Timorasso #4

Posted by Keith Wallace

Timorasso is a white grape native to Italy and has been growing around the Tortona hills, located at the crossroads of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, and Liguria, since the Middle Ages. Tortona was occupied by the ancient Romans, who established the city of Dertona, which can often be found on the label of many Timorassos today. Timorasso was one of the most commonly planted grapes in the area until the mid to late 1800s. But, following the mass emigrations from Italy in the late 1800s to early 1900s and two cataclysmic World Wars, the progress of the agriculture industry in Italy, like many other industries, was halted. When Italy and the World began to recover following World War II, many challenging and lesser-known grape varieties were replaced with more profitable alternatives that could appeal to the global market (2022). By 1987, only 1.2 acres of Timorasso remained, and the outlook for the Timorasso grape, once the jewel of the area, seemed dim.

Enter Walter Massa, the hero of our story! After graduating from enological school in Alba in 1976, Massa took over Vigneti Massa, his family’s farm primarily focused on popular and profitable red grapes like Barbera (Why You Should Be Drinking Timorasso, 2016). Around 1987, Walter Massa, like many great heroes, grew restless with the status quo and began experimenting with the art of the possible. He thought that perhaps this grape (and white grapes, in general) were better suited to the continental climate of the Piedmont region (Britt Karlsson, 2021). The Colli Tortonesi (the “Tortona Hills”) roll into the mountains and have cool, damp autumns and winters, allowing for ideal conditions for acidic varietals, like Timorasso. By the 1990s, Massa started to spread his vision and named his Timorasso “Derthona” as a nod to the ancient Roman city. Though he has trademarked the name, Massa allows other producers to include it on their labels to raise awareness of the grape and the area. Massa’s dedication to the resurrection of the grape spread amongst winegrowers and consumers, and by 2020, around 600 hectares of Timorasso could be found in the Colli Tortonesi.

When I first heard of Timorasso, it was introduced to me as the “Riesling of Piedmont.” As a Fingerlakes native who regularly tells anyone willing to listen that Riesling is a misunderstood and elegant grape, that was all I needed to hear to start searching for a bottle. I tried a Vigneti Massa 2014 Timorasso and a Giacomo Borgogno e Fogli 2019 Timorasso while traveling for “work” in Napa. The wine guy, Madison, who presented the Giacomo Borgogno e Fogli and explained that he was a Sommelier in the way that Dr. Oz is a politician, noted that, to him, Timorasso tasted like roasted unsalted peanut skin. I did not get any peanut skin, but I did note its fascinating flavor profile and bright, acidic structure. The Giacomo Borgogno e Fogli had a slightly more floral nose than the Vignetti Massa, which punches you in the nose with aromas of petrol, similar to a Riesling. The Giacomo Borgogno e Fogli had a slight weight to it, with flavors of honey and almond, while the Vignetti Massa had peach, citrus, and slate flavors. The overall experience, the comeback story, and the unique tasting experience instantly cemented Timorasso as an important grape in my zeitgeist.

Many in the industry, including Pietro Oddero of Poderi e Cantine Oddero, tout Timorasso as one of the most interesting indigenous white varieties in Italy. In 2020, Vietti’s winemaker, Luca Currado, reflected that “timorasso is a grape variety that has a lot of personality.” Despite its low profile, that personality grabbed my attention and will likely resonate with many consumers, particularly Generation Z and Zillennial. Spending five minutes on Tik Tok or BeReal shows that story matters more than ever. A study done by McKinsey has shown that while Millennials, who may favor the more well-known varietals, like Barbera, seek to consult the collective, Generation Z is looking towards those who are experts in the niche (The young and the restless: Generation Z in America, 2020). Timorasso is poised at the perfect intersection of authenticity and eccentricity to become the jewel of Italian varietals once again.

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