Birds of a Feather
Alsace & Alto Adige
by Tom Wolf
Less than an hour from the Italy-Austria border, amid a terrain you might mistake for the setting of The Sound of Music, Manni Nössing cultivates a few hectares of white grapes that have historical importance in both countries. Dating back to the nineteenth century in the Valle Isarco, Sylvaner is the valley’s leading grape today, having adapted extremely well to the high elevation, cool temperatures, and prime sunlight the steep and terraced vines receive during the long summer days. These conditions also lend themselves well to Riesling, giving the variety a more chiseled and stony expression than you might find from vines planted closer to sea level or in warmer climates. Both Manni’s Sylvaner and Riesling bottlings are exquisite, crisp, and zingy expressions of one of Italy’s most beautiful mountainous terroirs.
Just twenty miles west of the Rhine River, which divides France and Germany, Félix Meyer and Jean Boxler have, for decades, helped put Alsace on the map as its own serious source of world-class Riesling and Sylvaner, as well as half a dozen other grape varieties. Félix’s Oolithe cuvée comes from a special oolitic limestone composed of tiny, spherical sediments, which yield an ample and expressive Sylvaner with notes of pear, stones, and jasmine. Jean’s Riesling Réserve, meanwhile, comes solely from the famed Dudenstein section of grand cru Sommerberg in the 2020 vintage, which explains how this blanc is simultaneously so electric, precise, and majestic, despite Jean foregoing the grand cru classification on the label. A mesmerizing spectrum of flavors—honey, Meyer lemon, and peach, to name a few—comes in a gorgeously sculpted frame. This cuvée shows why Jean is among the best Riesling vignerons not just in France, but anywhere.