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Robin Garr

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WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Robin Garr » Fri Sep 01, 2006 11:13 am

Offbeat grape - Kerner

We haven't taken a hike down the less-traveled wine trails lately, so let's have a look at an unusual but highly promising <i>modern</i> grape, a cross between the noble Riesling variety and the much less familiar grape that's variably known as Schiava, Vernatsch, Trollinger or Black Hamburg.

Yes, you heard that right: This aromatic grape is the offspring of a union between a white and a red, a grape-breeding enterprise that you might expect would yield <i>pink</i> fruit ... until you reason that a blue-eyed mother and brown-eyed father only rarely produce a blue-brown-eyed child.

In contrast with the much-maligned French-American hybrid grapes of the Eastern U.S. and Canada - which involve hybridization between entirely different grape species - Kerner is a true "cross" between varieties of the classic <i>Vitis vinifera</i> species.

Kerner was first bred at the the Weinsberg/Württemburg State Wine Institute in Baden, Germany, in 1969, making it one of the world's most recent commercially viable varieties. Within a generation it had become Germany's third most-planted grape after Riesling and Sylvaner and may eventually move into second place. It is also popular in Northern Italy's Südtirol (Alto Adige) and has been planted in South Africa, England, British Columbia in Canada and Michigan in the U.S.

Jancis Robinson speaks highly of Kerner, declaring it "commendably close to Riesling in flavour except with [its] own leafy aroma and very slightly coarser texture." In contrast with the custom of naming new varieties after grape scientists, she adds, Kerner honors the memory of a 19th century composer of German drinking songs.

With its growing reputation, Kerner may not rate as "offbeat" or "little-known" for very long. Today's featured wine is an Italian Kerner, from the <b>Abbazia di Novacella</b> winery in Bolzano, in the Alpine, German-speaking Alto Adige. Built around an ancient abbey and founded in 1142, this is said to be one of the oldest wineries in the world. The wine, a 100 percent varietal Kerner, offers a splendid example of the grape, cool-fermented and produced entirely in neutral stainless steel to retain the purity of the fruit. Powerful and aromatic and well-balanced, it's worth seeking out.

<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/kern0830.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Abbazia di Novacella 2004 Alto Adige Valle Isargo Kerner ($19.99)

Transparent straw color. Fresh aromas offer a tasty blend of mixed white fruits, with hints of apple, peach, grapefruit and a tropical whiff of mango. It's ripe and full in flavor, so luscious that the first sip seems sweet and almost soft, but that impression quickly gives way to tart, mouth-watering acidity and a distinct touch of peach-pit bitterness. The label claims a hefty 14% alcohol, but alcoholic heat isn't obvious in its well-balanced flavor and crisp white-fruit finish. U.S. importer: VIAS Imports, NYC. (Aug. 30, 2006)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> It has the heft to hold up to pork, veal, roast chicken or swordfish; I put it to good use with a Caprese-style summer salad of thick, ripe tomato slices layered with mozzarella, sliced avocado and thin-sliced peppered nova salmon.

<B>VALUE:</B> At $20, it's a bit above the line for everyday wine for most of us. It's a fine wine, though, and certainly justifies the expense if you enjoy "collecting" new varieties and regions and have yet to check a Kerner off your list; better still if you can find a vendor offering this wine in the middle to upper teens.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Riesling ages well, but does this Riesling cross inherit its parent's longevity? Jancis Robinson thinks so. I have little Kerner experience to guide me, but based on the Riesling heritage and the wine's depth, power and balance, I wouldn't hesitate to put a bottle or two away in a good cellar for a few years to find out.

<B>WEB LINK:</B>
The winery's attractive Website is published in two languages, neither of which is English. This link goes to the primary site in German, where you can click "Italiano" for the alternate version.
If you're stymied either way, try the U.S. importer's Web fact sheet on Abbazia di Novacella Kerner.

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Find vendors and check prices for Abbazia di Novacella Kerner on Wine-Searcher.com.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Paul B. » Fri Sep 01, 2006 11:36 am

Robin Garr wrote:In contrast with the much-maligned French-American hybrid grapes of the Eastern U.S. and Canada - which involve hybridization between entirely different grape species - Kerner is a true "cross" between varieties of the classic Vitis vinifera species.

True - and Cabernet Sauvignon is another red x white cross that ended up giving a grape with even more pigmentation than its red parent! (As most know, Cab Sauvignon is a Cab Franc x Sauvignon Blanc cross).

Pinotage is another all-vinifera cross (Pinot Noir x Cinsaut).

That said, hybrids involve distinct species of grape but they're not so far apart as to not be hybridizable at all. Apparently there have been difficulties, for example, in hybridzing vinifera with the Muscadines; there are chromosomal issues at work that make it difficult. I still have the book on some of these hybrids but haven't gotten into it yet.

That said, I think that too often people get stuck in a rut that oversimplifies things and goes "vinifera = good"; "non-vinifera = bad". Wines of high purity and flavour interest can come from any grape variety, really ... it's just that there are as many differences in their "personalities" as there are among people ... :D
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Michael Pronay » Fri Sep 01, 2006 12:27 pm

There are many, many vinifera x vinifera crossings around, most of them in Germany (Scheurebe, Faber, Huxelrebe, Ortega et al.), but also in Austria (Zweigelt = Blaufränkisch x St. Laurent).

They were popular in the 1960s/70s, but later dismissed because "the wine tastes like the smell in train station barber shop" (© Wolfram Siebeck, "Weine, die so schmecken, wie's beim Bahnhofsfriseur riecht"). But the grapes had a longer life than train station barbers ...

Incidentally, Novacella's Italian name isn't older than some 70 years, while Neustift (literally "new monastery") was/is the name for some 800+ years. "Abbazia" is abbey, and the monks are Augustinian Canons.

There is a parallel to Stift Klosterneuburg (literally "monastery cloister new castle") next to Vienna, also Augustinian Canons, also founded in the 12th century (1114), also producing wine right from the beginning, also one of the oldest in the world.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Hoke » Fri Sep 01, 2006 12:31 pm

A little educated caution might be important here: there's a big difference stylistically between the style of Kerner from the Alto Adige and the predominant style coming from Germany.

Kerner may be prolifically planted in Germany now, but most of the Kerner goes into less exalted bottlings than the Riesling grape. And much of that Kerner (especially in the Pfalz and Rheinhessen) comes out as innocuous QBA and low-priced Pradikat wines.

Not to say that Kerner can't produce decent wines. It can. And the sample Robin chose shows that. But I've seldom been impressed by a Kerner from Germany---there's that 'coarseness' that Robinson mentions; it almost always shows to me. I have had some decent---though not spectacular---dessert styled wines from German Kerner. They tend to express well in Auslese and Beerenauslese wines, the ones that require riper fruit and higher sugars.

It's an interesting grape variety, and worth exploration. Good choice.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Robin Garr » Fri Sep 01, 2006 12:37 pm

Michael Pronay wrote:There are many, many vinifera x vinifera crossings around, most of them in Germany (Scheurebe, Faber, Huxelrebe, Ortega et al.), but also in Austria (Zweigelt = Blaufränkisch x St. Laurent).


You are correct, Michael, but I don't believe I suggested that vinifera x vinifera crossings are rare. Kerner, however, stands out on the basis of its commercial success and widespread plantings.

The winery claims founding in 1154. I wasn't around then to check it out. :)
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Hoke » Fri Sep 01, 2006 12:42 pm

The winery claims founding in 1154. I wasn't around then to check it out.


But I think Tom Hill has followed them from the very start.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Michael Pronay » Fri Sep 01, 2006 2:19 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Michael Pronay wrote:There are many, many vinifera x vinifera crossings around, most of them in Germany (Scheurebe, Faber, Huxelrebe, Ortega et al.), but also in Austria (Zweigelt = Blaufränkisch x St. Laurent).

You are correct, Michael, but I don't believe I suggested that vinifera x vinifera crossings are rare. Kerner, however, stands out on the basis of its commercial success and widespread plantings.

Robin, I wasn't answering to you but to Paul B. who stated "True - and Cabernet Sauvignon is another red x white cross that ended up giving a grape with even more pigmentation than its red parent! (As most know, Cab Sauvignon is a Cab Franc x Sauvignon Blanc cross). Pinotage is another all-vinifera cross (Pinot Noir x Cinsaut). "

Btw, the only German new crossing with some success in Austria is Scheurebe, especially when botrytised. As Alois Kracher puts it: "Scheurebe is the riesling of Burgenland."
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Dan Smothergill » Fri Sep 01, 2006 8:42 pm

In contrast with the much-maligned French-American hybrid grapes of the Eastern U.S. and Canada

Robin please!! Extolling a Kerner doesn't require a gratuitous pot shot at French-American hybrids.

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Tyler Brebbermann » Fri Sep 01, 2006 9:18 pm

I have had a few really great wines made from Kerner, specifically from Saxony. When we would do tastings and visit wineries it was consistently my favorite variety made, Weissburgunder coming in second. Riesling doesn't do very well in Saxony I found.

The ones I had from MSR and the Pfalz left much to be desired. They were very sugary and had very little acidity and structure.

It was very fun reading about Kerner and I will probably try and pick this one up sometime soon.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Dave Erickson » Fri Sep 01, 2006 10:45 pm

Hey, Albert Mann makes a great old vine Auxerrois in Alsace. Any grape can do well if the winemaker takes it seriously. On the other hand, why fool around with Kerner when you can get Abbazia di Novacella pinot grigio that will knock your socks off...
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Fri Sep 01, 2006 11:46 pm

If I am not mistaken, Gray Monk in BC does a Kerner.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Gary Barlettano » Sat Sep 02, 2006 8:37 am

Bob Parsons Alberta. wrote:If I am not mistaken, Gray Monk in BC does a Kerner.

So does Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in Lodi, CA.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Agostino Berti » Sat Sep 02, 2006 3:42 pm

I had no idea Cabernet Sauvignon is a hybrid grape. How can that be given its pretty long history? Can anyone elucidate?

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Robin Garr » Sat Sep 02, 2006 4:07 pm

Agostino Berti wrote:I had no idea Cabernet Sauvignon is a hybrid grape. How can that be given its pretty long history? Can anyone elucidate?


First, Ago, it's not a <b>hybrid</b> but a <b>cross</b>, an important if pedantic distinction. A hybrid involves breeding between separate species, while a cross involves breeding between different varieties of the same species (thus, by definition, more closely related and, in some people's minds, more natural). Looking for an analogy in the animal kingdom, a mule is a hybrid; a "mutt" in the dog family is a cross.

Moreover, Cabernet Sauvignon certainly was not commercially bred from two other varieties in a laboratory in the way that modern hybrids and crosses are - as its very name "Sauvignon" implies, it is assumed to have been domesticated from a wild grape, and that a very long time ago, as it was already cultivated in France in the time of Eleanor of Acquitaine.

Recent DNA studies, however, indicate that Cabernet Sauvignon's ancestors are apparently Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, although I would guess that the crossing occured in nature and not in a lab. (In similar fashion, it's now thought certain that Pinot Noir appeared spontaneously as a black mutation of Pinot Blanc, a chance botanical happening that certainly made a dramatic difference in wine as we know it today.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Victorwine » Sat Sep 02, 2006 10:04 pm

Hi Robin,
Just to confuse, things a hybrid can be referred to as an interspecific cross.

Salute
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Warren Bollmeier » Sun Sep 03, 2006 12:33 am

Aloha Robin and All,

The first and only time I drank a Kerner was at the Grey Monk Winery above Lake Okanagan in British Columbia back in 1986. As I recall, Grey Monk focused on German varietals at that time, but apparently they have branched out into non-German whites and reds. I highly encourage a visit to the winery, and sipping some late harvest Kernerjavascript:emoticon(':D')
Very Happy, whilst studying the Lake Okanaganjavascript:emoticon('8)')
Cool well below the winery.

Cheers!

Warren
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat grape - Kerner (Abbazia di Novacella '04)

by Arnt Egil Nordlien » Sun Sep 03, 2006 8:56 am

I first came across these wines about two years ago and Abbazia di Novacella makes the finest Kerner I have tasted. In March I attended a tasting of their wines. For those interested here is the link to the notes on my homepage: Abbazia di Novacella-tasting; March-06

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