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Scheu-What?

by Jeff Harding
Weingut Kruger-Rumpf
August 2012

“I don’t drink Riesling all the time, though I’d hardly mind doing so. Still, there are occasions when something more pagan is called for, and that’s when I summon my guiltiest of wine pleasures: Scheurebe.

"Scheurebe (shoy-ray-beh), often shortened to ‘Scheu,’ 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.”

-Terry Theise, Reading between the Wines

Now YOU want to try the wine, right? Terry Theise has that effect on people. 2012 Rising Star June Rodil, sommelier at Congress in Austin, Texas, does a pretty good job of enticing us, too: “Ever get that nostalgic feeling when you taste a Scheurebe? It reminds of you of the lime popsicles you used to eat on the hottest summer day when you were a kid? That's what that grape does for me.”

Scheurebe grapes and vines
Scheurebe grapes and vines

The Lowdown

Scheurebe was bred by German viticulturalist Dr. Georg Scheu in 1916 (rebe means “vine” in German) as a cross between Riesling and (some say) Sylvaner. But according to Wine Critic Peter Liem, a DNA paternity test has ruled out Sylvaner. So throw a little mystery into the glass. In any case, it appears Scheu was looking for the big fruit and early ripening in Sylvaner with the structure and class of Riesling and grapes that grew well in sandy soil. Sadly, it turns out that Scheurebe does better in soil suited for Riesling, and most growers would rather use that valuable land for the latter, which is more profitable.

Singled out as one of the more interesting yet under-appreciated of the German “crossings” by Rudi Wiest on the Guild of Sommeliers Wine Podcasts, Scheurebe wine yields grapefruit, sage, and cassis notes, with varying degrees of mineral, acid, and sugar. You can sometimes find aromas of lemongrass, passion fruit, and papaya, as well. It’s a beautiful pairing with Asian food and cheese, or just as a summer refresher. But there are down sides, too. Botrytis and, yes, the acrid flavor of cat piss, are not uncommon flavors in a poorly made Scheurebe, and it doesn’t seem to improve much with age. But the somms that love it love it.

Bartholomew Broadbent, CEO of Broadbent Selections, explains: “It is a lovely wine, extremely appealing to the Riesling drinker who claims not to want to drink Riesling. Its biggest barrier is that the name is difficult to pronounce for the average consumer and it is little known. However, to the wine geek, this wine is an extremely exciting discovery. It appeals to the younger drinker who is desperate to find 'the next big thing' in wine. I think it is a wine with cult status in some circles, or has huge potential to find its niche in the trend setting restaurants.”

To save our readers some leg work, we offer some favorites from leading sommeliers and wine writers, and we’d love to hear your Scheu-raves in the comment section below.

Scheurebe grapes and vines
Scheurebe grapes and vines

RECOMMENDATIONS

Mollie Battenhouse, wine director at Maslow 6 and lecturer at The International Wine Center - New York, NY:

Bruder Dr. Becker makes a fun, sparkling wine, with classic hints of sugared pink grapefruit and cassis, a delicate bubble, and a tiny bit of yeastiness. Not too much, though, as the fruit really shines through.

Müller-Catoir's version is much more serious–medium sweet, with plenty of acidity. Classic flavors again, pink grapefruit and cassis, but with honey and flowers, too. Hans Wirsching's version is dry and crisp. Fresh and light, with lots of flowers—honey suckle, orange blossom, citrus flowers, then the grapefruit, lemon, and fresh apricot on the palate with lots of minerality.

Leo Schneemann, sommelier at Wallsé/KG-NY Group - New York, NY:

In Austria you will find the Scheurebe under the name of Saemling 88 (Saemling is German for seedling, and number 88 was simply Scheu’s serial number for the vine plant selected for its properties).

Scheurebe is very often used for making extraordinary sweet wines, and I recently had the pleasure to taste the Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), No. 12 from the Winery Kracher: Medium golden-yellow with some notes of fresh green herbs like thyme, and a very hidden mint/lime/lemon zest note with a little bit of grapefruit. The palate shows you a very creamy, medium-bodied wine with an elegant acidity. The citrus flavors plus the elegant acidity make this wine very fresh and enjoyable, but give those wines a little time or even put it in a decanter before consuming.

John Ritchie, buyer at Chamber Street Wines - New York, NY:

Many of the wines can be inconsistent and generally not as interesting as Riesling grown on the same terroir. Ones I've had that are superb, though, are those produced by Hans Gunther-Schwartz at Müller-Catoir, before his retirement in 2001. Working reductively in all stainless steel tanks, he made exciting examples that ranged from bone-dry to lusciously sweet TBA’s. The nobly sweet wines still seem young today and will last for many decades. He was an inspiration and tutor to all the younger growers in the Pfalz, but many of them don't seem to have his magic touch and a lot of boring wines are being made using the same techniques he utilized to make such treasures. I'm not sure exactly what he was doing differently since I never got the chance to visit his cellar or interview him, but it certainly seems to have been something.

On my recent trip to Germany, the most exciting Scheurebe was from Wagner-Stempel in the western Rheinhessen. Aromatically it was somewhat like Riesling crossed with Sauvignon Blanc. It's fresh and bright with a clarity that's reminiscent of mountain spring water. In addition to grapefruit and other citrus flavors there was an appealing hint of black currant as well. Unfortunately it's not imported into the United States by the estate's importer, Rudi Wiest, but I hope this will change at some point.

June Rodil, sommelier at Congress - Austin, TX:

Wirching Estate Scheurebe Kabinett Dry Iphofer Kronsberg (in a Bocksbeutel bottle–so that always makes it EXTRA saucy!) from Rudi Weist Selections is heady and exotic in the nose with verbena, rose water, cirtus, melon, and lychee all rolled together. While there is great fruit density on the palate with a beautiful grape/spice/tingly sensation, it's light enough to showcase the purity of the minerality of the region. It's rare to think of balance and elegance when talking about Scheurebe but the two words are difficult to shut out when drinking this wine.

Theo Minges, Gleisweiler Holle Scheurebe Spatlese (from the Skurnik/Theisse portfolio for something a little sweeter) is a little stickier and intense. One of my favorite things is when a white wine expresses red fruit qualities. The Theo Minges tastes of cassis and white cherries with a grapefruit rind lift. There's honeyed tones and generally a whiff of botrytis, which mingles well with the intense aromatics of the grape.

Jordan Nova, sommelier at Chef Mavro - Honolulu, HI

Hans Wirsching, Iphöfer Kronsberg Scheurebe, Kabinett Trocken: This is one of my favorite producers from Franken to work with. They have so much history and their wines have astounding depth yet come in at such great value. For me, this is a great expression of Scheurebe to work with because of its approachability for the myriad of guests who've never been exposed to this varietal. On the nose, it's a bit restrained, showing only muted citrus skins and a ton of minerality. On the palate, it gives it all up: fresh citrus juice, delicate high-toned menthol qualities, a surprising bit of weight on the mid-palate, and a slightly lees-y, hoppy finish, while still maintaining all that pure fruit. It's incredible and delicate yet still layered gorgeously.

Stuart Pigott, of Stuart Pigott Riesling Global:

Scheurebe is Germany's answer to Sauvignon Blanc with more complex and subtle aromas, also more elegant acidity than Sauvignon Blanc. Increasingly it is made in a dry style, emphasizing those qualities. Who makes the best? I think you can obtain Pfeffingen/Pfalz in the United States (imported by Rudi Wiest), Müller-Catoir (a great 2011, super-succulent and powerful, from Terry Theise) and Wirsching/Franken (Wiest). However, my favorites are "Flashback" and "Zweimaennerwein" from Winzerhof Stahl/Franken. I call Christian Stahl the Quentin Tarantino of dry white wine.

Joe Salamone, buyer, Crush Wine & Spirits - New York, NY:

For me, Scheurebe can be a pretty weird grape. It can often get a bit oily and the flavor profile can go from the textbook pineapple and sage into a range of flavors that I think of as "corrupted," with almost durian-like or catty notes to it. Sometimes I dig on this character, say when people insist on drinking wine with Thai or other Southeast Asian food where there's fish sauce, citrus, and chilies. I have my limits, though. In this style, I like Geil's Scheu Kabinett with its black currant and sage. There tends to be a nice amount of roundness and oiliness to cushion against the impact of spice.

Having said all this, I tend to like the more tamed and disciplined versions. Stuff like Pfeffingen's Scheurebe Trocken with its layered herbs and jaggedness. A step up in complexity are Keller's Scheurebe Spätlese, which is one of the most sleek and stylish Scheurebes. Also, in a similar vein, but more pungently herbal is Wagner-Stempel's Scheurebe Trocken.

L. Konstantin Guntrum, owner of Weingut Louis Guntrum - Germany:

I enjoy producing Scheurebe wines for their flavor profile and typicity. Scheurebe wines are more floral and aromatic than Riesling. At the same time, they offer lower levels of acidity, which makes Scheurebe wines very appealing for consumers that have difficulties with higher levels of natural acidity. Showing aromas of various kinds of tropical fruits, it is the perfect combination with hearty food and particularly with any kind of BBQ.

Scheurebe grapes and vines
Scheurebe grapes and vines

Tara Q. Thomas, senior editor, Wine & Spirits Magazine:

The wine that hooked me was Kruger-Rumpf's Spätlese Scheurebe. The Rumpfs have a lovely little casual restaurant with a garden in back, and the first time I was there it was the end of a long week and I was dreading another heavy (even if well-intentioned) meal. And then someone poured me a glass of Scheu, and it was as if the sun came out. It was just so ebullient, and crazy—herbal and tropical all at once, plump and round and easy but by no means a simple wine, either. It had fruit and herbs and animals and stones, and the acidity to keep it all lively. It was incredibly fun.

It turns out that it comes from the Dautenplfänzer vineyard, a slate slope with sandy loam that's regarded as a great site (a Grosses Gewächs), but can't be labeled that way since it isn't Riesling. Anyway, it made whatever large chunk of pork was on my plate go down way easier.

Müller-Catoir's dry Scheu (Kabinett Trocken) is also delicious in a completely different way, herbal in a sage-y way with tart fruit that's almost red in taste (think sour cherries or the little red currants we get here in Hamburg) and razor-sharp focus. It's the sort of wine that needs a pork chop (thick and cured, even, or smoked) to make sense.

I also love Rainer Lingenfelder's Scheurebe from the Musikantenbuckel Vineyard. It's crazy stuff—reminds me of what its name sounds like—a bucket of music. (According to Google Translate, it actually means "musician's humpback," which is far less appealing). This is the thing about Scheurebe: it offers this impossible combination of flavors, and a lot of them—they aren't shy little wines—and yet they manage to come off as lively and fun rather than clunky or just weird.

Scheu also makes for incredibly hedonistic dessert wines, at least in the hands of Kracher, who makes TBA’s with it. Like mango nectar in intensity and tropical deliciousness, with this velvety texture. They feel almost thick but somehow lift off the palate into pure fragrance, leaving it entirely clean. That's an accomplishment with any sweet wine, but Scheu isn't known for its acidity, so this always amazes me.

Amy Goldberger, sommelier at the Fifth Floor Restaurant - San Francisco, CA

I am pouring Pfeffingen Scheurebe Spätlese Trocken, from the Pfalz, 2009. It is crisp and beautifully structured with aromatic intensity—lime zest and pineapple, melon, and nectarine on the palate. It possesses a stony minerality, as well. I have had a lot of success with this wine, both as a Riesling alternative, and a drier style of German wine. People who are a bit more adventurous have fallen for this grape, and this particular bottling. It has complexity and depth and pairs with many dishes on our menu.

Zack Kameron, head sommelier at a Voce Columbus - New York, NY

We are losing the chance to taste these as it’s declining in production. A nice expression of the grape is Joseph Phelps Eisrebe Ice Wine with notes of beautiful honey grapefruit, and stone fruit like apricot and peach. It has nice acidity without being overwhelming, sweet but not cloying. I like to pair it with seasonal fruit desserts, or with bittersweet chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate dries out the mouth, so the acid and viscosity of the wine enhances the palate, while leaving an essence of cacao: balancing the chalky bitterness of real cacao with the sugar and acid of a wine. Most milk chocolate is too sweet to pair with a wine like this, so you need to have cacao in as pure a form as possible to have the optimal pairing.

Francois Chartier, author of Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food, Wine, and Flavor - Montreal, Canada

This Austrian grape variety remains, from a structural point of view, in particular at the level of its most volatile compounds, a twin of the Gewürtztraminer grape variety. […] To convince you of the aromatic link between Scheurebe and Gewürtztraminer, you need only have enjoyed the late Aloīs Kracher’s remarkable, highly fragrant Scheurebe-based Austrian liqueur-like wines. Their nectars occupy the same exalted territory as the finest noble rot (botyris cinera) wines of the world, such as d’Yquem Sauternes and the offerings of Egon Müller in Moselle and István Szepsy in Tokaji. There is no doubt about it. There is compelling connection between the aromas detected in the following Austrian Scheurebe wines and certain Alsatian Gewürtztraminers.

Scheurebe TBA No 4 “Zwischen den Seen” Burgenland, Kracher, Austria, 2001: This Scheurebe wine, raised in stainless steel for 18 months, contains 203.6 grams of residual sugar per liter and 11 percent alcohol. Given its color of old Italian gold with orange tints and a nose that’s simultaneously subtle and explosive, and intriguing aromas of smoke, strawberries and pineapple, passion fruit and litchis—it can’t be more Gewürtztraminer! This masterpiece has a mouthfeel that is nervous, lean, and straightforward, with a magnificent smoothness balanced by cleansing acidity, and brings to mind the finest Alsatian selection of noble grape wines. (For a more in depth discussion, read an excerpt from Chartier’s book.)

We couldn’t summarize any better than Terry Theise, in his 2012 selections catalog, “Scheu is almost as noble as Riesling, but unlike Riesling it has the naughty bits still there!”