On with the Scheu: 100 years of Scheurebe

It is 100 years since German viticulturist Dr Georg Scheu, working at the grape-breeding institute at Alzey in Rheinhessen, produced a grape crossing which became known as Scheurebe.

Georg Julius Scheu

Georg Julius Scheu

Scheu’s intention was to produce a superior version of German/Austrian grape Sylvaner, one that was more expressive, that ripened earlier and that was resistant to frost and chlorosis, a vine disease common in limestone soils such as those in the local area of Rheinhessen.

For a long time it was thought that Scheurebe, an aromatic variety, was a crossing of Silvaner and Riesling. Dr Scheu presumably thought so himself given his intention to create a ‘super Silvaner’ of sorts; however, DNA profiling in the 90s revealed that, though Riesling was indeed one of the parent vines, Sylvaner was not the other – it was in fact an obscure vine called Bukettraube, which produces wines with a Muscat-y character.

While Müller-Thurgau, of Liebraumilch infamy, is far and away Germany’s biggest vine crossing success story (accounting for around 12,000 hectares of plantings – about one-fifth of Germany’s total vineyard area), and Kerner has slightly more vines planted (c.2,700ha to Scheurebe’s c.1,400ha), Scheurebe is arguably the one about which there is the biggest buzz.

Though Scheurebe (also known as Sämling in Austria) was created with the heavy, limestone soils of Rheinhessen in mind, it is now grown all over Germany, in particular in Rheinhessen (more than half of plantings), Pfalz, Nahe and Franken.

With its bracing, often lemon-sherberty acidity (making it suited not just to the typical dry and off-dry styles but also noble sweet styles), distinctive fruit notes of blackcurrant, peach and grapefruit, occasionally tied to tropical notes of passionfruit, mango and lychee, even an earthy-vegetal aroma, Scheurebe is often compared to Sauvignon Blanc… perhaps with a hint of Gewürzrtaminer thrown in.

Indeed, interest in it has grown as Sauvignon has grown in popularity in Germany (German Sauvignon plantings have doubled since 2007, according to the German Wine Institute). While plantings of the variety in the rest of the world are not common, the growing popularity of aromatic grape varieties around the world points to a substantial market opportunity

“Sauvignon Blanc and Scheurebe have a similar aromatic profile, and I think this has also helped of the perception of Scheurebe,” says Ernst Büscher of the German Wine Institute.

“Also there is quite a big discussion in Germany: do we really need Sauvignon Blanc? Because we already have our Scheurebe and this is our Sauvignon Blanc.

Büscher points out that in the 1980s, when Scheurebe plantings reached their peak of c.3,000ha in Germany, only as little as a quarter was actually labelled as such, the rest going anonymously into summer ‘cuvée’ wines or ‘secco’. This has changed dramatically in the last few years as the variety’s potential for producing quality wine has been recognised by the emerging generation of winemakers.

“The aromatics have had quite a bad image from the 80s,” he explains. “In the 80s these varieties were very popular but a that time they didn’t have the quality that they have now.

“We have had this generation change in our wine business and the young winemakers really bring out brilliant wines from this variety. Also, new consumers do not have this bad image of the wines.

“Even Aldi [the biggest wine retailer in Germany] has listed a Scheurebe this year – and not just because of the 100th anniversary of the variety but because they see that there is really some interest from people in this style of wine.”

In the pages that follow, db presents 10 of the best German Scheurebe wines…

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