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An oddly named, fascinating Italian white

'03 Kerner from Abbazia di Novacella is exotic, complex. By Edward Deitch
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One of the more unusual white wines I have tasted in recent weeks comes from the northernmost part of Italy, in the area, really two areas, known as Trentino-Alto Adige. This mountainous region borders Austria, and the wines show the influence. So do the bottles (long) and the labels (in both German and Italian).

The whites include the familiar Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Müller-Thurgau and, of course, Gewürztraminer, which is thought to have originated in the Alto Adige town of Termeno. But there is another one worth trying, and it goes by the very un-wine-like name of Kerner.

This dry, aromatic white from Alto Adige is also the name of the grape and has echoes of many of the varieties I mentioned above, particularly Riesling with its fruitiness and Gewürztraminer with its herb and spice notes. It turns out that Kerner is a fusion of Riesling and the red Trollinger grape that was created in Germany several decades ago.

The example I tasted is from a well-known producer, Abbazia di Novacella (Stiftskelleri Neustift in German), named for an Augustinian monastery in the town of Varna in the Isarco Valley. It is said to be among the world’s oldest wineries, dating back to 1142.

But in practice, Abbazia di Novacella is thoroughly modern, and its 2003 Kerner, at $17, shows a clean, fruit-driven style that comes from fermentation and aging in stainless steel. The wine is exotic and complex, with pear, apricot, lime and grapefruit notes on one level, and hints of herbs and black licorice on another.

It was interesting and different as an aperitif and will match well with a range of foods, from smoked salmon to pates and salamis to Asian foods. I doubt you’ll find many restaurants serving it by the glass; it would, after all, take a few more seconds to explain “the Kerner” than “the Chardonnay.”

And that’s too bad. Abbazia di Novacella’s Kerner is a delicious wine that deserves to be better known.

Of note
On more familiar ground, Rodney Strong’s 2003 “Charlotte’s Home” Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County is worth considering. At $12, it is inexpensive and impressive, with apple, lime and just a dash of gooseberry. Not as piercing as some Sauvignons, I thought it had an elegance more in the style of white Bordeaux.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Thursdays. Write to him at