Named for a charismatic German Romantic poet, the Kerner grape is fast approaching its 100th anniversary. It was vine breeder August Herold who decided, in 1929, to cross the white grape riesling with the red grape trollinger (schiava). His goal was to produce a white grape that would flourish in colder climates. So pleased was he with the results that he named his new creation after local legend Justinus Kerner, a poet cum medicine man known for his magnetic personality.

Despite its German roots, Kerner (the grape) seems to find its peak level in Italy’s far-northern Alto Adige region. For proof, look no further than the 2021 Manni Nössing Kerner – Südtirol Eisacktaler. The grapes for this aromatic and herbaceous gem come from steep, granite-heavy vineyards in the Valle Isarco (Eisacktaler in German), tucked among the Dolomites. Fermentation is mostly done in stainless steel, along with some acacia barrels, and the juice rests on the lees for a few months, adding a bit of texture.

Nössing’s hillside vineyards

Quite similar to riesling, Kerner is generally considered to be a bit less racy and a little softer and rounder than its parent grape. Although Kerner is often disparaged as a “heavy lifter”–known more for its high yields and durability rather than its excellence–Nössing’s version certainly flips the script. It offers vibrant, tangy, stone-fruit flavors and a whiff of Alpine wildflowers, buttressed by the ample acidity and mineral edge for which this region is known.

Among his many endeavors, Justinus Kerner also made his mark as a composer of drinking ditties. Wohlauf, noch getrunken, perhaps his most famous title, loosely translates as “well, looks like I’m still drunk.” No doubt ol’ Justinus Kerner would be proud of the work Manni Nössing does with his namesake grape. Nössing is, indeed, the “king of Kerner,” and whether you’re already a Kerner aficionado or you’re looking for a new discovery, Nössing’s Kerner is perhaps the finest example in the world.

If you have spent any time in our shop, you’ve probably noticed the superb wines of Fèlsina from the Castelnuovo Berardenga area of Chianti Classico. In fact, featuring these Tuscan beauties has become something of a tradition for us. (The card on the ever-present box of Chianti Classico now reads: “Excellent as Always.”) Our longstanding commitment to this esteemed producer has set forth a wonderful, mutually beneficial experience for us, our customers, and the winery.

Over the years, many of us at Paul Marcus Wines (and a number of you) have had the opportunity to visit Fèlsina, and we’ve become well acquainted with these great wines and the lovely people who work to create them. It really is an example of remarkable, dedicated people and an extraordinary place on Earth coming together to create something distinctive and magnificent.

In 1966, Domenico Poggiali acquired the estate and began a serious upgrading of farming and vineyard management. With the addition of Giuseppe Mazzocolin (a scholar of classics and history turned wine producer) in the late 1970s, the modern winery began to take shape, and by the mid-1980s, they were already producing some of Tuscany’s most memorable wines.

Giuseppe Mazzocolin

Located in the southernmost part of the Classico zone, Fèlsina is devoted to sangiovese, the area’s supreme grape, and to organic, environmentally responsible farming. They produce wines they believe to be the most Brunello-like of all Chianti. Indeed, these are some of the deepest and most age-worthy wines of Chianti Classico, celebrating the region’s singular earthy terroir, with dark fruits and anise and sandalwood spice notes.

Yet, these wines are so polished and elegant that they are enjoyable immediately, even the great Rancia Riserva. That said, I have had many old bottles of the Rancia, and they can be absolutely stunning, easily eclipsing probably 90 percent of Brunello on the market. And once you get a look at the site, you can understand how that is possible.

I have a fond memory of driving around with Giuseppe and stopping at a small dwelling at the top of the old, perfectly southwest-facing Rancia vineyard. It is breathtakingly beautiful and simply ideal for the sangiovese that thrives there. Mind you, Fèlsina uses only sangiovese for their Chianti Classico. (They believe, as I do, that cabernet and merlot take away much more than they give to sangiovese.) I asked Giuseppe how old the house is, and he said, “Well, I have papers back to 1400, so perhaps it’s older.”

Currently, we offer a number of different Fèlsina wines from several vintages, in both standard and half bottles, including the 2017 and 2018 Rancia. Also noteworthy is the exceptional value of these wines–the flagship Chianti Classico is still less than $30, and the Berardenga Riserva is less than $40. And the Rancia Riserva, one of the world’s most enchanting wines, is $60 for the ’17 and $62 for the ’18–not exactly cheap, but rather reasonable when compared to the cost of a middling Burgundy, Bordeaux, or California cabernet.