For years, Piedmont’s winemakers have been keenly aware that they were missing something. In Barolo, and to a lesser extent Barbaresco, they rode the success of Nebbiolo to the stratosphere, earning a reputation that is as sterling as any in the world world. Because of that, they cultivated a “second wine” model with Nebbiolo Langhe, and even altered the narrative on Barbera, proving that it can be a fine wine. As Piedmont began to eclipse Tuscany on the world stage, winemakers even found an audience for the more esoteric varieties of Freisa, Ruché and Pelaverga Piccolo.
Seeing red? You are not alone. Piedmont’s vinous narrative has been mostly one color, a fact that has kept the multi-dimensional region in northwest Italy from being a true polymath. Native white grape varieties such as Arneis and Erbaluce have proven to be fun, but limited. Plantings of Nascetta have been too constrained, and while excellent versions of Chardonnay and Riesling can be found, they are as much an ambassador for Piedmont as Ed Sheeran is for hip-hop.
Enter Timorasso, an indigenous grape from the Colli Tortonesi that is quickly revising Piedmont’s reputation on white wine.
“We have been enjoying Timorasso for years,” Vietti’s Elena Currado told me when I reached her and her husband, winemaker Luca Currado, via Zoom in late May. I was researching a now-published feature story for SevenFifty Daily about the rise of Timorasso and the rush on vineyard land in the Colli Tortonesi. Like so many indigenous grape varieties in Italy, Timorasso was on the brink a few decades ago. And, just like Schioppettino, Uva Longanesi, Dorona, and Arneis, it needed a savior.
That person turned out to be Walter Massa, who saw great potential in Timorasso, and who tirelessly advocated for it — not unlike Luca Currado’s father, Alfredo, who is often credited with saving Arneis from extinction.
However, the payoff for Massa’s work is that he now has the Greatest Grape Savior Story in Italy. That’s because many Italian wine-watchers (myself included), believe Timorasso is in the same class as Fiano, Verdicchio, Ribolla Gialla and Carricante, the grapes that yield Italy’s most celebrated white wines. It is a remarkable turn-around for a grape few knew about even 10 years ago.
Vietti is one of a handful of producers who are now collaborating with Massa and the area’s growers to expand Timorasso’s offerings. At their best, Luca Currado likens these wines to Hermitage Blanc. “[Except] Timorasso has more acidity, so in a way it is also like Chenin Blanc,” he said. “It is a white wine with tannin.”
It is these attributes that have kicked off the space race among producers from the Langhe and Monferrato, who — because of their commercial success with Nebbiolo — have the capital to chase Timorasso. Italy has never truly competed with the iconic French white wines of the Northern Rhône and Loire, let alone Burgundy. In other words, there’s a reason Currado’s comparison wasn’t to Fiano and Verdicchio.
Experimenting with Timorasso
Arriving at the 2018 Derthona Timorasso was not a simple matter for the Currados. The variety requires significant needle-threading from the winemaker to show its brilliance, something Elena elaborated on.
“Before releasing the 2018, for three vintages we did ‘exercises’ with Timorasso.” She laughed in her recollection, as though exercises was a kinder way of saying disasters. “For us it was something new. We are very happy with the result, but to arrive at it took a lot of time and experimentation.”
Timorasso has a rich phenolic character, meaning the natural phenols and polyphenols in the grapes yield a lot of aromas, flavors, textures and character. It is a “drinking from the fire hose” variety that, if mismanaged, will simply blitz the senses and leave you with nothing but a sense of being overwhelmed.
For those three experimental vintages, Currado vinified the Timorasso in stainless steel, concrete and ceramic eggs, eventually settling on a mixed approach of all three vessels to get the right balance of oxygen exchange, lees contact and preservation of acidity. The trickiest part may have been managing the time that the wine spent in contact with the grape skins — a process that extracts the phenolic character from the grapes, but that needs to be carefully timed.
“For our vineyard, if we did too much skin-contact, we accelerated the notes of petrol and sage,” Luca noted. “We prefer to have those come out with age.”
An Impressive Debut
Vietti’s Derthona Timorasso races out of the starting gate. In addition to its explosive aromas, the first thing I noticed was its incredible acidity. It sprints … eager, piercing acidity … like a buzzsaw, were some of my initial notes. But here is an important point: you have to let this wine breathe. What emerges after just a half-hour of air time is remarkable: tones reminiscent of fresh apricots combine with kiwi, faint gooseberries and a cut of mint, all followed by a round and rich texture that, as it mellows, could not be more inviting. Had I made my assessment right out of the bottle, I would have missed the point. (And in that sense, it sounds like a Barolo, doesn’t it?)
The wine’s presentation on day two was even better: it was more relaxed, more elegant, and even more complex in its aromas: apricots and mint, yes, but also baked apples, cinnamon stick, a profusion of flowers.
I pointed out to the Currados that this was a great attribute for these pandemic, house-bound times: a wine that can be savored over two or even three nights.
“Honestly, it has changed a lot already since we bottled it,” noted Elena. “Every time we open one, we say ‘oh my god, it’s better.'” Then she laughed. “We’ll arrive at a certain point where we’ll drink all of our reserves!”
Vietti is one of the Essential Winemakers of Italy, my curated list of the most consistently excellent wineries in the land of la dolce vita. Check out the list and take some notes for the next time you’re buying Italian wine.
2018 Vietti Colli Tortonesi Derthona Timorasso
Colli Tortonesi DOC (Piedmont) 🇮🇹
Grapes: Timorasso (100%)
Opinion: ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)
• Food-friendliness: Impeccable
• Value: Very Good
A beginner might like: The explosive aromas of hard-to-pin down but decidedly delicious fruits. Furthermore, this wine demonstrates how it can age well with several years in the cellar: have half of it one night, and fridge the rest for a second night with a tight cork. On night two you’ll have a completely different, yet still complex and lively, wine.
A wine obsessive might like: Comparing it to Chenin Blanc or Riesling (or Walter Massa, if you’re already geeked out on Timorasso). To me, the tones and aromas of Timorasso are very unique — the menthol/mint signature being one hallmark — but the textural qualities of Vietti’s Timorasso are quite different, falling in between Massa’s chill and Ezio Poggio’s bracing energy. This is an exciting addition to the Vietti collection of wines.
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