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Paying it forward with a Wonderfully Obscure Wine Varietal with a Weird Name

It’s true; I have never been affected by a wine book as I have been by Terry Theise’s “Reading between the Wines,” a book that invites both searching introspection and external exploration (review here).  Therefore, when Theise waxes philosophic about Scheurebe (SHOY-ray-beh) in his book, a heretofore-unknown German varietal wine that has just 4,400 acres under vine in Deutschland, I take the sleuthing challenge.

And, so too should you …

Now, I am not always so moved to search out answers, particularly when you consider that my consumer jade-o-meter realizes that Theise has a stake in inviting intrigue about such things.  Yet, when Theise describes Scheurebe in his book as, “… Riesling just after it read the Kama Sutra,” the intrepid wine explorer in me becomes curious.

Then, when Theise notes, “Put another way, (Scheurebe) is what Riesling would be if Riesling were a transvestite.  If Riesling expresses all that is Noble and Good, (Scheurebe) offers all that is Dirty and Fun.  It is Riesling’s evil, horny twin,” I’m called to action …

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And, I’m called to action not because I have a particular fondness for panty hose and transvestites, but because I do have a curiosity about the fringes of societal norms, understanding, expectations and the neglected margins in any subject matter, Adam’s apples, razor burn, lipstick and stilettos notwithstanding.  That, and, well, anything that contextualizes wine as more “reverse cowgirl” than “missionary” is intriguing …

The fact is Scheurebe is on the fringe, a niche before anybody knows it is a niche.  It’s Harvey Fierstein in Hairspray to the layperson. 

Scheurebe might not be as obscure as a transvestite in Indianapolis, but it’s obscure nonetheless … In fact, according to a Google keyword search analysis, the keyword, “Scheurebe wine” garners just 36 global searches a month.  And, near as I can tell, the only domestic bottling of this mercurial grape is a late harvest dessert wine from Joseph Phelps.  So slight is the awareness of this grape varietal in the pantheon of varietal esoterica, the Wine Century Club, known for highlighting esoteric grape varietals, doesn’t list Scheurebe on its varietal worksheet.

Developed by German viticulturalist Dr. Georg Scheu in 1916 as a cross between Riesling and an unknown wild vine, the science experiment was an attempt at developing cold hardiness by creating a Riesling hybrid. 

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The resulting wine is aromatic (as you might suspect) and has a reputation for picking up aggressive and unpleasant grapefruit aromas and flavors if picked underripe, or if it’s planted in the wrong location – Riesling sites being the top choice for plantings, obviously a conundrum for a varietal that is scarcely known.  It makes little sense to rip and replace the proven for the quirky.  That is, unless Theise has his way.

In a Wine & Spirits article by Peter Liem, Theise is quoted as saying, “I liked it from the first sip I had, because I thought there was something joyful in its gaudiness.”

And, indeed, the Scherebe you’re likely to run across would come from Theise’s portfolio, significantly mitigating the chance of picking up a wine that is a drag (pun intended), with the aforementioned under ripe grapefruit notes.

As commerce goes, so to goes plantings.  If Theise is successful, he may single handedly create a category of interest amongst wine enthusiasts.

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That said, finding this rare German wine is difficult.  Based on Theise’s description, you might think you could find the wine in the classifieds of your local alternative weekly.  Close, but not quite. 

According to Wine-Searcher.com, unless you are a habitué of online wine retailers in NY, NJ and CA, it is doubtful you’ve ever run across a bottle, or seen it at your local bottle shop.

I purchased three different bottles of the reasonably priced wine ($13.99 - $19.99) from Chambers Street Wines in New York City, a wine shop known for its selection of natural, artisanal and quirky wines.

• Darting 2008 Pfalz Durkheimer Spielberg Scheurebe Spatlese ($19.99)
• Gysler 2009 Rheinhessen Scheurebe Halbtrocken ($13.99)
• Geil 2009 Rheinhessen Bechtheimer Heiligkreuz Scheurebe Kabinett ($13.99)

While it’s an outlier to actually review the wines because I have so little frame of historical reference and Theise is a part of the anti-points brigade, suffice to say that Scheurebe merits your own investigation and inquiry making it a wine varietal that is a part of your vocabulary – honeyed, with predominant stone fruit flavors, balancing acid and a subtle herbaceousness that is completely in tune with its larger surroundings. 

Scheurebe is, indeed, a wine, that may be, “Riesling after it read the Kama Sutra.”  More important (and fun) for the curious wine enthusiast, however, is the ability to describe a wine as, “Riesling’s evil, horny twin” and have the wine deliver for you.  Scheurebe does ... in spades ... or pantyhose, as it were.



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (12) |


Comments

On 08/18, 1WineDude wrote:

STELLAR work, my man!

Maybe that tom Wark fellow was right about you after all…

On 08/18, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Jeff,

Eight years ago, when I was a partner at the “is-wine” retail shop in Manhattan, one of our suppliers of German wines brought in a Sheurebe and, since our store was designed for such unknowns, we took it. Both we and our customers couldn’t get enough of it.

It was the first time I had tasted the variety and it was a rather racy sort.

On 08/18, Jeff wrote:

Thanks for the comments, guys.  Scheurebe is an interesting wine.  The Spatlese I mentioned, in particular, was fabulous, but each of them were very nice, and very enjoyable.

There’s something interesting and fun about exploring seldom seen varietals.  Dude—should I seek out some Assyrtiko?

On 08/18, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

“should I seek out some Assyrtiko?”

If you do, Jeff, start here: http://www.elloinos.com/

On 08/18, amy wrote:

Nice piece Jeff. I emailed you some of Terry’s recommendations.

On 08/19, Katie wrote:

Just reviewed the book myself and was as affected as you were by it…including the quest to hunt down some Scheurebe. Funnier still is the fact that I was planning to head over to Chamber St. Wines this weekend, not only for the Scheurebe but also for some of Terry’s amazing Austrian rieslings. Guess great minds think alike!

On 10/12, Derek Werner wrote:

Thanks for the interesting and imaginative treatment of Scheurebe: I’ve had the Phelps late-harvest version, but never tasted a German example.  The halbtrocken you cited was particularly intriguing to me; just imagining a dry style of Scheurebe gave me visions of Auntie Mame stripped down to her lingerie(to further extend your wonderful metaphors).

Another wonderful obscure varietal that I have lately experienced for the first time is Petite Arvine.  This grape apparently grows only in Val d’aosta, in the far northwestern corner of Italy. It is said to have originated across the Swiss border in Valais, but no one seems to be able to cite any land planted to Petite Arvine in Valais.  The example I tasted was from Le Cretes, which also produces a solid alpine Pinot Noir that bears a family resemblance to the LaGrein reds from Alto Adige.

As I experienced it, Petite Arvine was crisp and fresh, with citrus and very light notes of stone fruit, perhaps white peach. It bore no trace of wood treatment, and so proferred a bright acidity. We consumed it with seafood linguine in a very light white sauce, for which it provided an excellent pairing. In a blind tasting, it could easily be mistaken for unoaked chardonnay.

On 10/12, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

Hi Derek,

Thanks for the comment and for checking out my site.  Your description of the Petite Arvine sounds fantastic. 

Though, suitably difficult to pin down.  I recently read an article that cited the Swiss’ reasonably high levels of wine production, but also the fact that they consume virtually all of it within the country exporting on miniscule amounts.

I’ll keep my eye peeled for it!

Jeff

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