Monday, September 28, 2009

Jérôme Prévost in The World of Fine Wine

I've written a piece on Jérôme Prévost for the current issue (#25) of The World of Fine Wine. The article is not posted online, but If you're a subscriber, you'll find it as the lead piece in the magazine's Review section, just before Serena Sutcliffe writes about a billion wines from DRC back to the Middle Ages and Stephen Brook tastes a whole century of Langoa Barton. But hey, at least my wine's sparkling. If you aren't a subscriber, you can still read it as a PDF document, here.

The review includes a rare vertical tasting of all of Prévost's wines from 1999 to 2007: Prévost typically makes only one wine per year from his two-hectare parcel of meunier in the vineyard of Les Béguines, but in two vintages (2000 and 2003) he made an additional cuvée that was aged for an extra year in barrel, and in 2007 he made a rosé champagne for the first time.

Prévost has been making champagne since the 1998 vintage, and when he invited me to Gueux in the spring to taste these wines, his intention was to offer a complete retrospective of his career. Unfortunately, he realized that he hasn't got any more bottles of 1998 left, but the (literally) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to taste the other 12 wines all together was extraordinary. The vintage currently on the market is the outstanding 2006, which I think is one of the best wines he's ever made; the 2007s should be released later on this year, and the rosé, especially, is not to be missed.

Updated 2 Oct: Added link to PDF file

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Jodocus Prüm's Birthday Party

Today is the 202nd birthday of Jodocus Prüm. The reason I am cognizant of this highly obscure fact is because a couple of years ago on this date, I had the extraordinary and unexpected privilege of attending a celebration commemorating his 200th, which was an inebriating, wildly surreal and thoroughly delightful experience.

Jodocus Prüm was a brother of Sebastian Alois Prüm, who was the grandfather of Johann Josef Prüm, as well as seven or eight other siblings from whom the various Prüm lines have descended. (Johann Josef Prüm, of course, is the founder of the renowned wine estate in Germany’s Mosel Valley that continues to bear his name today.) A lifelong bachelor, Jodocus used his money to fund many public projects, including building the actual sundials in the vineyards of Wehlener and Zeltinger Sonnenuhr (the name Sonnenuhr means sundial), and today he is a revered figure in the Mosel community.

So to celebrate his birthday, the Prüms threw a family party.

The Wehlener Sonnenuhr

I happened to be in the Mosel with my friend Kirk at the time, recovering from a hangover at the Dr. Loosen estate after the annual Mosel auctions. The Loosens are part of the Prüm clan (I think Erni Loosen’s great-grandmother was Joh. Jos. Prüm’s sister or something like that, but I’m still a bit hazy on the details), so as Kirk and I were still lounging about the Mosel taking up space, Erni invited us to come along to the event in the village of Wehlen. Kirk and I were a bit skeptical about crashing a private gathering of one of the most legendary families in the wine world, but as Erni was one of the primary organizers of the whole thing, he said not to worry about it.

Having the distinction of being one of only two people present who weren’t either descended from or married to somebody named Prüm, I naturally felt a bit out of place and slightly awestruck. With his Teutonic looks and Swabian blood, Kirk might pass for a distant member of the clan (he had actually been mistaken on the street for a Bergweiler earlier in the day), but there wasn’t going to be much of a chance of me, a skinny Asian guy, casually blending in. Everyone was pretty much staring at me wondering what the hell I was doing there, but once Dr. Manfred Prüm, grandson of Johann Josef and proprietor of the Joh. Jos. Prüm estate, came over to me and said how he’d been trying to get a chance to talk to me for the whole week (we’d seen each other in passing at several different events), I think most people were satisfied. As for the ones who kept asking, eventually Erni’s wife Eva started telling people that I was from a long-lost, illegitimate branch of the family, which of course sparked a lively debate as to which one of the Prüms might have originated it.

It could have been a plausible idea—apparently there hadn’t been such a comprehensive gathering of the extended family for something like 100 years, so who was to know? Dr. Prüm admitted to me that even he had forgotten who some of these people were. Waiting for the dust to settle as four generations of Prüms, Bergweilers, Loosens, Weils and other branches of the vast Prüm family tree crowded into the large dining room, I happily found myself seated next to Katerina Prüm, Manfred’s daughter, who also happened to be holding a bottle of 2004 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, saving me from the Peter Nicolay feinherb that I’d politely been pretending to be drinking. Many bottles of various wines continued to flow ceaselessly through a rapid dinner, followed by several long-winded speeches about items pertaining to Jodocus, his birthday, his legacy, and perhaps even to nothing at all. Katerina valiantly attempted to translate the proceedings for me, but they soon became so boring that even she stopped listening. I did catch the lament, though, that the name Jodocus was sadly out of fashion, and that perhaps something ought to be done about it. Eventually, however, everyone decided that drinking was better than talking, and people began dispersing to dip into the myriad coolers of wine lying all about the place. I got up to go look around and maybe find Kirk.

Erni suddenly materialized out of nowhere, thrusting a glass at me. It was brown, a little cloudy, and smelled and tasted rather like a lightly sweet manzanilla amontillado. I opined that maybe it was just a little bit weird. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s the ’37 Wehlener Sonnenuhr BA from Weins-Prüm.” Well, then. Clearly we weren’t hanging out in the right section of the party. Kirk and I wandered outside to where a cluster of people were gathered around Jost Prüm, the eldest brother of Manfred. (His real name is Johann Josef, like his grandfather, so with a name like that you can be sure he drinks well.) We arrived just in time to see him opening a bottle of Joh. Jos. Prüm 1949 Wehlener Sonnenuhr feinste Auslese. “Now things are really interesting,” said Kirk. “You’ve got no idea,” said Christoph, a cousin of Erni’s. “We’re only getting started.”


He wasn’t kidding. The next four or five hours were occupied by bottle after bottle, emanating in stately, copious array from the blessed and magical Prüm refrigerator. I particularly remember a J.J. Prüm ’59 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr feine Auslese, which showed a lively freshness and intense notes of slate under the soft, voluptuous richness of the vintage. Even screaming Prüm children running about tumultuously underfoot could not distract me from the glory of that wine, and it wasn’t even the wine of the night. The wine of the night was the J.J. Prüm Wehlener-Zeltinger Sonnenuhr feinste Auslese from 1969, with a piercing, impossibly fine clarity and ethereally fragrant finish. The richly concentrated, masculine J.J. Prüm 1971 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese goldkapsel heralded a whole parade of ’71s: a Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese from Zacharias Bergweiler-Prüm (Erni’s family); the even better Kaseler Nies’chen Spätlese from the same estate, with its laser-like Ruwer acidity; a stunningly youthful and vibrant Joh. Christoffel-Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese. I’ve forgotten many other wines in the hazy riesling blur.

At 10pm there was a massive display of fireworks over the Wehlener Sonnenuhr across the river that echoed like artillery in the tight confines of the Mosel Valley, and as I stumbled around the corner of the village’s 17th-century church to get a better view, I was accosted by Dr. Peter Pauly (of the Pauly-Bergweiler estate, from another branch of descendants), brandishing a delicious bottle of Erdener Prälat 1971 Auslese from Christoffel-Prüm. As the incendiaries subsided, Jost reassembled his flock like Moses leading his people to the Promised Land, pouring an amazingly fresh and primary 1976 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Beerenauslese from Zacharias Bergweiler-Prüm, which I sipped while listening to Bettina Prüm, sister of Katerina and daughter of Manfred, explain to me her doctoral thesis on the sticky part on bugs’ feet that allows them to cling to different surfaces. (!) God knows what else I drank. Eventually I was pretty trashed, and pretty cold in the crisp September evening as well, and was about to suggest to Kirk that we call it a night when Jost announces in a booming voice that it’s time for another ’49. Hell, yeah. This one was the “regular” Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese from J.J. Prüm, which showed even more freshness and primary fruit than the feinste Auslese, if not seeming quite as long or as highly structured. Freakishly great wine.

By this time it was around two in the morning, and Kirk needed to be at the Frankfurt airport by eight. We made a slow round of good-byes, drinking quite a few other wines in that process, and eventually ending up bidding farewell to our host, Jost Prüm. He protested our leaving, clearly disappointed in our stamina, but extended a hearty handshake to each of us, inviting us back for a future Prüm-a-thon. “Next time you come,” he said, “we’ll drink old wines.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

ChampagneGuide.net in Vinforum

ChampagneGuide.net was written up by Knut Sogner in the July issue of Vinforum, the Norwegian wine magazine edited by Scandinavia's first Master of Wine, Arne Ronold. The article is also posted online at the Vinforum website, but if you don't read Norwegian, here is a translation of the text. Special thanks to Kari-Anne Hamre for the translation, and Joseph Di Blasi of Vinosseur for bringing the article to my attention. Tusen takk!

The Champagne Guide

Not long ago ”Nettspalten” wrote about a new newsletter concerning Champagne (Champagnewarrior.com), and suddenly now there’s another new website dealing just with Champagne, ChampagneGuide.net (www.champagneguide.net). This time there’s a familiar name behind it, Peter Liem, one of the pioneers behind serious publications in reference to wine on the internet.

Peter Liem, together with Kirk Wille, was behind the Riesling Report, a publication to be reckoned with which was started by the two young men from Oregon, USA as far back as 2000. The Riesling Report had a short life, but Peter Liem has been writing about wine for the American wine zine “Wine & Spirits” for the past few years. He is stationed in Champagne and for a while he has been blogging “Besotted Ramblings and Other Drivel” (www.peterliem.com), a site which is free of charge and highly recommended. I also highly recommend the ChampagneGuide.net, a service with an annual cost of USD 89,- Liem is both an experienced writer and interested in Champagne. He stays away from giving points and ranges wines by a simple star system where three stars is the top rating.

He belongs to a growing number of wine aficionados trying to understand the wines based on what the producers are trying to achieve with their wines. The web site is simplified by combining producer portraits with tasting notes of a few somewhat new wines, but this is merely a staged limitation of information. It holds exact and original knowledge which in a well-written manner provides a very good background for forming your own opinions.

This pay-for-service along with his article on Besotted Ramblings, gives a wide presentation of Champagne. I haven’t fully constructed a complete image of his preferences. I register that he is concerned with young, experimental producers, yet he does not come across as a slave to trends. He has several very good and new – and interesting – descriptions of established houses. For those of us who have visited Champagne – the villages, small producers, the big houses – Liem provides the right associations which tells us he has a deep understanding of what is going on. He also uses – like in the Riesling Report – photographs in an illustrating and well thought out manner. Not in the least he writes something as rare as thoughtful tasting notes which give the reader additional information and something to think about.

This is a new service and thus it is still too early to pass any judgment. There are still many producers yet to be portrayed. Also yours truly has been busy and still not read everything. But so far it seems Liem could be for Champagne what Burghound is for Burgundy, namely a safe haven for those of us coming from the outside. Liem probably won’t get the commercial breakthrough Burghound has enjoyed as he doesn’t provide easy point systems or easily distributed newsletters or publicizes as many tasting notes, but he has sunk so deep into Champagne that he can offer an insider’s understanding.

Yes, if I had to pick one website for Champagne, I would pick Liem over Brad Baker (Champagne Warrior) or Richard Juhlin (www.champagneclub.com) even if the three compliment each other.

Knut Sogner

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Features on ChampagneGuide.net


As of this weekend, I've added several new features on ChampagneGuide.net. The first is a collection of vintage profiles, which outline the general weather conditions of each year, describe the style of the resulting wines and offer my personal views on the vintage's quality and character. At the moment I've included all years from 2008 through 1995, but as I continue to add older vintages to this section, I will eventually have profiles of all years back to at least 1970, and possibly beyond.

I've also created an Articles section, in which I will be writing feature-length articles each month on various topics related to champagne. Where possible, I am hoping to pair these articles with complementary multimedia content, such as slideshows or videos: for example, my friend Dave and I have been working on a video about the highly-regarded 2008 vintage, in which we interview a number of top producers and taste lots of vins clairs, and this will appear together with a forthcoming article about 2008.

In addition, I've started a new blog on the site, which is of course intended to discuss all things champagne. It's accessible only to subscribers, which means that it won't be read as widely as it might be otherwise, but I think that it will prove intriguing: I will be discussing a wide range of champagne-related topics in greater depth and detail than I have been on this blog, and I also hope to include more multimedia features as well.

If you're a subscriber to the site, head over there and check it out—the new features are live now, and everything is functioning smoothly thanks to my outstanding web team. At the moment I'm a bit swamped with deadlines relating to other work, plus there's a harvest going on here. As soon as things settle down, though, I'll be working much more on the site, which I'm very much looking forward to.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Zester Daily

I've begun contributing to Zester Daily, a new website about food and wine. Created by a team led by Corie Brown, a former writer and editor for the Los Angeles Times, Zester Daily features an array of talented and illustrious writers (and me) who examine food and drinks from a wide range of perspectives, from cooking and dining to farming, politics, health and the environment.

The site focuses more on food than it does on wine, with articles from well-known authors such as Clifford A. Wright, Liz Pearson, Martha Rose Shulman, Tim Fischer and Nancy Harmon Jenkins. However, you'll also find wine-related articles by writers like Elin McCoy, wine and spirits columnist for Bloomberg News and author of The Emperor of Wine, and Patrick Comiskey, my colleague at Wine & Spirits magazine and a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Bon Appétit and other publications.

I've only written one article so far, about the challenges of practicing organic and biodynamic viticulture in Champagne. Champagne probably won't be the primary topic of my articles on Zester Daily, however, as I'll also be writing about wines from other regions, as well as about tea, sake and other delicious things that interest me.