January 16

Discover the Revival of Derthona Timorasso and its Wine Styles: The Piedmont Wine Renaissance


Derthona Timorasso, formerly known as Colli Tortonesi, has revitalized the wine scene in Piedmont. Led by dedicated winemakers like Walter Massa, this varietal’s resurgence is a testament to perseverance and heritage. This article explores its survival, meticulous cultivation, and unique flavor profile that sets it apart from other Italian white wines.

Walter Massa’s invitation to Sassaia to join the DOC is a testament to his visionary approach. By combining the unique terroir of Derthona, the elegance of Sassaia’s Burgundy style, and the innovative minimalist techniques of UC Davis, together they have paved the way for a truly groundbreaking expression of Colli Tortonesi terroir. So much so that their efforts led to a coveted Falstaff trophy for top Piedmont wine.

Key Takeaways

  • Timorasso, an almost forgotten ancient grape from Piedmont, was revived by the famous Derthona “King” Walter Massa and has undergone a renaissance, now covering about 840 acres of vineyards thanks to the efforts of local producers.
  • Derthona Timorasso wine is known for its unique flavor profile, with hints of yellow plums, ginger, and a touch of sweet minerality. It combines traditional techniques and modern organic viticulture, resulting in an exceptional wine.
  • Vigneti Massa is the point of reference for the traditional style done in stainless steel and Sassaia is known for its barrique ferment. These styles age gracefully, gradually developing a complex bouquet, and have rightly earned the moniker “White Barolo”.
  • Recognizing the potential of Timorasso in Piedmont’s cultural heritage, Barolo producers have invested heavily in this region and indigenous varietal. Along with Sassaia, the Barolo producers have invested in the township of Monleale. Among the 14 noted Barolo producers in Monleale you find the famous: La Spinetta, Borgogno, Vietti, and Roagna.
  • The terroir of Colli Tortonesi shares a geological connection with Barolo, imparting the distinctive Sant’agata marl minerality and complexity to Timorasso wines.
  • The history of Piedmont includes ties of 1000 years to France under the House of Savoy. During this period, winemaking techniques were exchanged between the Benedictine monks and the monks of Monferrato.

Exploring Derthona Timorasso: A Historical Gem Revived by Walter Massa

The Renaissance of an Ancient Grape

Timorasso, a grape variety that had almost faded into oblivion, was revived by Walter Massa in the late 1980s. In 1987, a mere 1.2 acres of Timorasso vines remained in the Piedmont region. Walter Massa owned less than 500 of these, but he set out to change the fate of this grape.

The fruits of his labor were realized when he crafted his first wine from purely Timorasso grapes, marking a contemporary revival of this old grape variety in the context of modern day existence. This milestone sparked a significant growth in producing Timorasso.

Today, about 840 acres of vineyards in Piedmont, including the renowned Costa del Vento in Monleale, are dedicated to Timorasso, a testament to Walter Massa’s vision and the inspiration he provided to other local producers.

The Art of Crafting Timorasso: Traditional Techniques & Modern Innovations

In recent years, organic viticulture has gained momentum in the wine industry, and Timorasso is no exception. This approach promotes sustainable farming practices, contributing to the health of the soil and the quality of the grapes. Technological advancements and industrialized agriculture have also had a transformative impact on the Italian wine industry.

As an example, Sassaia incorporates Xfarm weather stations and software in their vineyard. These tools, along with satellite recognition, aid in monitoring vineyard vigor (as shown above) and assessing the risk of diseases and harmful insects. This comprehensive approach ensures the well-being of the vineyard and promotes a thriving environment for grape cultivation.

Particularly in the second half of the 20th century, Timorasso producers have embraced sustainable farming, making Timoarsso not only delicious but also a reflection of the DOC’s commitment to sustainability and quality.

From Vineyard to Cellar

Skin maceration and stainless steel fermentations with lees aging are the traditional style. As it matures, it develops a complex profile that resembles great aged Rieslings.

The Sassaia twist, done with Walter’s blessing, adopts hand harvest, cold maceration pre pressing in small 5-6kg cassettes, decanting directly into 228 liter Chassin French oak for a low temperature spontaneous fermentation.

This style yields similarities of white peach, lemon citrus, and aromatics that are reminiscent of a Puligny-Montrachet or other signature burgundy wines. Timorasso in stainless steel, and to a lesser extent in French oak, exhibits unique notes of petrol, and both styles showcase varying degrees of honey nuances.

The distinctive sweet minerality of Timorasso is attributed to:

  • The rich limestone soils of the region, particularly the Sant’Agata Fossili soils, bestow Barolo with its renowned character and also bless Timorasso with their unique qualities.
  • The natural high acidity of the grape gives Derthona Timorasso its longevity.
  • The high acidity profile of the grape lends itself well to either extended skin contact and stainless steel fermentation, or cold maceration and barrel fermentation. Both styles respond favorably to lees aging.

The high acidity of Timorasso also makes it a great candidate for full malolactic fermentation. This, combined with the absence of residual sugar, allows for minimal filtration, enhancing its unique flavor profile.

The path that a Timorasso grape takes from vineyard to cellar highlights the detailed care and precision involved in making each bottle of wine. The cultivation of Timorasso grapes comes with its own set of unique challenges. Its difficult ripening nature caused many farmers to abandon its cultivation, but those who persisted harvested these grapes by late September.

Timorasso grapes undergo a series of processes post-harvest, including:

  • Cryomaceration, a delicate pressing procedure that prepares the grapes for the winemaking process
  • Yeast fermentation, which enhances the fermentability of the juice and aids in the spontaneous malolactic fermentation
  • Aging in barrels and stainless steel containers during vinification

These steps are crucial in the winemaking process of Timorasso wine.

Embracing Organic Viticulture

The trend for organic viticulture is on the rise in winemaking circles, and it’s integral to the production of Timorasso wine. This approach prioritizes the health of the soil and employs sustainable farming methods. The practice of organic viticulture can enhance the olfactory characteristics of Timorasso wine, resulting in a more pronounced presence of fruity and floral aromas.

In organic viticulture, methods such as grazing sheep for weed control and the use of bio-control agents are employed to naturally maintain a healthy vineyard environment and manage pests. In the region of Colli Tortonesi, organic viticulture has had a positive impact on biodiversity and contributes to environmental sustainability.

The Terroir of Colli Tortonesi: A Tapestry of Flavors

The Colli Tortonesi region is a mosaic of flavors that nurtures the Colli Tortonesi Timorasso grape.The image above showcases the distinctive Sant’agata marl, which, when combined with the microclimate of the region, greatly influences the taste and unique characteristics of Timorasso wine.

The terroir of Colli Tortonesi imparts a distinctive minerality to the Timorasso grape, resulting in exceptional, long-lasting, mineral-rich wines. The presence of limestone in the Sant’Agata Fossili soils plays a significant role in shaping the mineral flavors and complex aromas of Timorasso grapes. Cool nights and hot days of Colli Tortonesi promote full grape ripening, enhancing the complexity and flavor of the wines.

Soil Composition and Climate Impact

The soil composition in Colli Tortonesi is vital for the flavor of Timorasso wine. Abundant limestone, including calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, supports the creation of structured, mineral-rich Timorasso wines with floral aromas and flavors of apricot and apple.

The climate of Colli Tortonesi also influences the development of Timorasso grapes. Scarcity of rainfall and nutrient-poor soils stimulate deep root systems in the vines, impacting grape flavor.

Warm, humid summers influenced by the Po Valley contribute to the maturation of Timorasso grapes, resulting in complex and flavorful wines.

Comparing Timorasso with Other Local Varietals

The Piedmont region offers diverse grape varieties, each with its own unique character. Timorasso stands out with its distinct flavor profile. Unlike the sweet and delicate Moscato with tropical fruit notes, Timorasso showcases elevated acidity for a robust structure and invigorating character.

Compared to the dark fruit flavors and almond hints in Dolcetto wines and the strawberry and sour cherry notes in Barbera wines, Timorasso is known for its high acidity and a bouquet of floral and fruity notes. Its uniqueness makes it a beloved varietal among wine enthusiasts.

Tasting Notes: Savoring Derthona Timorasso – Colli Tortonesi

Derthona Timorasso is often referred to as a red wine in a white cloak. A great sensory voyage is tasting Timorasso alongside red wines. Derthona is also known for its Barbera. At first taste, an array of flavors greets you, encompassing:

  • ripened peaches
  • crunchy pears
  • wild flowers
  • fresh honey

As the wine ages, it may acquire a ‘petroleum’ note reminiscent of aged Rieslings, adding to its complexity and full body.

Beyond the Glass: Cultural Significance and Pairings

Timorasso’s narrative extends beyond vineyards and cellars. Its cultural impact in Piedmont’s Colli Tortonesi region is undeniable. The revival of Timorasso is a remarkable comeback in the Italian wine industry, rekindling the region’s winemaking traditions and community.

Timorasso is often showcased at traditional events in northern Piedmont, like the Fiera del Peperone (Pepper Fair) in Carmagnola and the Vinum festival in Alba, highlighting its cultural importance.

Culinary Companions for Timorasso

To fully savor the flavors of Timorasso wine, pairing it with the appropriate food is essential. It goes well with:

  • Rich seafood dishes
  • Charcuterie boards
  • Braised beef
  • Pasta with meat or cream sauce
  • Risotto alla fontina or Castelmagno (local cheese)

To achieve its full flavor potential, Derthona Timorasso should ideally be aged for a minimum of 18 months before bottling and marketing. It reaches its peak potential after aging for 5-10 years, allowing the wine to develop and mature, showcasing its unique flavors at their best.

The Palate’s Journey: A Tapestry of Flavors: Unveiled: The Sassaia Expression

Sassaia is a label that epitomizes the fusion of Derthona terroir and an innovative twist on a Burgundy-style expression of Timorasso. It eloquently captures the essence of this varietal’s intrinsic characteristics. This wine showcases a charismatic interplay of acidity and minerality, with a subtle and almost imperceptible embrace of oak. It stands as a triumphant affirmation of what Piedmont’s terroir can achieve through minimalist intervention and the incorporation of Burgundy-inspired nuances.

With hints of white peach, zesty lime, and delicate traces of honey infused with aromatic herbs, Sassaia creates a sensory masterpiece that resonates with the discerning palate. Among connoisseurs, it commands recognition. In 2019, Sassaia proudly received the prestigious Falstaff trophy for being Piedmont’s second-best white wine, a testament to its exceptional composition and remarkable heritage.

Aging Gracefully

Timorasso wine is famous for its exceptional aging potential. As it matures, it develops complex mineral flavors, notes of dried fruit, almond, and honey, while maintaining refreshing acidity. The aging process enhances the wine’s mineral complexity and texture. A well-matured Timorasso wine may exhibit characteristics reminiscent of aged Rieslings, including fruity nuances like citrus, tropical fruits, and dried/baked fruit. Barrel fermentation can also produce floral and fruity aromas.

Timorasso in the Fabric of Piedmont’s History

Timorasso wine holds a special place in the history of Piedmont. Once a rare grape variety on the verge of extinction, it was saved by the passion of wine enthusiast Walter Massa. Through his efforts, Timorasso was revived and given a new lease on life. DNA studies have revealed that Timorasso is likely a descendant of Lambruscetto, a variety commonly found in Castelnuovo Bormida, Alessandria. This genetic analysis further confirms Timorasso’s indigenous origins in Piemonte (see study: Torello Marinoni et al., 2006).

The revival of Timorasso wine production has led to:

  • Increased investments in the local economy of Piedmont.
  • Expanded distribution channels for Timorasso wine by Barolo and local producers.
  • Two distinct styles: stainless steel and barrel fermented, each with it’s following.


The rise of Timorasso from near oblivion to a revered variety is a testament to the power of passion and persistence. The revival of this grape, led by Walter Massa, has not only brought a piece of Italy’s viticulture history back to life, but it has also contributed to the growth and sustainability of Piedmont’s wine industry. Walter’s encouragement and backing of the Sassaia project has also given Derthona terroir an alternative barrel expression of elegance.

The delicious wines, with their unique flavors and ability to age gracefully, are a testament to the meticulous care and precision that goes into their production. These wines are not just a sensory delight, but also a reflection of the rich history and culture of the Piedmont region.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Derthona wine?

Derthona is the ancient Roman Empire name for Tortona and it has been adopted by the DOC. Derthona wine is made from the Timorasso grape, rediscovered in the Colli Tortonesi in Piemonte. It is known for its honeyed minerality. The DOC requires 1 year of aging for release to develop structure and depth. Riserva requires 3 years of aging prior to release. Piccolo Derthona can be released after 6 months of aging.

Is Sassaia the largest producer of Barrique fermented Derthona Timorasso?

Several Derthona producers are experimenting with small batch barrel-fermented production. Sassaia, in particular, relies on Chassin French oak for over 95% of their Derthona. The cooper crafts 5000 barriques per year which are primarily sold in France. For their distinctive Derthona, Sassaia uses 228-liter Chassin barrels and 250-liter Italian ceramic Clayver.

Why is Burgundy so special?

Burgundy is a special historical region known for its exceptional wines. With a unique terroir and winemaking techniques, it produces sought-after wines loved by collectors and enthusiasts. Renowned for its excellence in producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Is Burgundy French or German?

Burgundy is French. The area was initially settled by the Burgundians, a Germanic tribe, but it adopted the French language and culture later on. Piedmont and France were untied for 1000 years under the House of Savoy.

How is Sassaia related to UC Davis Wine Certification Program?

Enrico de Alessandrini, Winemaker for Sassaia, is a Graduate of the UC Davis Wine Certification program. He had the distinct pleasure of hosting the Director of the UC Davis CPE, Grady Wann Phd in Chemestry, for 6 weeks during the 2023 harvest.

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