I have been tasting more and more Timorasso – an obscure white grape variety from Piemonte and I am hugely encouraged by all I have tasted.
The 2019 is the second vintage of Vietti’s Timorasso. Please see below for the background.
Never heard of this grape variety? Well, you can be easily forgiven as it is a largely unknown, yet historic grape variety that was referenced back in the middle ages, and said to be grown around the town of Tortona, some 50 miles east of Alba. In fact, the area known as the Colli Tortonesi lies close to the border between Piemonte and Lombardy, Liguria and Emilia-Romagna.
Despite the variety historically having enjoyed success on the blue marl ‘Tortonian’ soils of the region, it fell out of favour when phylloxera ravaged the vineyards of Europe in the late 1800s, and from the beginning of the 20th century, it was red varieties that started to dominate in the region. Saving this variety from extinction is largely credited to Walter Massa and Andrea Mutti, both of whom worked towards developing a greater understanding of the variety and whose winemaking efforts sparked a resurgence of interest. Interestingly, it was Alfredo, the father of Vietti’s current owner, Luca Currado, who worked hard to change the fortunes of another indigenous Piemontese variety, Arneis, so championing obscure varieties is not uncommon to Vietti.
However, Timorasso is not some simple early drinking varietal, low on complexity and low on ageing potential – quite the reverse. It is capable of making surprisingly complex whites with the ability to age well. Luca is said to have started to refer to it as white Barolo, much to the annoyance of some other producers! What he is trying to stress is the variety’s structure – Timorasso possesses a good acidity, it is lively in its youth and it is a variety that benefits from some skin contact so it picks up tannins in the winemaking process. It can at first seem very restrained on the nose, but it really opens up with air. Luca compares the acidity to Chenin Blanc, and I saw something of Riesling in its character traits at our tasting.
It has taken a lot of experimentation to arrive at the quality – the Currados are certainly proud of what they have achieved, but understanding how to craft a fine Timorasso required a steep learning curve. Luca Currado experimented with vinifying the wine in stainless steel, in concrete and in ceramic eggs, before finally settling on an approach that incorporated all three. The aim was to get the right level of oxygen exchange and experiment with lees contact, the fine yeasty deposit that settles during ageing. Perhaps the biggest challenge was judging the duration of contact with the skins – most white grapes are crushed with the juice being run off straight-away for fermentation, but Timorasso is rich in phenolic compounds in the skins, and the wine can benefit from some contact. Too much and, according to the Currados, it can bring about a distinct Riesling-like petrol character. Luca comments that he prefers not to force these characters but to allow them to emerge with age in bottle. You can bet there were some pretty ‘interesting’ experiments with this variety!
Timorasso styles can obviously vary depending on where it is grown and vintage conditions, as well as the winemaking approach employed. They can range from the racy, lively, apple and citrus styles to more viscous, rounded, exotic styles, all the while retaining their aromatic expression and acidity. The 2019 is somewhere between the two stalls; the 2018 certainly leaned towards the racier style, but I found beautiful notes of tangy exotic fruits in the 2019 and a much more rounded mouthfeel as well as that lively citrus acidity.
I should stress that the Currados have focused on Timorasso, not to add a simple early drinking style to their portfolio, rather they have added Timorasso as they have become convinced by its potential and unique character.