“Sheu aber geil” translates as “shy but horny”. Scheu also being the surname of the German viticulturalist who in 1916 created Scheurebe by crossing Riesling and another variety. Wine Grapes describes it as underrated, and from my limited experience I have to agree. I am not sure about horny, but this wine, and Scheurebe in general, is certainly not shy and retiring.
It is dry and tingly, with good acidity and powerful aromas. I found it difficult to describe them, but eventually settled on “intense, pungent, apricot, lime and gooseberry”. If you don’t worry about the details of that list but try to imagine the overall effect, I think you should get the general idea. It’s a jump-out-of-the-glass-and-whack-you-round-the-face sort of wine. This is not something to drink with subtly favoured food, but it stood up well to a meze of deli counter nibbles – olives, anchovies, ricotta-stuffed cherry peppers – food that would normally have me reaching a bottle of Sherry. Excellent in the right context *****
So this wine was Scheu… aber Geil, Scheurebe, trocken, Weingut Emil Bauer & Söhne, Qualitätswein, Pfalz, Germany, 2016, 12.5%. I bought mine from Red Squirrel Wines for £15.50. As I write it is still in stock, but the price is now £18.00.
I recently stumbled across what seems to be solid evidence for some effects of terroir on wine. It is not new research, but for some reason it had managed to elude me, and was only brought to my attention by John Winthrop Haeger’s book Riesling Rediscovered. The research is published in  and  – see end of this post. As the latter reference is available on Google Books almost in its entirety, that was my main source of information and where I found the figure shown below.
Twenty-five different Riesling vineyard sites were studied: 12 in the Pfalz, and 13 in the Mosel, Ahr, Nahe and Rheinhessen. The substrates yielding the soils of these sites included limestone, sandstone, greywacke, basalt, slate, porphyry, and breccia from the rotliegend age. The vintages 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 were assessed 8 months after the harvest by panels of 13-20 trained judges. The grapes were picked at optimal ripeness, as determined by the estate owners, one portion from each site being vinified as normal by the estate, and one portion subject to a standard winemaking protocol that was the same for all sites. The wine made by the estate was evaluated in duplicate, while standard process wine was evaluated in triplicate.
The results of a discriminant analysis are shown below (click on the figure to get a larger version). If I understand the point of a discriminant analysis correctly, it here means that two functions of the flavour profiles, F1 and F2, were found such that wines of the different rock types cluster when F2 is plotted against F1. Thus, if you know the flavour profile of the wine, you could calculate F1 and F2 and stand a good chance of predicting the rock type by checking where the point lies in the left hand graph.Necessarily, there were many details omitted from the conference paper, so it is difficult to judge the quality of the research, but to me nothing stands out as being obviously flawed and I would assume the work is sound. As such, for me it is the first convincing evidence for the soil substrate type having an impact on flavour profile. All the other evidence I have seen has been non-blind and anecdotal, and whenever blind tasting has been used terroir differences seem to disappear, even for people who would generally be regarded as expert tasters.
One interesting question about this research is to what extent the experimental protocol was essential in revealing the terroir effect, and to what extent it would also be clear to expert but non-trained tasters tasting blind. In other words, now necessary is the training and the discriminant analysis in uncovering the important of terroir? Also, more generally, I wonder how applicable the results are to other grapes and regions.
See my previous posts on the subject to understand my mildly sceptical attitude to terroir. I think I would still describe my attitude in the same way, but it has certainly just shifted considerably in the positive direction. However, in the introduction to the article I summarise here, it is made clear that terroir is hugely important in marketing, as a unique selling proposition, and as point of interest for punters. Marketing was the driver for this research, and whenever marketing is involved my bullshit detectors start twitching with heightened sensitivity.
 Andrea Bauer et al, “Authentication of Different Terroirs of German Riesling Applying Sensory and Flavor Analysis”, in “Progress in authentication of food and wine”, pp 131-151, American Chemical Society,Washington, DC, 2011
 A Bauer and U Fischer, “Factors causing sensory variation in Riesling wines from different Terroirs in Germany”, in “Oeno2011: Actes de colloques du 9e symposium international d’oenologie de Bordeaux”, pp 1087-1092, Dunod, 2011
As soon as I noticed that Cambridge Wine Merchants had another batch of mature Mosel wines, I realised that a selection would form the basis of an interesting tasting. So I put in an order, and a couple of weeks ago our tasting group cracked open 10 bottles between 9 and 26 years old and all under £16 per bottle! And those prices, listed below, are the single bottle prices. There are considerable case discounts.
The wines were acquired by CWM from stock held by the producers. Typically a batch of older German wine seems to arrive in the shop roughly once a year, so if you check at the right time of year you will find an Aladdin’s cave; check at the wrong time and you will be disappointed. Now is not a bad time to look. Here are the websites of Werner Müller, Carl Schmitt-Wagner, Johann Peter Reinert and Gunther Fehres (formerly Fritz Becker Erben). The Werner Müller website primarily advertises their guesthouse and only mentions some uninspiring-looking wine, but I am assured by Matthew Boucher of CWM that they still produce wine of first class quality.
On thumbing through my collection of books, of all the vineyards and producers in the tasting, it is really only Brauneberger Juffer that gets much of a mention. But when I have wines in front of me I care little about their reputation, what is in the glass is the important thing. The wines speak for themselves, and very eloquently.
The ones in the image below are the ones I enjoyed most, and the ones I ordered more of. You can see that Fritz Becker Erben crops up a couple of time in my favourite three, and I also liked their 2000 Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett.
Below are the wines and my tasting notes. We tasted sighted and in the order given below, then polished off most of the bottles with German ham and sausage from our local German shop (Aldi) and cheese. I am not sure my brief notes convey the degree to which I enjoyed this tasting, so I will say it explicitly: It was a joy to experience such a wealth of flavours and aromas, and all from very modestly priced wines.
1997 Trabener Würzgarten Riesling, Hochgewächs QbA,
Werner Müller, 9.0%, £12.25 Very pale green. Muted nose. High acidity. Off dry. I thought it was a tad corked, but others in the room liked it *
1999 Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett,
Carl Schmitt-Wagner, 7.5%, £14.50 Pale yellow. Intense lime and petrol. Medium high acid. Medium sweet. Excellent length. Drink now ***
2004 Wiltinger Schlangengraben Riesling Spätlese,
Johann Peter Reinert, 8.0%, £12.90 A pale green. Dumb, some lime. Medium high acid. Medium sweet. Intense lime. Someone said strawberry, and I can sort of see that. Excellent length. Needs a few more years ***
2002 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Spätlese,
Fritz Becker Erben, 7.5%, £12.00 Pale gold. Soft, rounded petrol. Medium high acid. Medium sweet. Intense lime and some petrol on the palate. Excellent length. Drink now or keep a few more years *****
1988 Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese,
Carl Schmitt-Wagner, 9.0%, £13.50 Medium deep gold. Intense barley sugar. Some chocolate, yes chocolate, the dark bitter stuff. Medium high acid. Medium dry. Interesting and complex. Drink now ****
1989 Burger Hahnenschrittchen Riesling Spätlese,
Werner Müller, 8.0%, £13.25 Medium gold. A nose of cat’s pee, sweaty armpits, or an ant killer spray I remember from many years ago. But not actually unpleasant! Medium high acid. Off dry. Interesting. Drink now ***
2002 Kanzemer Altenberg Riesling Auslese**,
Johann Peter Reinert, 7.5%, £15.00 Medium pale gold. Rather dumb. Medium high acidity. Very sweet, to the extent that it is unbalanced. I would give this the benefit of the doubt and say it needs more time, but I score on current enjoyment, so **
1994 Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Auslese,
Carl Schmitt-Wagner, 8.0%, £10.50 Sadly corked. Unequivocally so
1994 Burger Wendelstück Riesling Auslese,
Werner Müller, 8.0%, £15.25 Medium gold. Some cat’s pee, but also herbs and spice. High acid. Sweet. Well balanced and interesting. Drink now *****
1985 Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese,
Fritz Becker Erben, £12.50 Medium gold. Delicate spice and herbs. Medium high acid. Medium dry. Nice, relatively dry. Chocolate, again. Drink now. Probably my wine of the night *****
Many people complain about German wine classification being too complicated, placing too much emphasis on must weight as an indicator of quality, and confusing punters with the introduction of inferior bereiche and grosslagen with misleading names.
To me the text on a traditional label for a prädikatswein is a model of clarity. Here’s one I’ve been drinking a lot of recently: 2000 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett. The information traditionally comes in the same order
Grape variety (Riesling)
Somewhere on the label there will also be the region, in this case Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, which gives some indication of the style to expect, and of course the producer – here it is Weingut Fritz Becker Erben.
If a German wine is dry or medium dry, the label will usually indicate this with the EU defined words trocken or halbtrocken respectively. Though you may also find the word feinherb used, which is not controlled by the EU, but roughly means the same as halbtrocken. Otherwise you can pretty safely assume the wine will be sweet, with the prädikat giving some indication of the level of sweetness. And finally, as a special treat for wine geeks, there will be an ID unique to the particular bottling. My wine is AP Nr 2 577 015 5 01.
So what is the problem? You have all the key information. French labels are sometimes criticised for omitting the grape variety and level of sweetness, but that is rarely an issue with German wines.
I suppose having a smattering of German helps a lot. For example you need to realise that Brauneberger means “from Brauneberg”, and you sometimes also see something like 2000er, meaning “of the 2000 vintage”. And some of the vineyard names are awfully long and complicated looking. But they are just names – take them one syllable at a time. It may well be my geeky scientific mentality coming through, but I really like the orderliness of German labels. It reflects the strict word order rules in German grammar.
Of course, if you do treat the prädikat as a mark of quality, you are likely to come a cropper at some point or other. As with all wines, the best indicators of quality are vineyard and producer, and you have that information too. I simply take the prädikat as an indicator of style. As such, perhaps it would be useful if there were maximum as well as minimum must sugar levels specified for each one, but even so it provides useful information.
On the issue of grosslagen, as I see it they should be treated like the any other specified vineyard. Some vineyards are better than others and of course you have to know which are the good and bad ones to make sense of the information. There’s Google, and plenty of references books, to help you out. And of course price is also usually a pretty good indicator. If you see a cheap wine with Niersteiner on the bottle, do you really expect it to be from one of Nierstein’s top vineyards? In that sense it is no better or worse than Burgundy. The most serious charge against bereiche and grosslagen is that they allow a respectable village name to be applied to vines that may be grown beyond the limits of the village. Again, I am reminded of Burgundy. No one seems to get upset, for example, about the name of Beaune being applied to wines from a number of different villages in the southern part of the Côte d’Or. Not to mention the way several villages on the Côte d’Or managed to acquire the names of their finest vineyard leading to, for example, the name Montrachet featuring in the appellations of village level wines from two different villages.
So as you can perhaps now guess, I don’t think there is a lot wrong with German wine labelling.
Or at least there wasn’t. But I find the more recent attempts to give recognition to good quality dry wines unhelpful. How many people really understand what a Grosses Gewächs is? And if they do, could they explain how it differs from Erstes Gewächs and Erste Lage? I have just read an article on the subject in The World of Fine Wine and I’m damned if I can without referring back to the article. There is also a modern trend to simplify labels by omitting information, or using a simplified front label and relegating detail to the back of the bottle. I also find this unhelpful, as removing context makes it more difficult to work out what the remaining words refer to. Is that word the village or the vineyard? Or maybe it is simply a made up brand name?
Anyway, what about this 2000 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett from Weingut Fritz Becker Erben? This year I bought a case of it from Cambridge Wine Merchants for the princely sum of £6.50 a bottle, and I am currently in the process of trying to clear them out of their last remaining bottles, but they may have a few left by the time you read this. £6.50 for a 10 year old wine! I believe there is some bottle variation, the less good bottles being less intense and a bit tired, but the better ones are beautiful. A light crisp wine, with apple and lime aromas, a fair whack of petrol, and sweetness in excellent balance with the acidity. Not a great wine by any means, but very enjoyable if you like that sort of thing. Some bottles maybe should have been drunk a few years ago, but the better ones are in my opinion spot on now and just about merit ****.