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Kerner is hardly the most fashionable or well-known grape variety but when you taste Manni Nössing Kerner 2007 Südtirol Eisacktaler you may wonder why it hasn't fared better. Some very good Kerner is produced in Germany, where it is currently the fifth-most planted white variety, but it doesn't get out much. (There are also limited plantings in England, British Columbia, California and South Africa.)
Kerner's parentage is unexpected: it is a cross between Trollinger, a generally rather lacklustre black-skinned variety known as Schiava Grossa in Italy, and Riesling. It was bred by August Herold in southern Germany in 1929 and apparently named after Justinius Kerner, a 19th-century writer of drinking songs! Although it doesn't really taste like Riesling, Manni Nössing's version shows some of the finest qualities of that particular parent, notably purity, intensity and finesse, though the acidity is a little less piercing.
Even with all that intensity and purity, there are some very fine fruit flavours: grapefruit and lime and a lovely herbal character together with a fine stony dryness that I can only describe as minerality. Nor does the intensity of flavour do anything to constrain the wine's zesty freshness and tension – a sort of electricity that requires long pauses between sips. Although it is not aged in oak, it does spend eight months on the yeast lees and this adds weight and richness to the texture. To me it is a perfect example of the combination of very fine, fully ripe grapes and a long, cool, growing season. (The alcohol is 14.5% but totally in balance.) The wine has a wonderfully long aftertaste and continued to taste delicious after it had been in the fridge for the best part of a week (I was trying to make it last).
When I asked Simon Broad of Nössing's UK importer Ten Green Bottles if he could get any more information on the way this wine is made, he apologised and said Nössing was a farmer and very hard to get hold of. In fact he first bottled his own wines in 2000. Before that he sold his grapes to the Abbazia di Novacella co-op. In less than a decade, his wines, particularly the Kerner, have many times received the Gambero Rosso tre bicchiere award and found their way into top restaurants in London and New York. Well, I'd much rather he was looking after his vines than answering emails if this wine is the result.
He has just 5 ha (12 acres) of vines around Brixen/Bressanone in the Eisacktal/Valle Isarco in the Südtirol/Alto Adige in the far north of Italy (every place name in this largely German-speaking region has both a German and an Italian version). He grows mainly aromatic whites (Kerner, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Veltliner, Müller Thurgau) but apparently also produces a red blend called Espan (Blauer Zweigelt, St Laurent), which I haven't tasted.
In the UK, the Kerner is available online from Ten Green Bottles, a small and relatively new company specialising in interesting, small-production Italian wines (and they sell it to UK restaurants such as Locanda Locatelli, The Fat Duck and The Greenhouse). In the the US, the wine is imported by Polaner Selections, who also sell it mainly to restaurants (eg Marea, Dell'anima and L'Artusi in New York City). www.wine-searcher.com (pro version) also lists Enoteca Faraoni in Livorno and and Eli Zabar in New York.
See Schildknecht on members' forum re this grape.