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"That Useful Wine Site"
The Kerner Grape

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About Kerner

(Synonyms: Herold Triumpf, Herold Weiss, Weißer Herold)

Background

Kerner grapes Map showing Germany

Kerner is a white-wine grape originating in Germany, where it was deliberately produced in 1929 (though not actually released till as late as 1969) as a cross between Trollinger (aka Schiava) and Riesling; the idea was to produce a Riesling-like grape that could better flourish in colder climates than Riesling prefers. It is one of the few modern man-made "crossing" grapes to make wine that is generally considered to be of well above average quality.

Kerner is today widely grown in Germany, as well as parts of Austria, Switzerland, and Italy (and to a much lesser extent in Canada, England, and even Japan). In the U.S., however, almost all Kerner available at retail comes from the Germanic Alto Adige region of northern Italy.

Kerner does, as its developers hoped, to some extent resemble Riesling. The wines tend to be somewaht lower in acid than Riesling (and so do not age quite as famously as does Riesling), but are somewhat fuller in body. By and large, one may say that if one likes Riesling (and who does not?), one will like Kerner. All things considered, Riesling is arguably the greatest wine grape in the world, but is often priced accordingly, making Kerner a reasonable alternative for the wine drinker (besides its being a blessing to winemakers because it can grow in so many more places than the somewhat fussy Riesling).

All that said, not a few wine critics hold that Kerner should not be viewed as "a Riesling substitute", but rather valued and enjoyed for itself. It does have some small but perhaps subjectively significant differences from Riesling, and its proponents—growing in number—appreciate and esteem Kerner as Kerner.

Factoid: Kerner is often used (or abused) as an ingredient in what one source calls "the infamous Liebfraumilch".


Some Descriptions of Kerner Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Color: Transparent straw yellow, sometimes with golden reflex. Aromas: Pronounced varietal bouquet, often with a Muscat tone; fresh aromas offer a tasty blend of mixed white fruits, with hints of apple, grapefruit and a tropical whiff of mango. Taste: Resembling Riesling, Kerner wines are fresh, racy and fruity, but yet milder in acidity and showing more body."

  • Wine Searcher

    "Like Riesling, Kerner is high in acid and has the ability to age well for many years. As a varietal wine it lacks the flavor and textural refinement of Riesling, but shows attractive apple, pear and citrus characteristics, sometimes with a hint of stonefruit."

  • Fringe Wine

    "Like pretty much all successful crossings, Kerner can yield very large crops which, if left unchecked, can create thin, dilute wines. If properly managed in the vineyard and if given enough time to ripen fully (it is often not fully ripe until well into October), it can create exotically perfumed wines that resemble Riesling. .  All in all, Kerner probably isn't going to replace Riesling any time soon, but it is a refreshing change of pace. I'd recommend drinking these wines young and pairing them with fairly hefty dishes that aren't particularly acidic. Also, because of the body and the high alcohol content, these feel more like autumn or winter weather whites to me, as they're not all that refreshing to drink on their own."

  • L.A. Weekly

    "It's often difficult to find white wines that have richness without oak or heavy sweetness, that are intensely aromatic without falling into floweriness. But the Kerners I've tried all manage that -- to be crisp and mineral, to sing with tart citrus, and yet to be full and generous in the mouth. They can be almost oily on the palate, and many of them have that hint of petrol that so many of us adore."

  • Wine Lovers page

    "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.' . . With its growing reputation, Kerner may not rate as 'offbeat' or 'little-known' for very long."

  • The Wine Economist

    "Kerner is embraced here [the Alto Adige] for what it is, not as a Riesling sequel or substitute. The Valle Isarco (or Eisachtaler in German), which follows the Isarco river up into the Alps, is the main Kerner region and here, freed of stereotypes, it achieves something quite special. . . In fact, they are among the very best white wines of Italy. Or at least that’s what the editors of the Gambero Rosso guide seem to think. My 2007 Vini d’Italia guide lists three Kerner wines (from Cantina Valle Isarco, Manfred Nössing-Hoandlhof and Abbazia di Novacella) among the 282 wines from all of Italy receiving the highest “three glasses” (tre bichierri) award. That’s a disproportionate achievement for an invisible wine from a tiny Alto Adige valley. Kerner shows that local wines can excel if local markets embrace them and that even invisible wines can sometimes shine in the spotlight"

  • Italian Food, Wine, and Travel

    "The wines made from this varietal are wonderfully rich in flavor, with bright floral aromas and a full, fruity palate."

  • German Food Guide

    "Kerner wines are produced in every ripeness level and taste. They are light to golden yellow in color. They are similar to Riesling - fresh acidity, rich, fruity character - yet are more fragrant than the Riesling, showing hints of pears, citrus, apples, red currants, and apricots."

  • GermanWine.de

    "The wines are fresh, racy and fruity — not unlike Riesling — yet milder in acidity, with a more pronounced bouquet, often with a Muscat tone."

  • Vini Alto Adige

    "This grape produces sleek, spicy Italian white wines with a slight hint of nutmeg. Thanks to its rich abundance of aroma and its fine, fruity bouquet, Kerner has the potential to become a new point of pride for Alto Adige’s winegrowers."

  • Jon Bonné, SFGate

    "Kerner, a cross of Riesling and the light red Schiava [aka Trollinger], is that rare example of grape breeding that rises beyond curiosity. Kerner's balance of heady fruit and mineral depth particularly shines in the alpine soils."

  • Into Wine

    "Remarkably similar to Riesling, loaded with aromas and flavors of quince, lemon-lime, high-tone citrus, and tree fruit with a subtle sweetness and focused minerality, Kerner has slightly less elevated aromas and a broader mouthfeel than Riesling. Subsequently, Kerner pairs well in any situation where there is spicy and/or spicy sweet food. And though Kerner is actually a German product, now the country’s third most planted variety, the Italians are showing the most promise with the grape. In particular, the best Kerner can be found in the northern region of Alto-Adige, tucked in the Pre-Alps of Italy’s northern borders with Switzerland and Austria. "


Some Kerners to Try

(About this list.)

The number of Kerner wines available seems (and is) large, but comb reviews and one would think that there aren't over three or four makers in the world—and even the few leading lights are not much talked about. Still, Kerner is not a "bargain" wine, and when one gets down to Kerners reasonably available at under $20, there really are only a few at retail in the U.S. And these are they; the paucity of reviews, sometimes severe, for most reflects the status of the grape in American sensibilities, which is a shame.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Castelfeder Lahn Kerner, $16 - $21.
    (Vignetti delle Dolomiti IGT)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Intense but refined flavors include exotic fruit, juicy white peach, Bartlett pear and citrus accented with nutmeg and mineral notes. It’s balanced with crisp acidity that generates a clean, refreshing finish. 90 points.

    Savoury, nutty and citrussy on the nose with a white blossom note. Dry with a saline minerality and fresh acidity, lovely lemon zest and pith citrus fruit, slightly extracted and with a streak of tropical fruit richness. A beautiful, long, rich and drying finish. Complex and distinctive.

    Pale gold in color. Delightfully curious nose of lychee, mature apple, young pear and orange zest. In the mouth, this wine is dry, flavors of citrus battle behind gravel and clay minerality and lots of spicy white pepper. The medium finish feels longer than it is, given how dry and gentle the wine seems on first notice. Very well made, easy to appeal to many types of white wine drinkers. . . Gentle fruit, high acidity, and nice finish . . . this seemingly straightforward wine demonstrates power in its taut, angular approach and surprises in the multifaceted structure and finish.

    [T]his is a rich and full dry wine that is easy to drink. . . Kerner wines have adequate acid to balance against the delicious apple, pear, stone fruit, and citrus characteristics.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] [T]he greenish color; gives aromas of fresh fruit (pineapple, banana, white peach) with subtle pungency of thrush. Lasts long its memory, supported by great freshness, supported by good flavor as opposed to proper charge of softness.

    [Google-translated from Dutch:] Kerner; typical aromas of Kerner, intense, a lot of depth, good tension by reasonably strong acids, beautiful fruit, spicy, lightly perfumed, clean smell and taste palette, wine with bite (13%).

    I had to ask myself why the hell I hadn’t bought this before – brain didn’t come up with an answer. This was simply awesome. . . What you get is this racing freshness, a hint of smooth sweet white peach and melon and a length that goes on and on. It’s less acidic than a classic German Riesling and for the love of God just because it’s part Riesling don’t think it’s sweet. It’s bone dry and it’s going to be my favorite patio white. Brilliant stuff.

    An example from relatively young vines near the southern edge of Alto Adige, where region abuts Trentino. Overtly fruity, with sweet lime, nectarine, coriander and Muscat-like blossoms. A rewarding, young-drinking bottle.


  • Niklas Kerner, $16 - $23.
    (Trentino-Alto Adige)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Subtle aromas of citrus, yellow apple and stone fruit are accented with a whiff of flint. The palate offers lemon zest, grapefruit, white spices and mineral alongside bright acidity. 87 points.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] The Caldaro area has long produced Kerners that are a marvel. The secret lies in the simplicity of winemaking: beautiful mineral notes, the result decided, elegance. Apple, kiwi, alpine herbs, gooseberry, lychee, bergamot and mouth in an impeccable balance.


  • Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, $16 - $25.
    (Trentino-Alto Adige)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [The wine] delights with gorgeous aromatics that start with pear and end with peach, you'll find both echoing on the palate moments later. Bright acidity and a sleek, clean medium-body showcasing remarkable balance make for a terrific end of summer wine.

    [T]his silky wine begins with aromas of apricot and grapefruit, with undertones of nutmeg and clove. The crisp palate delvers white peach, pear and mineral alongside fresh acidity. 88 points.

    ♣ International Wine cellar (date unknown), 90 points:
    Medium-dark yellow. Spicy, high-pitched aromas of stone fruits, flowers and nutmeg, along with more exotic notes of ginger and smoked sausage. Enters full and rich, with the sweetness of the apricot and spice flavors tempered by decent acidity and a hint of minerality. The long finish throws off waxy and floral nuances. A dash more acidity might have provided better clarity and lift, but it's a wonderful example of kerner. Abbazia di Novacella is amazingly adept at producing stellar quality entry-level kerner (and usually sylvaner too), and this vintage is no different.


    While respectful of tradition, the Abbazia di Novacella winery has also embraced innovation and is today one of Italy’s most highly-regarded wineries and the abbey’s Kerner wine one of its most celebrated labels. The ’07 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner is 100 percent Kerner. It is aromatic with fresh mountain floral scents. It is full-bodied with nectarine and green apple flavors balanced with good acidity and a little citrus fillip.

    It is a pale, straw yellow in color with hints of gold and green. Intensely aromatic, with notes of grapefruit, peach, and tropical mango, and mountain flowers. It is full-bodied with green apple and white stone fruit flavors, its sumptuousness balanced with good acidity and citrus.

    Floral, woodsy aromas, with a little diesel oil smell (that Riesling ancestry, I guess). Medium-to-full body, with wonderful acid/fruit balance and almost chewy sottobosco flavors. Lovely.

    [It's] crisp and generous, balancing bright fruit with notes of flowers and fennel. It’s also amazingly food-friendly. . . 

    It offers exotic aromas of white flower, juicy apple, ripe peach, lemon curd and a hint of tropical fruit. The palate bursts with ripe juicy fruit and offers refreshing acidity with a crisp finish. It simply reminds me of summer in a glass.

    This Augustinian abbey remains a strong force in the Isarco valley. Its Kerner, grown at around 2,000 feet on gravel, is always strong, and this exuberant vintage [2012] is the best in several years. Full of pink grapefruit and agave flavors, with a wonderful rooty aspect underneath: fennel bulb and lilies. Irresistible.

    The wine is gold, very clean, very flowery yet crisp and appealing.

    This is a richly aromatic wine with initial aromas of red apple, honeysuckle and white pepper. On the palate, it is a touch off-dry (just 5 grams/liter of residual sugar) with a slick juiciness. The floral and peppery aromas linger into a long petrol-like mineral finish. This 2012 vintage is now a year old (though still available, along with the 2013) – like its Riesling ancestors, I’m sure it has the ability to age beautifully.


  • Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Kerner, $17 - $24.
    (Trentino-Alto Adige; do not confuse this with their pricier "Aristos" or "Sabiona" bottlings.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    The Isarco co-op, dating to 1961, is one of those cooperatives that not only excels but also has helped to elevate the entire area's reputation. Kerner is a specialty, and this is juicy, with white nectarine and grapefruit rind, and an exotic spicy side, like Szechuan peppercorn.

    In the glass, the wine was a lemon yellow color with aromas of petrol, melon and honeysuckle. "Oily flowers" was the sum-up phrase I used for the nose. On the palate, the wine was dry with a rich, oily texture and medium acidity. There were lean fruit flavors of white peaches with honey and a touch of leafy mint on the finish. There was a nice, flinty kind of minerality running through the wine as well. The petrol aromas and flavors were pretty strong here and I'd guess this wine probably didn't have a lot of time left before it fell apart completely [vintage 2006 in 2011]. If the acid level were a little higher here, this would be a fantastic wine, but the rich, oily texture didn't have much to support it. The alcohol here is also sky high for a white wine, clocking in at a monstrous 14.5%. This wine was certainly made from very ripe grapes and was pretty good, considering its age. This had the body to stand up to a lot, but I'd avoid foods with acidity as they'd probably make this taste a little flabbier than it really is. Thick sauces or chicken or pork are probably the ticket here.

    ♣ Wine Spectator: 15 November 2007, 88 points; 28 April 2011, 87 points.

    Light straw color. Nose of pineapple, stone fruits, banana cream pie. Medium acids, lime zest and juice, green apple, honey, flint, flavors similar to nose. This delicious wine pairs well with charcuterie.


  • Strasserhof Kerner, $18 - $32.
    (Trentino-Alto Adige)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Here is a beautifully structured and delicious white from Valle Isarco in northern Alto Adige. . . This 2010 version from this renowned producer has explosive aromas of yellow peach, apricot and orange rind, backed by excellent concentration and persistence with lively acidity and a rich, dry finish. Pair this with Thai or Oriental cuisine or with turkey; it will also age well for another three to five years.

    Light touches of dry mineral, white flower and stone fruit form a delicate aromatic embroidery that shapes this wine’s feminine personality. The mouthfeel is compact, precise and crisp. 88 points.

    [T]he fruit, while intense, is measured, allowing the backbone to stand straight up. The wine is thirst quenching in a way a Txakolina is, but delicious in the way a Mittel-Mosel Riesling is. Perfect harmony. A great 1st date wine, when both sides are feeling things out, putting their toes in the water ever so delicately. Watch out, this wine might have you skinny dipping before the end of the night.

    The Strasserhof Kerner is dry with a light minerality and subtle sweetness that would work brilliantly with the crab and other simple shellfish dishes.


For a Splurge

There are actually several reasonable possibilities, but for simplicity we will suggest just one, the Abbazia di Novacella "Praepositus" Kerner, available for anything between $23 to $38 at retail. The abbey's wines, and especially its Kerner, are often cited as the best of their kind, and this upscale bottling receives numerous encomia.



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