Why Be Curious? So you hear it bandied about: “There are thousands of native grape varieties in Italy!” That’s true, but a lot of them are merely cute. The most serious native variety Timorasso deserves another category (and it’s white to boot). It’s utterly unique, complex, capable of aging, and transparent to where it’s grown. Walter Massa is the contadino straordinario who brought the grape back to life in the early 1980s. He remains the leading producer and go-to grower for Timorasso. Montecitorio is the newest of Massa’s three single-vineyard Timorassos. 2010 is the first vintage, so we’re still figuring out how it fits in among Costa del Vento and Sterpi!
For Timorasso as a variety: It’s native and unique to the Colli Tortonesi (southeast Piemonte). Before 1980s, most growers were ripping out Timorasso and planting Cortese, as the latter produces more and Gavi was all the rage, so they could sell the grapes easily. Timorasso is one of those grapes (unlike, say, Cortese) that really is delicious and refreshing to eat right off the vine, due to its high sugar content and acidity. When Timorasso is vinified, you get lots of complexity and structure (from alcohol and from tannins – skin contact and thick skins!). Yet there’s plenty of acidity to keep things fresh and a definite counterpoint of what we call ‘honeyed minerality.’ When Timorasso is young, it can be really tight. As it ages, it loses some of its baby fat, and riesling-ish, petrol-like notes emerge. As far as terroir, Walter vinifies each vineyard separately (or tries to if he has enough tanks) and bottles a small portion of three of the vineyards separately.
Produttore / Producer: Walter Massa is the real deal: a contadino (farmer) with deep family roots in his native Colli Tortonesi who’s usually plowing his vineyards or buzzing around his cellar when someone arrives for a visit. He’ll then stop to spend hours showing around, pouring wines for, and talking with the continual waves of journalists, sommeliers, importers, buyers, and just plain fans who make their way to his village of Monleale in the southeast corner of Piemonte. Massa is universally known as the Maestro of Timorasso — he rescued it from obscurity and near-extinction and now leads a mini-renaissance of the variety in the Colli Tortonesi. But he also produces amazing and distinctive reds from the local varieties Barbera, Croatina, Freisa, and Nebbiolo. Besides being one of Italy’s truly great producers, he’s a stellar example of what the Italians call a personaggio — a real personality. We are lucky to have him and his wines.
Vigna / Vineyard: From a single eastern-facing vineyard in the village of Monleale. Marl and chalk soils. Palazzo Montecitorio is the palace in Rome where the Italian Chamber of Deputies (more or less our House of Representatives) meets. An elder contadino in Monleale used to say with a mock-prideful air when he was going to work the vineyard that he was “going to Montecitorio”.
Cantina / Cellar: Native yeasts. Maceration with skins for 60 hours. Fermentation 18-22°C. Batonnage. Light filtration. Minimum six months bottle aging before release.
Il Vino / The Wine: We often say that Timorasso is like Ali: “Float like a butterfly (baroque fruit and honeyed minerality) and sting like a bee (lots of well-integrated acidity)”. Montecitorio is from a cooler site, and in its first vintage (2010) appears to produce wines that fall in between Costa del Vento and Sterpi — i.e., more mineral than the former and richer than the latter. Timorasso is one of the longest-aging white varieties in Italy. In fact, the wine often needs an extra year or two in bottle before it becomes expressive and fun to drink. Good vintages easily age five to 10 years, and we’ve has bottles going back to the 1980s that remained alive. It’s especially fun to pour this wine blind for your friends who love aged white Burgundy or Riesling. (And although it’s not inexpensive, it costs considerably less than most Premier Cru white Burgundies!)
A Tavola… / At the Table… This is not your typically light and simply refreshing Italian aperitivo white wine; it’s one of the great white wines of Italy (really). Like all Timorassos, it’s got substance and structure and deserves substantial food, such as richer fish, poultry, and pork dishes. Use it as you would an Austrian or (dry) Alsatian Riesling. It’s also an excellent vino da meditazione at the end of a meal.
Vigneti Massa Timorasso Cru ‘Montecitorio’
Vigna / Vineyard
Nome / Name: Montecitorio.
Ettari / Hectares: 1.6 hectares.
Quota / Altitude: 300 m / 985 ft.
Suoli / Type of soils: Marl and calcareous soils.
Esposizione / Exposure: Eastern exposure.
Vitigni / Varieties: 100% Timorasso.
Età delle viti / Vine age: Planted in 2006.
Allevamento / Trellis system: Guyot.
Metodo di vendemmia / Harvest technique: Hand harvested.
Metodo agricolo / Agricultural technique: Lotta integrata (sustainable).
Cantina / Cellar
Lieviti / Yeasts: Native.
Fermentazione alcolico / Alcoholic fermentation: In stainless steel. Maceration with skins 60 hours. Fermentation 18-22°C. Batonnage.
Élevage: In stainless steel and concrete tanks. Minimum six months bottle aging before release.
Chiarificazione, filtrazione / Clarification, filtratration: Light filtration (.65 micron).
Zolfo / Sulphur: 60 mg/L total, 25 mg/L free.
Altri prodotti aggiunti? / Other products added?: None.
Produzione annua / Annual production: 200 cases.
Gradazione alcolica / Alcoholic %: 14%.
Tappo e bottiglia / Closure and bottle: Natural cork, 750 ml Burgundy bottle.