The List




The List


Joh Jos Prum Riesling Spätlese Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

German wine: a potential minefield of obtuse but very specific labels, oddly shaped bottles, unfashionable styles and highly variable quality. Given these factors, one could be forgiven for wondering why anyone would bother with it; after all, isn’t it all cheap, thin, sickly - sweet table wine designed for only the most unsophisticated of palettes?

To think in this way though, as anyone who has been able to look beyond the turgid supermarket Liebfraumilchs and suchlike will know, is to ignore some of the finest and most aromatic whites produced. And the Joh. Jos. Prum Riesling is just one of these, possessing a character that is both world class and uniquely German.

Kingsley Amis once stated that ‘A German wine label is one of the things life's too short for, a daunting testimony to that peculiar nation's love of detail and organization’ and it is easy to agree with him after a cursory examination of this bottle. It is, however, simpler than it initially seems; the first few words indicate the producer, the next that it is made from the Riesling grape and is from a late harvest (Spatlese), and the final words refer to the location of the vineyard. Vintage, sweetness and alcohol content are also included, so whilst it may seem pedantic, it is more informative and less reliant on the consumer’s personal knowledge than something truly arcane, like a Bourgogne wine’s label.

JJ Prum has a number of vineyards, but Sonnenuhr, which is situated opposite the town of Wehlen, is generally regarded as its most prestigious. In common with most of Germany’s finest vineyards, the vines are planted on extremely steep slopes, helping to maximise exposure to sunlight. The presence of the river also mitigates against some of the dangers inherent in producing wine in a cool climate. The soil itself is mainly composed of blue-grey slate, which aids heat retention. The end result is a wine with typically Germanic low alcohol and high sugar levels, but with the necessary acidity to ensure that it will age extremely well.

On the nose of our recommended vintage – the 2003 – there is the expected (for those accustomed to these wines, and the Rieslings of Alsace, at least) combination of petrol fumes and white flowers. There is an almost fizzy quality on the palate – a consequence, perhaps of some residual carbon dioxide – but there is a rich creaminess and fine structure that belie the wine’s low alcohol content. Interweaved with this are lime and apple notes that are complemented by a firm minerally quality that seems to speak of the slate dominated soil.

The interesting thing is how this wine will develop in the bottle. It is so easily drinkable now, with such delightful complexity, that it is tempting to ignore the need for further years of cellaring and just to drink it early. But to do so would be to miss the opportunity of sampling a wine that will, with patience, demonstrate the true potential of the often underrated Riesling grape. Patience will be rewarded with an even more exotic array of flavours that should win over even the most ardent German wine phobics.