Timorasso is a grape variety from the Colli Tortonesi area in Piemonte that was almost lost, because it is difficult to work with and red grapes like Barbera and Croatina were more popular. Timorasso wines have great complexity and aging potential, which is extraordinary for white wines (especially when made without oak). Timorasso was ‘rescued’ by Walter Massa, and so it was great to be able to visit his winery and taste his wines.
Massa started planting Timorasso in the 1980s and produced the first vintage in 1987. By now he has 9.25 hectares in production, producing some 30,000 bottles annually. Starting with the vintage 2010, he produces three ‘crus’ from the best vineyards: Costa del Vento, Sterpi, and Montecitorio. He discovered that the wines should be aged for at least 18 months before they are bottled and marketed, and that they will reach their full potential with a further 30-40 months of bottle aging.
Most Timorasso is produced under the DOC Colli Tortonesi Timorasso, but Massa does not agree with the rules of the disciplinare of the DOC, and therefore he puts simply “vino bianco” on the label. He calls his Timorasso wines Derthona, referring to an old name of Tortona, the capital of the province.
Most Italian wine procedures still use corks instead of screwcap, but Massa is experimenting with screwcaps that have a membrane in them for controlled micro-oxygenation of the wine. With corks the oxygenation is more variable, which creates differences between bottles as they age, and it can cause the wine to become ‘corked’. At this time only the base Derthona is available with screwcap instead of cork, but I hope he will start using it for the cru as well.
We had the pleasure to meet Walter and chat with him a little, although he was very busy. When we were entering the village of Monleale where the winery is situated, he was busy moving pieces of concrete pipes using heavy machinery. He welcomed us and poured our first taste of Derthona. He gave me a reprint that he instigated of the 1898 manual for wine makers in the Colli Tortonesi. Then he had to do something else and one of his helpers took over.
This is the lineup of the wines we tasted. Below are my impressions.
All of the Derthona wines are produced in the same way. The only difference is from which vineyards the grapes have come. First the grapes are lightly crushed and chilled for 48-60 hours. This ‘skin contact’ (macerazione pelliculaire in French) is important for extracting the aromas from the skin. The wine is fermented in stainless steel vats and then aged for about 18 months in those vats with regular stirring of the lees (battonage). This adds complexity and roundness to the wine. Then the wine is aged in the bottle for at least 6 months before it is released.
- Derthona 2019. Straw yellow. Fragrant. Creamy and full-bodied with nice mellow acidity. Balanced. ****
- Derthona 2018. Less color and more astringent than 2019. Seems a lesser vintage than 2019, with the skins less ripe. (Because of the long skin contact, the ripeness of the skin is a very important factor.) ***1/2
- Sterpi 2017. Golden. Very powerful, fragrant and mineral. Balanced and complex with a long finish. ****1/2
- Sterpi 2018. Less color than 2017, less fragrant, more astringent and more elegant. It seems that 2018 is a vintage that I don’t like as much for Timorasso from Colli Tortonesi. ****
- Montecitorio 2017. Even more complex than Sterpi, but more elegant and balanced. Long finish. This is outstanding, what a wine! *****
- Costa del Vento 2011. An older vintage. Even more color and very powerful. Very nicely developed. Candied lemon peel. Ripe and balanced. ****1/2
We also tried two reds:
- The Monleale 2012 is made from Barbera, aged in new barriques. The wood was very nicely integrated and the wine has nice black fruit and firm but velvety tannins. I thought the alcohol (14.5%) was a bit too prominent. ***1/2
- The Pertichetta 2013 is made from Croatina, also known as Bonarda, and aged in large used wood. This also had 14.5%, but it was integrated better in the wine. Developed, juicy, and powerful with jammy dark fruit and firm ripe tannins. ****