The Ethereal Beauty of Riesling from Bone Dry to Lusciously Sweet
Raimond Prüm, of well-deserved Riesling fame, shared his wealth of knowledge as well as some very special wines when he and his wife, Pirjo, were in New York in February. Although the Prüm family has produced wine commercially in the Mosel region for over 200 years, it wasn’t until 1911 that the S.A. Prüm winery was established. Founded by Raimond’s grandfather, Sebastian Alois (the S.A. in S.A. Prüm), Raimond’s first vintage with the company was in 1970 because his father was quite ill. That experience proved to be extremely important because, by 1971, he was on his own. Today, the company’s commitment to family remains strong as Raimond is joined by his daughter, Saskia Andrea.
While I was familiar with the Prüm name prior to the tasting, I was less familiar with the actual wines and even less familiar with the diverse range of wines produced by the Prüms. It turned out to be an absolute pleasure to taste the line-up that Raimond and Pirjo had selected for us.
Kicking off with a mini-vertical of Riesling from the Mosel’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard (Wehlener Sonnenuhr Erste Lage “Old Vines” Grosse Gewächs Dry Riesling) provided a lovely introduction to the driest style of Prüm’s portfolio at less than 9 g/l of residual sugar. The grapes for these wines are hand-harvested, which is not surprising given the incline of the vineyard (70o slope). The vines range in age from 80-120 years old, still on ungrafted rootstocks, and are planted on slate soils for which the Mosel is famous. The wines themselves are picked at Auslese-level ripeness, but without any botrytis and undergo long fermentations and lees aging in old, large oak casks. However, bâtonnage is avoided to maintain acidity levels. Interestingly, Raimond advised that it has become more challenging to produce dry wines with the increase in warmer weather, but these were clearly a wine style he enjoys making, despite the climatic change.
This first flight displayed vintage variation as well as differences as a result of the length of aging, but all were rich and intense. At nearly ten years of age, the 2004 was showing beautiful development. A pronounced nose of marzipan, spice, orange peel and minerality was repeated on the palate and culminated in long length. The younger 2006 was fresher with more citrus character and notes of apricot while the 2007 seemed to be the most floral with distinct lemon and honey aromas and flavors.
We next tasted the Graacher Dompropst Grosse Gewächs Riesling 2007, which was another dry-style wine. This one was slightly less dry at 11.2 g/l of residual sugar, with peach, floral and spice aromas and riper fruit flavors on the palate, but still quite elegant.
The second flight of the afternoon showcased wines from several different vineyards and from increasingly riper quality levels: Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett Riesling 2009; Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling 2010; and Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling 2009. Compared to the previous flight, these wines had much higher acidity levels to counter balance the higher sweetness levels, but were nicely balanced, with lots of lemon, peach, spice and minerality.
The final flight was extremely interesting as we tasted an Eiswein, Beerenauslese and Tockenbeerenauslese side-by-side. These wines are all capable of long aging such as the Graacher Himmelreich Eiswein 2004, which Raimond suggested could age for 40-60 years.
My favorite was the Wehlener Sonnenuhr Beerenauslese 2001 for its amazing balance between its luscious sweetness (154 g/l of residual sugar), which quickly dissipates into a spicy and dry finish with long length. It was very complex with dried apricot, spice, blue cheese, and botrytis character on the nose and palate. The Graacher Himmelreich Eiswein 2004 was beautiful in its own right for its lighter sweetness, intense apricot and anise notes and lovely minerality. The Wehlener Sonnenuhr Trockenbeerenauslese 2005 was the sweetest of the three with intense fruit (namely bruised apple, apricot and orange marmalade), high acidity and was also the fullest in body.
All of these last three wines are very risky and difficult to produce and thus only tiny quantities are available. Accordingly, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to taste these very special and rare wines. Most importantly, the tasting showed that Riesling can shine in its many different guises and that the Prüm family really does know how to produce outstanding Riesling year in and year out. These are definitely wines worth seeking out.