are becoming more popular these days as wines from the German regions are becoming popular again.
I’ve rambled on a fair amount about the joys of Riesling over past few months. I’ve written about Riesling from the Old World and the New World, but its mainly been about young wines with lots of bright fruity freshness and razor sharp acidity. I’ve never written about aged Riesling. In truth I haven’t had much experience of aged Riesling…
… Until I attended a tasting of wines from legendary German estate JJ Prüm at West London Wine School earlier this week. The Prüm family have had a presence in The Mosel region for over 400 years. The estate was founded in 1911 by Johann Josef Prüm and has 33.5 acres of vineyards planted only with only Riesling. The wines are characterised by their purity of fruit as well as by their distinctive mineral character, and have a reputation for ageing superbly.
The Fish is also a big fan of Rieslings and she joined me at the tasting, which was arranged as a series of flights. I’ve written recently about how I like to taste wines in pairs so this was right up my street. And the wines? Just wow. Read on for a full rundown of the 9 wines we tried and look at the prices; for fine wines they are remarkably good value, especially if your benchmark is Bordeaux or Burgundy.
The first two wines were Kabinetts from the Wehlener (the town) Sonnenuhr (the “sundial” vineyard). Kabinetts are generally thought as having a lifespan of about 5 years from the harvest, but the 1996 showed that even at this level, JJ Prüm wines are made to last.
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling 2011 (The Wine Society £18.00)
Delightful nose of sweet red apples with hints of citrus and tropical fruits. What hits you straightaway when you taste is the mouthwatering acidity and the flavour of apple skin, white peach and a dash of sweet pineapple. The palate is clean and fresh with a lovely off-dry finish. Delightful balance. 91 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling 1996 (KL Wines £24.95)
Wow. The nose has intense concentrated aromas of apricot, mandarin and that wonderful whiff of petrol you get from aged Riesling. On the palate the wine is still so fresh; its so clean, almost glacial in texture, with flavours of lime and green apple, maybe a hint of pastry, tarte-tatin perhaps? The balance of off-dry sweetness and precise acid is utterly stunning. Best value wine of the night by a long stretch. 94 points
The next set of wines were from the same Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard, but this time at the Spatlese level – you’ll see from my notes that I preferred the Kabinetts… I can be a really cheap date sometimes!
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling 2009 (The Wine Society £21.00)
Lots if chalky minerality on the nose here but I’m struggling to get a great deal of fruit, maybe some apple and apricot? What’s very different to the Kabinetts is the fuller body of the wine in the mouth and the fruit is mainly limes with a touch of peach and apricot. The texture is very nice with plenty of chalky stone, with a rich mouthfeel and medium sweetness level. Still very young for a Spatlese and very closed at the moment. 91+
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling 1999 (no UK stockist)
So what does 10 more years do? The first impression are the petrol aromas but quickly complimented with hints of tropical fruit and a touch of honey sweetness. The palate has lovely texture and body but there isn’t the acidity of the previous wines and the sugar feels unbalanced. There’s some nice mango and pineapple fruit but this wine certainly has a better texture than flavour. 90 points
The next pair contained my wine of the night. We moved up to Auslese level and compared two different vineyards from the highly rated 2005 vintage. The first again from Wehlener Sonnenuhr, the second from Graacher Himmelreich, translated as “the kingdom of Heaven”… And boy is it!
JJ Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Auslese Riesling 2005 (Fine & Rare £45.20)
Oh yes! Aromas of ripe mango and apricot and its oh so concentrated and intense – so aromatic but with a delightful slate minerality in the background. On the palate the acid is like a rapier cutting through the sweetness of mangoes, limes, peaches and apricots and the subtle slate underpinning it all. The wine just has the most sublime balance of sweetness and acidity. This is masterful and the best Riesling this wine fan has ever drunk. 95 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2005 (Fine & Rare £52.80)
This has so much mineral and petroleum on the nose that I’m slightly missing the fruit, which is hiding in the background – some citrus and a touch of the tropical. The amazing thing is how it all changes in the mouth where its all about the tropical fruit, very sweet with honey and marmalade and just a bit of supporting minerality. Just doesn’t have the balance of the Graacher with just a bit too much emphasis on the sweetness. 91 points
For the last set of 3 wines, we remained at Auslese level from Wehlener Sonnenuhr, tasting a further 3 vintages, which highlighted the consistently high quality of the winemaking at JJ Prüm.
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2003 (Fine & Rare £38.40)
Another delightful nose of mineral chalkiness but with plenty of peach, apricot and tropical fruit to the fore. There’s a chalky, almost tannic texture here which really is delicious and all of that fruit I could smell is there in abundance. This is the wine most suited to desserts yet and there was some lemon tart on the able that was a delightful match. Marvellous and magnificent value for this quality of wine. 93 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2001 (Lay & Wheeler £50.00)
The aromas are jumping out of my glass and its lots of developed tropical goodness, balanced by the chalky minerals I’m growing to love. This has enormous levels of acidity and a surprisingly light texture. Unfortunately for me there is just too much acid and not enough sweetness… But I’m being very picky as I’m loving the peach and apricot a lot. This got the most votes for wine of the night (if not mine!) 92 points
JJ Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 1988 (No UK stockist)
The first thing to mention about the ’88 is the deep golden colour, which is quite magnificent. The second is the unpleasant smell! It smells musky and mouldy and I was convinced it was cork taint. If you’re brave enough to keep your nose in there it is very nutty and you can get some peach and apricot fruit. But on the palate it is marvellous! Lots of pithy, zesty orange, marmalade perhaps and them some sweet nectarine. In the mouth its so pure and glacial in texture and still so fresh with that wonderful balance of medium sweetness and still bags of laser- guided acidity. Just get over the smell, you’ll be rewarded for your bravery! 93 points