From €18.90, $22.99, 24.50 Swiss francs, £96 per case of six in bond, CA$38, HK$230
Today’s wine of the week could hardly be more different from last week’s. It’s white, for a start, German, unoaked, medium dry and has an alcohol level of around 8%. It’s quintessentially pure, mouth-watering, delicate yet intense and still a baby, even though J J Prüm choose to bottle and release their wines a little later than most of their peers in the Mosel region. While this young Riesling is already delicious, it has the potential to age and increase in complexity and pleasure-giving for a decade or two, depending on your taste and whether you have somewhere cool to keep it.
Don’t let the medium-dry style of Kabinett put you off. The acidity in this wine is so trenchant and palate-cleansing, the citrus and peach fruit so vibrant, that the balance is perfect, and the thought of whether it is dry or not never really crosses my mind. I don't have the analytical details of acidity, pH or residual sugar as Prüm prefer not to divulge such things, nor do they allow visitors to see their cellar, although as Sebastian Thomas of UK importer Howard Ripley suggests, their wines often taste drier than other wines with the same acidity and sugar levels.
Joh Jos (short for Johann Josef and usually abbreviated to J J) Prüm is based in Wehlen in what is known as the Mittelmosel, within the tortuous snaking of the valley, shown in the middle of this World Atlas of Wine map. On the opposite bank from Wehlen lies the village of Graach and its Himmelreich vineyard, shown in the photos above (taken from the town of Kues) and below (from the Wehlen bridge).
Ancestors of the Prüm family have lived in Wehlen since the 12th century and the original estate was already famous in the 19th century. It was divided up among seven children at the end of the 19th century and what is now J J Prüm was established in 1911 by Johann Josef. His grandson Manfred Prüm took over in 1969 and today it is run by Manfred and, increasingly, his daughter Katharina.
The Himmelreich vineyard is on steep, south-west-facing Devonian slate soils which are well-supplied with water and a little less steep than their other famous vineyard, the Wehlener Sonnenuhr. As a result, they are ready to drink a little earlier than wines from the latter site. (For more on the vineyard, see the VDP's excellent online reference.)
In addition to the ineffable purity and perfect harmony of this wine, there is another very distinctive and attractive characteristic aroma and taste which is found in most if not all J J Prum wines, and it is more noticeable when the wine is young: a very definite smoky aroma, often described as ‘minerality’. In this instance it is derived, I believe, partly from the vinyard site but also from the winemaking, particularly the use of ambient yeast (the yeast population that exists in the winery and other yeasts that come from the vineyard) to ferment the wine slowly in stainless-steel tanks. Although when I asked Sebastian Thomas if he agreed with me, he replied, 'As an ignorant romantic [romantic he may but ignorant he is not], I would venture that it’s mainly the site'. J J Prüm's Wehlener Sonnenuhr is his benchmark for 'smoky'.
As to why they prefer to use stainless steel rather big wooden vats or foudres, Katharina Prüm told me that they preferred stainless steel because 'we feel Riesling is such a sensitive grape variety on the one hand and on the other Mosel Rieslings can develop such a great and strong structure that we do not need any wood and do not want any wood influence on the taste. Stainless steel is very “neutral” and allows us to “transport” the grape juice from the vineyards into the bottle very clearly.'
The smoky character she also puts down to a combination of the terroir and the fermentation method, with little oxygen often resulting in a more reductive style: 'we do not aim for a more reductive style but we also do not mind it'.
Kabinett is probably my favourite style of German Riesling and if you have yet to be enamoured, this wine will win you over. It is not for nothing that the vineyard is called Himmelreich, meaning 'kingdom of heaven'.
In the UK, you can buy the wine in bond (ie not including tax or VAT and not ready for delivery until early next year): £96 for a case of six, which is equivalent to a bottle price of £21.80, or £108 for three magnums – and magnums look stunning in this classic German bottle shape. According to Wine-Searcher, it is widely available in Germany and the US and also in Austria, Singapore, Canada and Hong Kong.
For my notes on the many lovely Kabinette, and other Rieslings from the 2017 vintage, that I tasted earlier this month in London, see Howard Ripley's German 2017s.