Scheurebe, Fraternal Twin of Gewürtztraminer and Close Cousin Of Sauvignon Blanc

August, 2012

Extract from the book Taste Buds and Molecules, from Sommelier François Chartier (published in the US by John Wiley & Sons).

[Despite its mysterious origins] this Austrian grape variety nevertheless remains, from a structural point of view, in particular at the level of its most volatile compounds, a twin of the Gewürtztraminer grape variety. We could call it a fraternal twin—a false twin born from a second egg—in contrast to identical twins, born from a single egg, which seems to be the case for lychee and Gewürtztraminer.

To understand 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 a compelling connection between the aromas detected in the following Austrian Scheurebe wine and certain Alsatian Gewürtztraminers:

Scheurebe TBA No 4 "Zwischen den Seen" 2001 Burgenland, Kracher, Austria: This Scheurebe wine, raised in stainless steel for 18 months, contains 203.6 grams of residual sugar per liter and 11 percent alcohol. It has a 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 lychee—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.

Served during the media launch of one of my book's, in Quebec City's late Utopie restaurant—with a Roquefort panna cotta, this wine (a personal favorite) created a vibrant harmony with this "cheese-dessert" (blue cheeses are blessed with some of the chemical compounds found in Gewürtztraminer and Scheurebe). And it was a great discovery for many of the invited guests!

A Subtle Aromatic Differentiation…

Why aren't Gewürtztraminer and Scheurebe identical twins as are lychee and Gewürtztraminer? The answer is found by uncovering the two aromatic signatures that characterize these two grape varieties.

In Gewürtztraminer, the aromatic molecule cis-rose oxide with the powerful aroma of roses and lychee is its trademark; this compound is absent from Scheurebe-based wines. Scheurebe stakes out its identity with 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one (a molecule absent from Gewürtztraminer wines), a sulfuric compound belonging to the thiol family, with a complex aroma found in boxwood, black currants, pink grapefruit and passion fruit (see Theme III of Gewürztraminer chapter in Taste buds and Molecules for more details on this volatile compound).

It is important to note that 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one, present in some Scheurebe-based wines, was discovered by the Bordeaux wine-scientist and professor Denis Dubourdieu's team during research on the Sauvignon Blanc grape—which explains a certain link between these two grape varieties. The majority of the other aromatic floral and exotic compounds unearthed in our two fraternal twins (Scheurebe and Gewürztraminer) are present in wines made from these two grape varieties. Such is not the case for cis-rose oxide, which is unique to Gewürtztraminer, nor for 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one, which is linked to Scheurebe.

Scheurebe: Close Cousin Of Sauvignon Blanc?

Depending on the degree at which 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one expresses itself—in the aromatic realm of boxwood, black currant, pink grapefruit, and passion fruit—Scheurebe may be considered a cousin of Sauvignon Blanc, or a fraternal twin of Gewürtztraminer.

When Scheurebe's other aromatic compounds dominate 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one, the wine expresses more floral or lychee notes, making it the fraternal twin of Gewürtztraminer that we know so well. We can then rely on wine and food pairing appropriate to Gewürtztraminer for Scheurebe wines with a more floral/lychee profile.

Scheurebe, however, becomes a close cousin of Sauvignon Blanc if 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one dominates the other components, providing notes linked with Sauvignon Blanc such as boxwood, red and black currants, grapefruit, and passion fruit.

Scheurebe wines whose aromatic profile is associated with 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one (again, with aromas of boxwood, black and red currants, pink grapefruit and passion fruit) are therefore best paired with those dishes usually suggested for late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc wines, or Sauternes and similar wines, selecting blends containing a large portion of Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

So, remember, sometimes Scheurebe has a Gewürztraminer aromatic profile, sometimes it seems like a Sauvignon Blanc.

(Read more about Scheurebe, background and top somm recommendations.)

Taste buds and Molecules

For more information on molecular pairing info, check out Chartier's website: