Heading north on the A22 from Verona, the scene is immediately set for an Alpine adventure. Mountains flanking the Adige River valley gradually rise from the flats, exposing sheer outcrops of bare rock on either side that tower majestically over an idyllic green landscape. Planted in neat rows along the sloping edges of the valley floor, vineyards are a constant all the way to Bolzano, at which point the wide valley forks into three narrow prongs. Branching off to the northeast toward the Austrian border lies the Valle Isarco, also called Eisacktaler. Nestled at high elevation in the heart of the Dolomites, this is Italy’s northernmost wine region, and possibly its coldest. Cut off from the warm Mediterranean air currents that drift up the Adige valley, the Valle Isarco is a naturally conducive environment for producing bracing white wines of precision, purity, and finesse. This has been Manni Nössing’s mission since setting up shop in 1998, when he decided to stop selling off his grapes to vinify and bottle his own wines. Now with twenty years of winemaking experience under his belt, Manni is creating some of the most exciting white wines in Alto Adige, and has received worldwide acclaim. His success is due to rigor at every stage of the production process, along with a sharp palate that is never quite satisfied and pushes him to progress each vintage. His wines are not modern; they reflect the Valle Isarco’s stunning Dolomite terroir more than any technique or methodology. But they strike a chord with the reality of contemporary living: sleek, racy whites like these are as much at home in a mountain cottage, paired with a hearty bowl of canederli (bread dumplings from Alto Adige), as they are alongside the refined cuisine of an upscale New York City restaurant or your favorite Thai takeout. Kerner is the star grape of the Valle Isarco; in Manni’s hands, it delivers a bone-dry jolt of minerality subtly perfumed of tropical fruits and flowers. Grüner Veltliner, a variety imported from nearby Austria, represents another specialty here. Evidently comfortable on the steep granite slopes Manni farms, Grüner conveys fleshy white fruits and spice with laser focus, its mouthwatering finish stony enough to fill a quarry. Manni’s pristine 2019s show that Alto Adige is indeed a legitimate source of world-class white wine. Don’t miss these Dolomite gems.
Manni Nössing takes Kerner, an unfashionable work-horse grape reserved for blending, and does what Pierre de Benoist does for Aligoté: flips its reputation for mediocrity on its head. In Manni’s talented hands, Kerner becomes the love child of a German Riesling and a chalky Chablis. While a traditional pairing might be Trentino’s strangolapreti—spinach gnocchi in a warm, melted butter and onion sauce—such “priest stranglers” are hard to come by, especially during a pandemic! So I subbed in some spinach pierogies with a side of caramelized onions. Heaven.
Manni Nössing’s small estate lies in Bressanone, a village in the heart of the narrow Alpine valley known as the Valle Isarco. Just miles from the Austrian border, Manni’s vines are subject to a mountain climate in what is Italy’s northernmost grape-growing district. The cool conditions are ideal for producing racy, mineral-driven whites, and the grapes that fare best here—Kerner, Müller Thurgau, Grüner Veltliner—are imports from Austria and Germany. Grüner does superbly on these steep granitic slopes, and Manni has mastered farming and winemaking to achieve the right balance of mouthwatering acidity with sun-endowed ripeness and concentration. Like many growers in the area, he used to sell his grapes to the local co-op, but then he decided to vinify and bottle his own wine—a decision we applaud with each thirst-defying sip of his pure, invigorating whites. Stone, spice, and floral aromas make this example a truly compelling taste of the Dolomites.
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