Timorasso, The Extraordinary Piedmont Wine That Almost Disappeared, But Didn’t

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…

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