A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Timorasso - Colli Tortonesi, Piemonte, Italy

Today marks Fringe Wines' 13th foray into the region of Piemonte in northern Italy, tying it with the Finger Lakes for the most written about region on this blog.  What's really interesting to me about that is that all of the wines that I've written about from the Finger Lakes were things that I picked up while visiting that region, while all of the wines from Piemonte that I've written about were purchased at stores in the Boston area.  I've written more posts about wines from Piemonte than from the entire countries of Greece, Portugal and Austria, and posts about wines from Piemonte account for 1/6th of all of my posts on Italian wines in general.  The point I'm trying to make is that there are a lot of really interesting and really amazing wines being made in this particular corner of Italy and if you had to choose only one region to drink from for the rest of your life, Piemonte would be a pretty solid choice.  

All of which brings us to today's grape, Timorasso.  Timorasso's story reads like that of many other grapes we've looked at around here (like Pugnitello, Roscetto, Pecorino, Casetta, etc): there's this grape that's native to a particular region where it has some historical significance, but it falls from favor and nearly goes extinct, only to be ultimately resurrected through the efforts of one man/winery.  In Timorasso's case, it is generally thought to be native to the Alessandria region of Piemonte, which is in the southeastern corner of Piemonte, bordering Liguria to the south, Lombardia to the east, and just touching Emilia-Romagna to the southeast.  More specifically, the grape is grown around the village of Tortona, which is right on the border with Lombardia.  It's unclear how long the grape has been known in the region, as most sources indicate only that the grape has been grown there "since ancient times."  One source indicates that in an 1885 publication, it was listed as "among the most cultivated white grapes used to produce wine but also the fruit, together with Cortese," which is a direct quotation, and no, I'm not 100% certain what it's trying to say, but it does seem to indicate that Timorasso was fairly prevalent towards the end of the 19th Century.  

Phylloxera was first discovered in Italy in 1875, and while it's unclear whether Phylloxera was the first step in Timorasso's fall from prominence, it seems like the most probable explanation.  Timorasso is (and was) known for being difficult to manage in the vineyard and also for producing fairly low yields, which, together, usually spell certain (or near-certain) doom for a vine.  As we've seen time and time again, after vineyard owners found their difficult, low-yielding Timorasso vines decimated by Phylloxera, many of them took the opportunity to plant more user-friendly and productive vines in the louse's aftermath.  Many turned to grapes like Cortese or Barebera and only a few growers elected to replant Timorasso.  As the 20th Century advanced, wines made from Cortese or from Arneis or Barbera began to attract an international audience and so more and more Timorasso vines were pulled up and replanted to these varieties that were now not only more productive, but easier to sell as well.

By the 1980's, there were very few vines of Timorasso remaining and the grape was virtually forgotten not only on the international stage, but even in the area around its native home.  Some of the straggler vines were in the vineyard holdings of Walter Massa, whose family had been growing grapes and making wine for generations.  Walter recognized the potential of the Timorasso vines on his estate and, in a bold move, decided to plant Timorasso on a prime hillside site on his estate and ultimately vinify it as a varietal wine.  His first Timorasso crop was harvested and vinified in 1987.  In 1990, he committed more land to the project (for a total of 1.4 hectares) and named the vineyard site Costa del Vento.  For the next 8 years, he would harvest his Timorasso crop and make small batches of wine for himself, tasting re-tasting older vintages every so often to get a sense for how best to shepherd the grape from fruit to wine.  In 1995, he finally became convinced of the grape's ability to make a quality, age-worthy wine and began to sell it.  A handful of other producers in the area took note of what Massa was doing and planted Timorasso themselves.  While there isn't exactly a glut of Timorasso in today's marketplace, there are about 200 hectares currently planted throughout the Colli Tortonesi zone in southeastern Piemonte.

The bottle that I found was the 2009 Vigneti Massa (Walter Massa's winery), which I picked up from my friends at Federal Wine and Spirits for about $25.  The wine is released under the Colli Toronesi DOC (which does, somewhat surprisingly, permit Timorasso), but local producers are pushing for a Timorasso-specific DOC called Derthona, which has either just recently been approved or is close to being approved.  Derthona is the name of the town Tortona in the local dialect, and it is also the name given to the Vigneti Massa Timorasso bottling.  In the glass the wine was a fairly deep lemon gold color.  The nose was moderately intense with ripe apple, pineapple and pear fruits with a pronounced leesy kind of aroma.  On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity.  There were flavors of creamy white pear, ripe apple and pineapple fruit along with vanilla, pie-dough and mint.  The wine picks up some cheesy, leesy kinds of notes as it approaches room temperature and doesn't really benefit from their prominence.  Overall the wine was smooth, polished and very well made.  There are certain characteristics to it that would lead one to think that it might have seen some time in wood, but my understanding is that this is not a barrel fermented wine (some producers do subject their Timorassos to oak ageing, and it seems like the kind of wine that could endure it successfully).  It's a good, well priced wine that I'm glad that I tried, but which I probably won't be seeking out at any point in the future.

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