It is undoubtedly the sound and fury of Italian sommeliers: Massa’s Timorasso. Modigliani curves (this wine is full bodied) focused by the angled faces; some fruit, a warm minerality, and all carried by an acidity that recalls a heavyweight with agile footwork. It’s hard not to get worked up about Walter Massa’s wines: He had a vision for a variety nobody wanted, worked in obscurity for years, rescued the grape, and doesn’t talk about himself but about the territory of Colli Tortonesi. When you get lost going there, start asking people 100 kilometers out; they all know and love him, from the gas station guy to the producer next door.
Even Jancis Robinson, who mostly saves her love for the French, is titillated:
“I absolutely loved this white wine [2006 Massa Timorasso ‘Derthona’] and found more aromas and flavours, and more pleasure, as I drank it over the course of a few days…. Very inviting spiced honeyed nose and some creamy, lightly spiced aromas…. Nutty, citrus, with just discernible floral and apricot notes. Full of flavour and yet restraint, cool and fresh and lingeringly elegant and aromatic…. As the week went by, I found even more flavours emerging – white flowers, ginger, mineral and still nutty. I also noted a firmness in the texture but it was still alluringly creamy. Long, powerful and sophisticated with a gently floral finish.”
The zone of the Colli Tortonesi is composed of various soils (clay, chalk, stone, sand) and is perched around the nearly-abandoned hilltop town of Monleale Alto, around 200-300 meters altitude. Walter is quite the host, and this sleepy place comes alive through his passion. Walk down and then back up the steep vineyards and into the cantina, have lunch with his mom and his family, uncork say 12 bottles from various years, make nice with the journalists and kids running around, nudge an older aunt because you’re dizzy with joy, ask Milan’s top wine rep how he sells so much, smile and thank the vineyard workers having lunch, praise the two women who personally took care of the new vine planting… it’s a whirlwind of nonchalance and serious wine.
The whirlwind continues as Walter returns from the cellar, triple-fisted with a ‘99 Croatina, ‘02 Barbera Monleale, and a Timorasso whose age you have to guess. You can only say “No!” in disbelief and then nod Yes! in awe of being in one of Italy’s great lands, and in the presence of a man in touch with that land — a man who is half circus conductor and half prophet, grounded in his sometimes crazy-seeming vision. His feet are roots; his arms spring shoots; his fingers offer you another glass or point out something in the vineyard.
Walter farms 30 hectares in eight distinct vineyard areas. Total production at Massa is about 13,000 cases, of which 5,000 is Timorasso. He produces amazing reds as well from the local grapes (Croatina, Barbera, Freisa, Nebbiolo). Most bottles of Barbera fail to answer the question of whether the grape, with a touch of wood, can truly age (instead of merely keep). Massa’s Barbera Monleale is the start of an answer; we’ve tasted examples going back 15 years, and we periodically bring in some library wines for you to taste. His Barbera in steel is Sentieri, with light-saber Barbera fruit. His entry-level Fuso Barbera helped us launch (and gave the name to) our FUSO21 project; it’s a daily drinker that goes with everything and is priced right.