2017 Cembra Catina di Montagna Kerner
Several years ago, when two of my best friends announced they were getting engaged, they asked me where they should go on their honeymoon. “Easy!” I said. “Alto Adige!”
The majestic Dolomite Mountains, their vertical, rocky walls, and their deep, long valleys take you from one breathtaking vista to another. And when you aren’t out hiking or climbing, trekking or skiing, or just driving around, there are scores of Michelin restaurants, charming country osterie, and spectacular mountain vineyards making gorgeous mountain wines.
There simply isn’t a more romantic region in all of Europe.
Alto Adige, which is also known as Südtirol (South Tyrol), was formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With Switzerland to its northwest and Austria to its northeast, two-thirds of the region’s residents are native German speakers. The region was annexed to Italy in 1919, after World War I, but the influences of Austrian and German culture are many, including the Alto Adige’s aromatic and flavorful variety of wines.
The region is divided by the Adige and Isarco Rivers, with steep-terraced vineyards rising up to 1,000 meters from their valleys. Because Alto Adige is so mountainous, only a small fraction of its land can be cultivated for wine. Consequently, Alto Adige is among Italy’s smallest winegrowing regions, comprising just one percent of the country’s wine production. But the wines of Alto Adige are known for their superior class: 98 percent of the region’s wines are D.O.C. quality (denominazione di origine controllata, or denomination of controlled origin), which is the most in all of Italy.
Alto Adige is known for Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling, as well as for Müller-Thurgau, Moscato, Sylvaner, Kerner, Schiava, Lagrein, and Gewürztraminer (which is said to take its name from the Alto Adige village of Tramin).
Our example today is of Cembra Cantina Di Montagna Vigneti delle Dolomiti Kerner. That’s a big name to unpack, but it comes apart really easily – Cembra is the nickname of the winery coming from the name of the Valley where it’s located. Cembra is the highest winery in the Alto Adige (hence the Di Montagna – “on the mountain”) and is an association of farmers (hence the Catina). Kerner is the grape variety, a cross of two other grape varieties named for the celebrated poet and writer of drinking songs, Justinus Kerner. Here, in Alto Adige in the hands of Cembra, Kerner absolutely thrives:
The wine opens with beautiful notes of Alpine flowers, green apple, crunchy orchard fruits with hints of citrus. On the palate it is light, brisk and refreshing – think of Sauvignon Blanc but with less acidity while still being vibrant – it’s carefree refreshment is just bursting with a happy-go-lucky charm. One sip is sure to bring a smile to your face, one glass, a warmth to your heart, and one bottle a pleasure to your friends and family. Perfect alone, it pairs scrumptiously with Alpine cheeses, potato gratins, gnocchi-like dumplings in a light and savory broth, or even roasted chicken with a juniper crust.
It’s an uncommon varietal, with such minimal production that it’s almost always expensive. And yet we scored such an amazing deal we wanted to share as much of it as we can. Salute!
Oh, and that couple I was telling you about? Those friends of mine? Since their magical honeymoon in the Alto Adige, they lived happily ever after. Alto Adige is one of the best recommendations I’ve ever made.