By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 17 March 2018
If you normally drink Sauvignon Blanc, why not try the German answer to this grape – Scheurebe.
This little known grape bears a strong resemblance to Sauvignon Blanc with its pungent expressive aromas, sleek crisp palate and vibrant racy acidity – and it makes a superb dry aperitif.
“I usually sell it as a Sauvignon Blanc lookalike”, says Iris Kellmann of The Wine Barn, UK’s top German wine importer – “once wine lovers have tasted Scheurebe they always come back for more as it makes a great aperitif”, she says
Scheurebe – often known as ‘scheu’ – is widely regarded as Germany’s most successful grape crossing of the C20. Bizarrely, it was created in the middle of World War 1, in 1916, by Dr Georg Scheu at Alzey research centre in Rheinhessen. He crossed Riesling (not Sauvignon Blanc) with another variety trying to create a high yielding hardy grape to grow on Rheinhessen’s sandy soils.
Dr Scheu released his new creation to the public in 1945, as German wine growers began the long process of rebuilding and relandscaping their vineyards to be more profitable and efficient after the war.
One of the first to plant Scheurebe was Hans Wirsching, in Franconia near Wurzburg, now considered one of the great pioneers of the grape. Wirsching is now one of the largest privately owned estates in Germany.
“Hans planted the grape in Franconia in 1952, so we have had a long experience of understanding Scheurebe”, says Dr Heinrich Wirsching. “It needs a better than average vineyard site and tends to ripen very late in the last sunny days of autumn”, he says.
According to Wirsching, in its youth Scheurebe can often smell of blackcurrants, passionfruit and lemon balm – and with bottle age it can mature into mellow bouquet of peaches and roses.
Wirsching makes several distinct dry styles of Scheurebe, the best minerally styles come from his old vines (Alte Reben) which he planted in the single vineyard Kronsberg with its steep marl, clay and loam slopes. “It matches particularly well with savoury aromatic fish dishes and Asian cuisine”, he says.
At the same time as Wirsching in Franken, vine grower Karl Fuhrmann of Pfeffingen in Pfalz region also began experimenting with Scheurebe – another great exponent of the grape today.
It appears that Scheurebe actually grows best in Germany’s Pfalz, Nahe and Franken regions, although it was actually originally created for Rheinhessen. Despite a few pioneers across Germany, like Wittmann and Keller in Rheinhessen, Pfeffingen, Muller Catoir and Lingenfelder in Pfalz and Wirsching in Franken – it seems to be now falling out of favour – with only 1,600 hectares planted across Germany.
A few like the Keller family in Rheinhessen make late harvest sweet versions – and others like the Bercher family in Kaiserstuhl in Baden in southern Germany use Scheurebe in their dry blends; like their Chenin Blanc/Scheurebe Trocken 2016 (£21.50 The Wine Society).
In Austria, Scheurebe is known as ‘Samling 88’ (the seedling number given to the new grape by Dr Scheu). It is usually used for sweet dried grape wines in Burgenland near the Hungarian border where winemakers like Kracher, Sepp Moser, Haider and Nittnaus.
Tiny plantings of Scheurebe are found in Slovenia, Switzerland, British Columbia in Canada – and just one hectare in the land of Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand.
Franken, Germany: SCHEUREBE QbA DRY 2016 Hans Wirsching (£13.60 The Wine Barn www.thewinebarn.co.uk)
A great aperitif introduction to the grape. Deliciously zesty dry white with citric and passionfruit flavours, slightly herbal, so delicate, juicy and light – made by the master of Scheurebe, Dr Heinrich Wirsching. Note the moderate alcohol level: 12%
Franken, German: IPHOFER KRONSBERG SCHEUREBE ALTE REBEN DRY 2016 Hans Wirsching (£24 www.thewinebarn.co.uk) ***STAR BUY***
The best Scheurebe on our market, from old vines (Alte Reben) in the Kronsberg single vineyard in Franken. Exotic fruit with cassis and mint aromas, off dry acidity, very minerally and sleek. Its full flavours would match well with Asian cuisine: 13.5%
Rheinhessen, Germany: SCHEUREBE 2016 Wittmann (£16.99 www.thewinebarn.co.uk)
Made by the historic C17 Wittmann estate in up-and-coming Rheinhessen. One of the pioneers of organic wines in Germany in the 1980s, they are now fully biodynamic as well. Gooseberry and lime fruits with an attractive racy acidity – fermented in traditional old oak: 12.5%
MEDIUM DRY SCHEUREBE
Pfalz, Germany: UNGSTEIN SCHEUREBE SPATLESE 2016 Pfeffingen (£11.95 reduced from £13.50 www.thewinesociety.com)
Currently being sold as a bin end at The Wine Society. The Eymael and Fuhrmann families who run Pfeffingen near Ungstein are well known as the best Scheurebe growers in the Palatinate – and the Scheurebe pioneer in that region. Tropical fruit notes, some sweetness – they suggest serving with duck pate as an interesting starter: 11%
Burgenland, Austria: SCHILFWEIN 2015 Sepp Moser (£23 hf bt Woodwinters shops in Inverness, Bridge of Allan & Edinburgh www.woodwinters.com)
Scheurebe at its most intense, made from grapes picked in early September and carefully laid out on reed mats to dry for 3 months – a tradition in Burgenland in southern Austria near Lake Neusiedlersee. Slow fermentation and maturation in stainless steel leaves an exotically scented passion fruit aroma, very ripe rich sweetness on the palate but with beautiful vibrant natural acidity to freshen the finish: 10%
Join Rose’s Hidden Wine Gems of Australia in Edinburgh on 11 April £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com