Timorasso - a beautiful white wine from Piedmont

8/16/18 -

When you leave the Barolo zone and go southeast the terrain becomes even steeper, higher and more convoluted, and the hills are heavily wooded. Tourists like myself mostly go to visit some fantastic restaurants (da Cesare in Albaretto Torre, Cocinella in Serravalle Langhe, Locanda dell’Arco in Cissone, and da Gemma in Roddino - and I'm sure there are other fine spots that I haven’t been introduced to). This is the Alta Langha, and if you’re dining out you will want to have a designated driver for the trip home to handle the multiple hairpin turns that you will encounter. There used to be a lot of viticulture in the Alta Langha, but as with many interesting places to grow grapes in Italy, farming there was mostly abandoned after WWII. Meanwhile, back in Barolo, land prices have escalated to record levels: 3-4 million euros per hectare is now regularly reported, which makes it impossible for most locals to buy vineyards. This is contributing to renewed interest in the Alta Langha; obviously one can’t produce Barolo there, but it’s great territory for Dolcetto and, it turns out, for white and sparkling wine. For the first time this year in Piedmont we heard a lot of talk from winemakers about the Alta Langha; apparently a land rush is on, and we were told that some big producers (Serafino, Fontanafredda, Gancia) have bought land recently, or have added to older holdings. There’s even an Alta Langha DOCG for sparkling wine; it’s insanely large, and true to misguided form, specifies Chardonnay and Pinot Noir only. But in addition to the giants there are small growers making good wine, like Erpacrife, a sparkling Nebbiolo made by Giorgio Scarzello (producer of fine Barolo) with some friends.

Principiano in Ravera in May.                                                     

By far the best wine I’ve tasted from the Alta Langha is Ferdinando Principiano’s Timorasso Langhe Bianco. In fact, I’m currently so infatuated with this wine that I think it’s one of the best Italian white wines I’ve tasted. I also think that Ferdinando is making some of the greatest wines in Barolo and that he is a bona fide wine genius magician. I will regale you again in the future regarding his reds, but this is about the white wine. Jamie Wolff

Our colleague Anna DeBeer has joined us in sales and we are very happy about it! Here are her first published words of wisdom:

Timorasso, once the most commonly grown white grape in Piedmont, fell into decline after phylloxera ravaged the area in the late 19th century and it was replaced mostly with the much easier to grow Cortese grape. It has been only in the last few decades that the finicky (as it is prone to a number of diseases, thin skinned and low yielding) Timorasso has resurfaced, and this example from Principiano is absolutely one of the tastiest and most complex examples I have tried. Bright and pale lemon in color, it looks and smells as fresh and crisp as the mountain air from where it is grown. A pronounced herbal nose with salty and stony undertones leads into light white floral, white peach and almond aromas. On the palate its racy acidity cuts through first, followed by herbal notes of anise, chervil and hay, chased by zesty citrus and stone fruit flavors. The finish is exceptionally long and nutty and slightly bitter, yet stony and refreshing. I enjoyed this with a simple salad of cherry tomatoes and cucumber (from my tiny garden), tossed with feta, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice and herbs, which were fantastic together, but I can imagine this pairing with an endless array of dishes from pasta to chicken to vegetables, or of course, savored on its own, letting the Timorasso speak for itself. Anna DeBeer

I went crazy over this wine when I tasted the newly released 2016 in May in Monforte d’Alba. The wine seems absolutely typical of Timorasso, one of the more interesting and serious of the zillion Italian grapes you may not have heard of, or heard of until recently. If you told me that the 720 SLM was from Timorasso’s classic home in the Colli Tortonesi (about 100km east of Barolo) I’d believe it. The best Colli Tortonesi wines are fairly rich and full-bodied but remain elegant if the alcohol levels are in check. That’s a challenging if, and it certainly helps Principiano that his Timorasso vines are at 720 meters above sea level, or 2-3 times higher than Colli Tortonesi vineyards. There are some wines from there that I really like, even love (Oltretorrente, Ricci), but I have yet to taste anything this good.

Number One Fact: 12% alcohol! And obviously fully-ripe fruit, and very obviously pure and not manipulated. The wine is on the savory side aromatically, and the same saline and stony structure combined with nuts, hay, herbs, peach and pear, all carry through on the palate. It starts as tart and crisp and then grows and expands and is unusually complex, long and intense – rich and full, but just when most wines of this type would deliver heat, it’s ethereal and effortless, entirely refreshing and fascinating. There’s tons of material in balance – it reminds me a bit of good Chenin Blanc in profile, but very Italian with its almond-skin, delicately bitter tang on the finish. Made in stainless with indigenous yeasts, no clarification or filtration, and it goes through malolactic. A serious wine, seriously delicious; 2000 bottles made, of which we have reserved a greedy portion.

Speaking of greedy: Since spending the month of May in Italy with no-holds-barred at the table, we’ve been having an all-vegetable summer – vegan actually. As the cook in the family I think I’d find it pretty difficult to sustain in the cold months, but I’ve been shopping at the Union Square greenmarket 2-3 times a week and the choice and quality is amazing. Above you can see last night’s dinner (a rare pasta indulgence): grilled eggplant, chopped tomato and cherry tomatoes, garlic, fresh red chili, basil, and mint. Normally I’d Norma-ize it with mozzarella, or at least some ricotta salata, and certainly parmigiano, but it was very satisfying without, and quite perfect with the Timorasso, amplifying the herbal side of the dish and the nutty side of the wine. Jamie Wolff


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