While Piemonte is an Italian wine region revered for its legendary red wines, the region also boasts an array of indigenous white varieties worth your time. If you love a good comeback story, then Timorasso should be at the top of your must-try list. Here’s the low-down on the Italian variety capable of producing age-worthy, refined white wines.
Where is Timorasso From?
Timorasso is native to Tortona nestled between the end of the Po Valley and the foothills of the Apennines. Tortona is about an hour drive east of Asti in the province of Alessandria. Since the Middle Ages, Timorasso has been cultivated here. Over the years, the variety was one of the most planted white grapes in Piemonte, along with Cortese in Gavi. According to Dalla Terra, Timorasso was amongst the most important white Piedmontese grapes with respect to production and plantings. While Barbera and Croatina are two widely planted red varieties in Tortona.
When phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Europe in 1879, Timorasso was excluded from replanting considerations. Growers longed for a sure thing following the annihilation of their life’s work. Instead, they favored replanting the more reliable Cortese. Later, by the end of World War II, Timorasso had been pushed to the brink of fatal extinction. Market tastes had shifted to red wines and people were leaving rural, agricultural zones like Tortona for work in the city during the post-war economic boom.
Yet as fate would have it, a fortunate turn of events was on the horizon for Timorasso.
The Pioneer: Walter Massa
Upon graduating from Alba’s school of enology in 1976, Walter Massa took the reins of his family’s winery in Colli Tortonesi. Located in Monleale, a hilltop village in southeastern Piemonte, Vigneti Massa had long since sold mostly Barbera, as well as Cortese and Croatina grapes to winemakers of the region. Massa quickly recognized the altitude, climate, and soil of Colli Tortonesi are particularly suited to cultivate white grape varieties. Though early market demands resulted in red plantings dominating the area, Massa saw even greater potential for white wines.
Yet the nearby region of Gavi was already known for quality Cortese, which didn’t really shine in Monleale anyway. The Massa vineyards always had some plantings of a thick-skinned native variety called Timorasso. It produced delicious table grapes and even made its way into blends with Cortese, which Massa sold in demijohns to local wine merchants.
In 1987, following his gut, Massa produced just 500 bottles of his first single varietal Timorasso. This first vintage confirmed his instincts that he was onto a game changer. He worked with only 400 plants throughout his vineyard holdings to produce successive experimental vintages. All the while learning how to work with this rare variety. Following a decade of trial runs, Massa bottled and released his first Timorasso from the Costa del Vento vineyard planted in 1990.
Today, Massa has 10 hectares of vineyards planted to Timorasso, a true testament to the successful comeback story of this Italian white wine. His Derthona, made from a blend of all Massa’s Timorasso vineyards, is perhaps the most revered example. It’s named for the local dialect for Tortona.
Several other producers have embraced the variety, too, making it a trademark for the region. Learn more with the Consortium for Terra Derthona here.
Colli Tortonesi: Soil, Climate & DOC Regulations
Colli Tortonesi, or the hills of Tortona, were geologically formed between fifteen and five million years ago, around the same time as the Langhe. The soils here are mainly composed of compact calcareous clay with ancient marine deposits. Moreover, the blue marl from the Tortonian period found here also runs throughout the ridge of Barolo. Similar to the Langhe and Monferrato, Colli Tortonesi soils are largely limestone with surface layers of sand and clay.
The region experiences a temperate, humid climate with positive moderating influences from the Ligurian Sea. There’s a significant diurnal shift throughout the growing season, which contributes to intense yet elegant aromatic intensity in the wines. Winters are typically cold and average annual rainfall ranges from 800-1000mm.
Wines can be produced under the Colli Tortonesi Timorasso DOC or the Colli Tortonesi Riserva Timorasso DOC. Both require a 95% minimum of Timorasso grapes and a 5% maximum of other white grapes cultivated in Piemonte. A 10-month minimum aging period starting November 1st after harvest is also required. You can read more about the Colli Tortonesi designation specifications here.
There is also a Derthona DOC, which must be made from 100% Timorasso grapes.
Timorasso in the Vineyard
Timorasso is known for abundant vegetation and high fertility. It’s an early ripening variety with an upwards growth habit, which is capable of thriving at sites over 500m above sea level. Timorasso has good disease resistance with compact, tapered clusters and thick-skinned berries.
Timorasso in the Glass
This Italian white wine typically shows medium to deep intensity yellow in the glass with subtle green reflections. Timorasso has an intense and distinctively complex bouquet of aromas. Within the first few years in bottle, Timorasso offers stone fruit aromas of peach and nectarine, along with pear, acacia, and honeysuckle, and an expressive honey note. Beyond four years in bottle, mineral notes become more pronounced.
On the palate, Timorasso is known for an exceptional balance of mouthwatering acidity and characteristically high alcohol. Classically, it’s a wine with no rough edges. One that coats the mouth with concentrated flavors through to a memorable finish.
Timorasso is ideally paired with white meat dishes, fatty fish, or aged cheeses. However, it’s robust enough to complement a beef tartare prominently savored in Piemonte as well.
Tasting Notes: Vietti Timorasso Derthona Colli Tortonesi DOC 2019
- Medium+ intensity yellow color with subtle green reflections.
- Exuberant aromas of mandarin orange, white grapefruit, honey, white peach, nectarine, white grapefruit, acacia, and honeysuckle.
- The bouquet is fresh and vibrant yet deeply complex, hinting at the robust wine in the glass.
- The palate is deliciously round and dry with medium+ mouth filling acidity balancing a full body and high alcohol.
- For as delicate as the aromas are, the body and palate are rich, but not overwhelmingly so.
- Very good to drink now, but definitely has potential for further aging.
Get more information on this wine and how it was made here.