Wildzwijn met Auslese is bij Prüm gewoon
Als het om ‘s werelds duurste wijnen gaat, duikt de naam van de Duitse producent J.J.Prüm nogal eens op. Samen met dochter Katharina leidt Manfred het topbedrijf in Wehlen aan de Moezel. Vader en dochter zijn doctor, maar dat heeft niets met wijn te maken. Wèl met rechtsgeleerdheid. Prüm maakt een befaamde TBA, waarvan je voor een eenvoudig maandsalaris nog geen doos in de kelder krijgt. Wijnkenner Stuart Pigott verdiepte zich in dit wijnmakersleven en geeft dat voor Wine-Searcher weer in tien punten.
No. 1. Mosel idol:
Take a look at Wine-Searcher's summary of the world's 50 most expensive wines, and you'll find that none has as many white wines listed as Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm. This estate, located in the village of Wehlen in Germany's Mosel wine region, is also known to wine lovers around the world as “J.J. Prüm,” or simply “J.J.”
Its Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) takes 6th place in the most-expensive list, with an average price of $5,647. At no. 32 is the estate's Riesling Beerenauslese (BA), and the Riesling Eiswein is at 43. All of these wines are from the famous Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard site.
Recent auction results at Zachy’s give an idea of J.J. Prüm's desirability. In September, 12 bottles of 1983 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese "Gold Cap" sold for $2,450, and at the La Paulée auction in March two lots of 3 bottles of 1959 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling TBA each went for $15,925.
What makes this achievement all the more remarkable is the fact that as a category, sweet whites still struggle to gain the popular recognition which experts accord them, and all the “J.J.” wines stand out for their finesse and delicacy rather than their power.
No. 2. It's all about longevity:
It’s not without justification that wine lovers and collectors are skeptical about the aging potential of white wines – just think of how many white Burgundies of excellent provenance from vintages in the 1990s faded prematurely. What has won the J.J. wines their global following is a flawless track record on aging. Even the basic Joh.Jos. Prüm Riesling Kabinett, which retails for an average $25 excl. tax, will keep for at least five to ten years if well cellared. The Riesling Kabinett from the famous Wehlener Sonnenuhr site will keep much longer, with the 1981 Riesling Kabinett from J.J. still tasting lively.
The higher you climb up the ladder of the Prädikat system (in ascending order of sweetness and price, the classifications are Spätlese, Auslese, BA, TBA/eiswein) the longer the wines need to reach their best form and the longer they will keep. The top wines of the 1930s, '40s and '50s are still generally in excellent condition, though extremely hard to find.
No. 3. "Struck-match" aroma:
Even some of the world’s most influential wine critics have been mistaken about the distinctive "struck-match" aroma of young J.J. wines. It is not caused by sulfites, as commonly supposed (these wines having no more added sulfites than most other rieslings from the Mosel).
J.J. has a tradition of always doing wild yeast fermentation, and of minimal handling of the young wines in order to preserve their more delicate aromas and freshness – for which the technical term is reductive winemaking. Put very simply, oxidation accelerates the aging process while reduction puts the brakes on. Certainly, the residual fermentation aroma which the J.J. wines have when they come onto the market isn’t always appealing to those unfamiliar with it. But if this aroma were to be knocked out of them in the cellar, then they wouldn’t have that amazing aging potential and would also lose aroma as a result.
The struck-match scent naturally disappears with bottle aging. The lighter wines need some months for this process, while some of the high-end wines require a couple of years before their peach, exotic fruit and floral aromas properly unfold.
No. 4. Staying sweet:
Every now and again, the estate produces a dry wine in response to requests from particular clients and when the vintage makes this possible (they always choose grapes with no botrytis). However, these wines are almost never exported. Director Dr. Katharina Prüm isn’t fundamentally against dry rieslings from the Mosel, but she told Wine-Searcher: “This isn’t our main thing, and I don’t want to make it that, because obviously Joh. Jos. Prüm stands for the sweet wines."
No. 5. Barely a century old:
Joh. Jos. Prüm was founded in 1911, and it wasn’t until the 1920 and '21 vintages that the first sweet Auslese wines were produced. The first BA followed in 1934, and the first TBAs in 1937 and '38. World War II seriously interrupted the estate’s development (there was no harvest at all in 1945), but with the 1949 vintage it was back on course with great Auslese, a BA, two TBAs and the estate’s first eiswein (made from grapes picked frozen by accident!).
No. 6. Pivotal trio:
Although many people have worked with dedication to quality at the estate since 1920, and continue to do so, just three members of the Prüm family have steered J.J. during that period. The first of these was Sebastian Alois Prüm (1902–1969), who started working at the estate aged just 18. After his sudden death in early 1969, he was followed by his son Dr. Manfred Prüm. Since 2003, Manfred has been assisted by his elder daughter, Katharina, and the first vintage which she was properly responsible for was 2007. By the way, she and her father are both doctors of law, not medicine or winemaking.
No. 7. At J.J., the times are NOT a changin’:
“My role isn’t to change the Joh. Jos. Prüm wines,” Katharina told Wine-Searcher. She made it plain that so far she’s only made small adjustments and doesn’t expect to make many more. The only one you might have noticed is that there’s now a clearer difference in sweetness levels between the (drier) Kabinett and (sweeter) Spätlese wines.
Customers who drink the drier styles are quite different from those buying Prüm’s rieslings at the sweeter end of the spectrum. Jeff Zacharia sells J.J. Prüm through Zachy's Scarsdale retail store and at auction. He explained that in the retail area, interest is focused on recent vintages of the estate’s kabinett and spätlese, whereas “interest at auction is much more geared towards the limited production sweet wines – so auslese and TBA."
Zacharia added: "The buyer base tends to be a smaller percentage of our clients who seek a variety of the most renowned wines in the world, including the best of Germany. I see this as a niche market composed of highly knowledgeable connoisseurs with a well-rounded passion for the best producers and vintage.“
No. 8. Other great vineyards:
The precipitously steep, southwest-facing Wehlener Sonnenuhr, with its grey slate soil, is certainly the most important vineyard site for the estate, accounting for almost 20 of its 50 acres of vines. However, in some vintages the wines from the J.J. holdings in the Graacher Himmelreich site (almost southwest facing and very steep) are as good as those from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr – although they sell for somewhat lower prices.
Occasionally, there are also spectacular wines from other sites, such as the 2006 Riesling BA from the Bernkasteler Badstube. In that case, the grapes were so heavily botrytized that almost none of the labor-intensive and time-consuming selective picking usually necessary to produce such a wine was needed.
No. 9. Not every Prüm estate is J.J.:
The Prüm family has been in Wehlen since at least the late 18th century, so the family has many branches and there are a handful of other estates in the town with Prüm in their name. There are also a couple of producers outside Wehlen entitled to include the family in their estate names. Some have chosen to remove any mention of the Prüm connection from the label in order to avoid confusion, like Dr. Loosen in Bernkastel. Others keep the name, such as the Dr. F. Wein-Prüm estate run by Bert Selbach next door to J.J. on the Uferallee, the riverbank street of Wehlen.
In both of these cases the quality is high, but the wines have rather different styles from the Mosel rieslings made by Dr. Katharina Prüm.
10. What does the Prüm family drink?
Asked about her preference for current drinking is, Katharina said: "At the moment, mostly 2004, ’07 and ’08. Of course, I enjoy older vintages when they’re available. If our stocks from the 1990s and '80s were larger I’d drink those wines more often!”
Those three vintages of the last decade were all very good, although even 2007 doesn’t quite belong up there with 1949, '59, '71, '76, '90 or '05 (the greatest vintages for the estate). The main advantage of such years is that the wines are not quite so powerful or concentrated, and therefore have a harmony that makes them extremely appealing after only a few years of bottle-aging. The excellent 1988s, '89s and great '90s are now at their best, except at the BA and TBA level. However, these wines are now hard to find and command serious prices due to the reputations of those vintages.
Although all these wines are sweet, the Prüm family often drinks them at the dinner table with guests. Hard as it might be to imagine, an auslese with some bottle age is a great match with roast venison or wild boar! That’s a classic combination for the Prüms.
Prices worldwide on Wine-Searcher (US$, ex-tax, per 750-ml bottle):
Wine Name Region Avg. Price
Joh. Jos. Prum Riesling Kabinett Mosel $24
Joh. Jos. Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese Graach $36
Joh. Jos. Prum Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Auslese Bernkastel $41
Joh. Jos. Prum Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel Zeltingen-Rachtig $86
Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Beerenauslese Wehlen $1,504
Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Wehlen $5,606