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The Scheurebe Grape


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About Scheurebe

(Synonyms: Alzey S. 88, Dr. Wagnerrebe, S 88, Sämling, Sämling 88, Scheu, Scheu 88, Scheu Riesling.)

Background

Map showing Scheurebe's growing region in Europe

Scheurebe is a white-wine grape originating in Germany in 1916 as a deliberate crossing of Riesling with another wine grape (now unknown) by viticilturist Dr. Georg Scheu, after whom the type is named (it is also commonly called Sämling 88—Seedling 88—from its designation in his experiments). The grape is now grown widely in Germany and Austria, to a much lesser extent in Switzerland, and to a small extent in parts of the new World: the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., and Western Australia.

Scheurebe wines bear some similarity to Riesling, but typically have a distinctly more intense flavor. A quotation widely repeated about "Scheu" (as it is informally and commonly called) is from noted importer Terry Theise:

Scheurebe is Riesling just after it read the Kama Sutra. Put another way, Scheu is what Riesling would be if Riesling were a transvestite. If Riesling expresses all that is Noble and Good, Scheu offers all that is Dirty and Fun. It is Riesling's evil, horny twin.

As with any grape, Scheurebe needs to be treated well to produce its best wines. The chief common flaw is making the wine from under-ripe grapes. Like a number of white-wine grapes, the challenge in the vineyard is balancing ripeness (for flavor) with sugars (which determine alcohol content); Scheurebe, like most such grapes, is thus conveniently made into an off-dry or outright sweet wine by stopping fermentation before all the sugars are converted to alcohol (if they were, the alcohol content would be too high). Making a high-quality but dry Scheu is a challenge, but, when met, produces some thoroughly outstanding wines.

Typical descriptions of the better wines from Scheurebe include a definite grapefruit aroma and flavor, plus an overlay of black currant. The off-dry types also, unsurprisingly, exhibit a honeyed quality. It is, as noted, in many ways like Riesling with more intensity.

Scheurebe's planting acreage had been slowly declining, but that trend may now be reversing, owing to the gradual but definite shift in world tastes away from sweet wines and toward dry table wines. First-class dry Scheurebe is one of the world's great white wines (and, like other high-acid whites, it can and will age very well).

Factoid: Scheurebe's other parent was long thought to be Silvaner, but DNA analysis eliminated that possibility; it is possible that the unknown parent was a wild vine.


Some Descriptions of Scheurebe Wines


Some Scheurebes to Try

(About this list.)

Even within our price range of under $20, there are numerous Scheurebes to be found, though many of them are only in limited availability. But there is the issue of sweetness. In principle, the label will indicate that, but, as Martin Amis famously observed, "A German wine label is one of the things life is too short for." And the complexities of how various terms are applied on those labels doesn't help. We recommend that you pay especial care to the various descriptions we present below for clues as to its sweetness, remembering that such judgements tend to be rather subjective: one person's "slightly off-dry" is going to be someone else's "cloying". We have tried to stick to wines that can be drunk with food, which is to say wines that may or may not have a touch of sweetness, buat are definitely "table wines".

In the end, by cutting away successively with the knives labelled "quality", "price", "availability", and for this one "sweetness", we wound up with only a couple of samples to suggest. If you have a taste for well off-dry "table" wines, you might find your personal scope rather more expansive.

We should note that for many of these wines, there is very little press. In part, that is because there isn't much press—in English—for Scheurebe in general; but beyond that, most of the really good specimens are, as with many middle-European whites (such as Riesling) not inexpensive, so the ones that get write-ups are largely the ones beyond our adopted upper limit of $20. So don't equate quality with extent of coverage.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
Pfeffingen Trocken Scheurebe
(Pfalz, Germany. They have several more-expensive Scheurebe bottlings; this is the one expressly labelled "Trocken", meaning "Dry".)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

♣ Published reviews (at least in English) talk much about Pfeffingen's Scheurebe wines, but mostly about the somewhat more upscale bottlings, notably their Spätleses; the "Dry" gets little press, though Weingut Pfeffingen is reknowned as a grower and maker of Scheurebe. We have presented below what comments we could glean (so be surer than ever to check the "Tasting Notes" and CellarTracker pages linked above).

Who makes the best? I think you can obtain Pfeffingen/Pfalz in the United States…I tend to like the more tamed and disciplined versions. Stuff like Pfeffingen's Scheurebe Trocken with its layered herbs and jaggedness.

Vinny Eng of Bar Tartine came [for Thanksgiving dinner] bearing unicorns: that is, the unicorn label on Pfeffingen 2011 Dry Scheurebe, a crazy-aromatic tropical-scented wine from the Pfalz in Germany that sells for under $20. "What I love about this wine is how piercing the minerality is," said Vinny. "Floral wines can get weighty, but there's an angularity to this that makes it versatile with food, plus it has just a little residual sugar, which means it will be good for dishes that have more sweetness, like the sweet potatoes." Though some found the pineapple scent of this wine a little distracting, the flavors were a slam-dunk with sweet potatoes and it really popped with orange and cranberry relish. "The citrus and scheurebe combo is wild," noted one guest, "It kind of screams holiday, in a psychedelic way." Some wondered if a Scheurebe with a touch more sugar would work even better.

…lychee, pineapple, yellow plum, white pepper…

It yields a wine that is creamy and fruity at the same time…I find this wine fascinating; it shares so many nuances similar to Riesling, yet is a bit fuller and creamier.



J. Geil Bechtheimer "Heiligkreuz" Kabinett Scheurebe
(Bechtheim, Germany.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

This is a highly aromatic wine – with fruit coming into precise focus. Where a Riesling might tend more toward apple, pear and peach – this was so obviously orange Creamsicle and red currant. The profound expression of red currant here is moreso than any red wine I’ve ever had. Some jasmine too. On the palate the wine is a swell ride: it moves from the well-concentrated, ripe fruit through a touch or orange-pip-bitterness and comes to a close with firm acidic lift. It’s definitely on the riper side, but Geil nailed the balance. . . This is definitely not a curiousity – This this is real, solid wine that I will certainly revisit and experiment with.

Fruity and herbal, varietally correct Scheurebe. A little sweet, but not in any way cloying or sticky. Easy to drink on a summer afternoon. Honestly this is pretty much what a basic bottle of wine is all about - refreshing and pleasing as an accompaniment to the sun breaking through a weekend's worth of clouds.

Wine Advocate (date unknown), 87 points.

The 2007 Bechtheimer Heiligkreuz Scheurebe Kabinett smells of lemon, pink grapefruit, blackcurrant, and mint (in short, the full Scheurebe retinue), skips lightly and bracingly across the palate, and finishes with succulence and subtle sweetness, tangy pineapple joining the earlier cast of flavor characters. While a bit sweet to serve as a Sauvignon substitute (a suitable role for dry renditions of Scheurebe – to the extent you can find any), this will nevertheless prove highly versatile at table for anyone who retains an open and experimental mind.

Fun nose of almonds, peaches, mango, dry hay, stones, and a little watermelon jolly rancher. Creamy and full with a nice backbone. Delivers the fruit on the front end and brings chalk and stone with a nice herbal quality into it's moderately lingering finish. This will drink well with just about anything during the grilling season and at 11% why would you not have a few in the fridge, cooler, yada.. (90 pts.)

[T]he first bottle I got into myself was one that has been a favorite of ours for awhile, the Geil Scheurebe Kabinett. It was every bit as refreshingly different and new as I remember it. I think of it sort of like a palate reset button…it’s really like nothing else, but still familiar…different without being so far out in left field that you wonder if it’s a lab-grown muscat clone from Turkmenistan. .  I could not help but find it deliciously compelling. For me it was like a blend of Gruner Veltliner and Muscat, having the spicy almost spritzy sensation on the palate that Gruner can give, like acupuncture on the tongue to reawaken its life, standing it up to be accompanied by the white spring flowers and honey suckle dew sprightliness of a sort of Muscat like flavor sensation. Odd when in fact Scheurebe has nothing to do with either of these two other grapes. It is delicious, it is lively and it is a little more serious than simply fun.

Exotic fruit cocktail of a wine, sweet oranges, mangoes, a limey note from the excellent acids. Not very long, but very good for $12-13 I paid for this. B+/B

Light yellow color; tart apple, chalk nose; delicate, tart apple, chalk palate; medium-plus finish. 90+ points.

I enjoyed the 2009 Johann Geil Bechtheimer Heilig-Kreuz Scheurebe Kabinett more for less than half the price [of another Scheurebe].



For a Splurge

If one puts aside the many much-praised (and profoundly expensive) dessert wines from Scheurebe, there remain several bottlings that come much recommended but above our nominal price limit of $20. Of those, one that seems generally accepted as a real champion is the Müller-Catoir "Haardt" Scheurebe Kabinett Trocken.

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.

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