J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese 2015
“A faint, yeasty veil needs to clear. Ripe apple and quince are garlanded in honeysuckle and lily and met by a hint of mango more predictable at this level of ripeness than were the tropical effusions harbored by the corresponding Kabinett. Strikingly creamy as well as delicate, the midpalate adds bright lime juiciness, apple seed piquancy and bittersweet vanilla bean, all of which go on to inform a lusciously ripe yet vibrant and refreshing finish. This is lovely, but it does illustrate what the Prüms consider typical youthful Wehlener Sonnenuhr behavior, insofar as it’s not quite as expressive or possessed of the same intrigue today as are the corresponding Zeltinger Sonnenuhr or (despite its initially veiled nose) the Graacher Himmelreich. Drinking window: 2018-2040. 93 points.
This estate has been under the direction of Manfred Prüm (grandson of Joh. Jos. Prüm’s eponymous founder) since 1969, and scarcely needs much introduction to Riesling lovers, having already become a Mosel icon during the nearly five decades during which its namesake’s son Sebastien was in charge. Katharina Prüm has been active alongside her father since early in the new millennium, and the two of them perpetuate a house style that has itself become a Mosel archetype: wines of delicacy and restrained sweetness, often strongly marked in youth by yeasty and otherwise fermentative aromas, and tingling with dissolved CO2. Their longevity is legendary, and the Prüms personally don’t care to drink their own wines – even the Kabinetts – with less than a dozen, and more usually many more, years in bottle. (Bearing in mind both these wines’ penchant for temporary “Mosel stink” and their track record for very long, slow maturation, tasting notes – let alone scores – must be read with care.) That fermentation here is entirely spontaneous is obvious from the aromas of youthful Prüm wines, and élevage in tank allows for retention of CO2 as well as for bottling that, although it usually takes place 10 or 11 months after harvest, can sometimes (especially for selected upper-Prädikat wines) be delayed for years. In copious vintages, there are sometimes multiple bottlings of eponymous Kabinetts or Spätlesen, but experience confirms the Prüms’ insistence that in such instances the differences are minor, which is why in the frequent instances where samples are proffered without labels, the Prüms seldom divulge their registration numbers to the taster. Most years there is an auctioned Spätlese bottling from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, and although some gold capsule and long gold capsule Prüm Auslese bottlings are sold directly to consumers or the trade, many of them are destined to become memorable features of VDP-Grosser Ring auctions, as are the majority of Prüm BAs, TBAs and occasional Eisweine.
Manfred Prüm’s training as a jurist has served him well on occasions when he has felt it necessary to come to the defense of traditional Mosel values, old vines or preeminent sites, all of which he felt were threatened by the recent wholesale vineyard restructuring and replanting (a process known as Flurbereinigung) performed on the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr). In the more recent restructuring of the neighboring Wehlener Sonnenuhr, the Prüms managed to minimize their loss of old, ungrafted vines and optimum sites. Prüm senior makes no secret of his long-standing disinterest in legally dry – or for that matter legally halbtrocken – wines, and his dismissal of the VDP’s Grosses Gewächs project goes beyond disinterest. But nobody is about to threaten this estate’s status quo, not only because of its prestige but because, notoriously, few of the VDP’s dictates in matters of style and marketing apply to non-trocken wines.
“Certainly the harvest was stressful,” reported Katharina Prüm of 2014, “but we were happy to end up with a good crop of classic Kabinetts and Spätlesen after the limitations of 2013” – a year in which she and her father had insisted that playing to vintage strengths meant waiting to pick and ending up with almost exclusively botrytis-inflected results.”
David Schildknecht, Vinous (06/17)