Italy is one of the countries often heard boasting its number of grape varieties. More than one country claims that “we have the largest number of grape varieties”. But it is true that wherever you go in Italy, you tend to run into one or another grape variety that you have never heard of and that is (almost) only grown there.
Timorasso in the Piedmont is one of those, it was almost forgotten, but it is now making a comeback.
Timorasso languished for a long time as an insignificant and unappreciated white table and blending grape in the area around the town of Tortona, an hour and a half east of Barolo and a good hour south from Milan. There they made mainly sturdy red wines based on barbera.
But when Walter Massa started to work with the family winery in Colli Tortonesi, he decided to try something different than the popular barbera. He felt that the region was perhaps more suited to white grapes than to red. And he happened to have some Timorasso in his vineyard.
In the late 80s, Walter made his first wine from 100% Timorasso, probably the first to do so. It was an experiment to see what it gave. He had found not even 500 vines in his vineyard. In 1987 there were only 1.2 acres left of Timorasso. That was probably mostly Walter Massa’s less than 500 vines. Today, the Colli Tortonesi (the “Tortona Hills”) is, fortunately, an appellation that is growing. Today, the plantings of Timorasso have grown to 430 acres. Fifty-one wineries produce Timorasso wine today; 800,000 bottles are made.
Most of the producers are small family wineries that have been motivated by the enthusiasm – and success – of Walter Massa to revive the grape variety. There’s also a cooperative uniting 200 smaller growers and a small number of “outsiders”, some famous names coming from the well-known red-wine neighbor, notably Vietti and Fontanafredda/Borgogno.
Today, the wines are sold as DOC Colli Tortonesi Timorasso, but there are plans to introduce the denomination Tortona Timorasso, or even use the name Derthona which is the old name for the town of Tortona. Already today, many producers choose to put Derthona on the label as a distinguishing mark.
The Colli Tortonesi produces many other types of wines, the old favourite barbera, as well as dolcetto, croatina, cortese, moscato, favorita and freisa. There’s even a sparkling version. But it is perhaps Timorasso that has the most potential for international fame.
Timorasso wine is a wonderful combination of stringent acidity and depth. The acidity is indeed quite high and refreshing. It has sometimes been compared to chenin blanc and riesling with its citrusy freshness. But Timorasso also has a mouth-filling character. It can give you the impression of having been fermented on the skins – skin-contact maceration for whites often give a certain mouth-feel – or even having been barrel-aged. But the body comes mainly from the grape itself, sometimes together with yellow fruit aromas and nuts. But some producers are experimenting with skin maceration, with exciting results, or just slow pressing for extra extraction.
With a few years of extra ageing in the cellar, the wines can develop characteristics similar to the “petroleum” in some aged Rieslings or the “dry honey” and almonds that you can find in older Chenin Blancs.
Price-wise, Timorasso is certainly not a cheap wine. But that was to be expected, wasn’t it? Excellent wine is rarely cheap. Shop prices in Europe start around 15-20 euro and go up to two or three times that, for some cuvées. In the US, the price levels are similar but in USD.
Here are some of my favourite producers from an extensive tasting of a good portion of all the wineries that make Colli Tortonesi Timorasso. But I don’t think you can go wrong with any of them, so try the one you can find.
Luigi Boveri – the Filari di Timorassi is excellent.
Ezio Poggio – his 2014 has developed lovely petroleum notes with the extra couple of years.
Casina Gentile di Daniele Oddone – a family winery since 1968, experimenting with skin contact. Delicious wines.
Vigneti Repetto – the owner, Gian Paolo Repetto, is the driving force in the grouping promoting Timorasso. An elegant and fresh Quadro and a powerful Origo.
I Caprini – with an (intentionally) slightly oxidised Timox and a quite original smoky Brezza d’Estate.
La Colombera – today run by a talented female winemaker whose grandfather was convinced by Walter Massa to plant Timorasso.
Mandirola – with a small patch of possibly the oldest Timorasso vines, 90 years. Classic fresh Timorasso.
And, of course:
Vigneti Walter Massa – from the man who saved this Piedmont treasure from extinction.
A few more names to look for: Cantina di Tortona, Vignaioli Battegazzore Mombisaggio, Cantine Volpi, Vietti, Massimo Pastura/Cascina la Ghersa, Borgogno.
Try these or any other Colli Tortonese Timorasso that you can find. My only regret is that I have not tasted more of them.