In the wake of this week's political upsets emanating from the E.U., with the resignation of Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and with the potential re-election of Silvio Berlusconi, it would seem that J.J. Prüm is one of the last standing stable institutions in the E.U., to offer consistency from year to year. With anywhere from 8 to 15 wines produced each year, J.J. Prüm relies on vintage to determine what wines are made. "In some years," said Katharina Prüm, "like 2006, there's no Kabinett." A humid, warm year, 2006 brought lots of botrytis, yielding excellent quality wines, but no Kabinett and very little Spätlese. However, despite these fluctuations in production, one can always be sure that an Auslese Wehlener Sonnenuhr will offer consistent depictions of the vineyard's terroir despite the vintage, which is more than what can be said for the promises of politicians.
Last Friday, we hosted a luncheon with Katharina Prüm, where we tasted through a number of wines from the 2011 vintage. With a warm April, 2011 offered early flowering followed by a cool summer that extended into fall, which suited the likes of Prüm just fine. "We like the long vegetation period to develop flavors and aromas of the wine," said Katharina. Harvesting earlier than normal, but not much, Prüm released wines with an "interesting interplay of mineral and fruit.
"This year has all the components," added Katharina, "it's a balanced vintage that's quite accessible already in its youth, with good ripeness that's not over ripe." Elegant and versatile, this is a vintage that Katharina suggested could easily introduce newcomers to the estate's wines, with Kabinetts that are dry, especially on the finish.
With the percentage of Kabinetts and Ausleses changing each year, Prüm "decides [the harvest date of] each parcel by tasting the grapes every day." But, as Katharina said, "What really makes these wines are the minerals" in the soil.
"This slate [pictured above] is the firmer one," said Katharina, "but there's another that's more decomposed. It looks the same, but it can break in your hand...As the roots work their way and dig down, the softer spots allow the roots to dig deep." A god-send in vintages like 2003, which was warm, but not as hot as in France or Spain. "The vines were ripe and healthy and not suffering from a lack of water, which surprised me," added Katharina. "We'd never experienced so many days of heat." Despite the fact that a walk through the vineyards burned the soles of feet, Katharina emphasized that this is one vintage that is often overlooked. And after tasting the J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese 2003, with its delicate notes of white flowers, petrol and ripe stone fruit tart, we couldn't agree more.
After harvesting by hand, parcel by parcel, Prüm quickly presses to minimize skin contact. "We want the pure thing with little skin contact," said Katharina, "to not take the purity and charm from the wines." And while sometimes it might takes weeks for the fermentations to start, commercial yeasts are never added to the tank. Varying from barrel to barrel, the fermentations can take weeks or months to complete. Without the added pressure to implement certain bottling dates for the wine's entry into fairs, Katharina said, "We let the wine take its time, depending on the character of the vintage."
Emphasizing the versatility of the wines in aging, Katharina said that she likes a young Kabinett as an aperitif; an older vintage with foods, though with spicy dishes the wine shouldn't have so much age that it hides the fruit, and with pure, simple dishes she prefers older vintages. "The beauty is that you can taste them at different ages."
J.J. Prüm Riesling Kabinett 2011 - Racy and zippy acidity with teutonic plates of slate beneath ripe stone, apricot fruit.
J.J. Prüm Graacher Himmel Kabinett 2011 - Light spice on the nose with laser acidity and slate rock splitting fresh stone fruit. Honeysuckle floral notes greet the finish, while minerality lingers.
J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenur Kabinett 2011 - Aromas of fresh ginger and stone cut through ripe pit fruit with acidity that carries a high note through the finish.
J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2011 - Super ripe juicy fruit, apricot blossom and honey, balanced by bracing acidity that balances beauty.
J.J. Prüm Bernkasteler Auslese 2010 - Rich floral ginger aromas with ripe fruit and citrus acidity that goes long on the palate.
J.J. Prüm Riesling Kabinett 1987 - Amazing freshness with petrol aromas, puckering acidity and RS that folds into the fruit. And while Katharina specified that 1987 wasn't as ripe of a vintage as 2011 and 2012, she expected that these latter vintages would age even better. Wow.
J.J. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett 2007 - From a vintage that was warm, like 2011, "This is a wine to show people who think that riesling is sweet," said Katharina, "because it finishes dry."
J.J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2008 - "This is one of our favorite vintages," said Katharina. "I show them at home and people are surprised," and then they ask for more. Light and elegant, "this is something that can only be [from] Mosel," she added. With vibrant acidity, there's slate on the nose, apricot and zippy citrus acidity. So balanced and lovely, the 2008 W.S. Auslese has a beautiful mouth feel that won't soon be forgotten.
For additional notes on the 2010 vintage, visit Lyle Fass at Rockss and Fruit.