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To hear the producers tell it, Timorasso is the “noble” white grape variety the Piedmont region has been looking for—or, more accurately, the indigenous variety most worthy of a revival. Like so many of Italy’s hyper-local indigenous cultivars, Timorasso may well have disappeared altogether had it not been for a few devoted local growers—like Claudio Mariotto—in the area around Tortona. As all sorts of big-name producers descend on the Colli Tortonesi to claim (or plant) some Timorasso vines for themselves, local stalwarts like Mariotto, whose family has made wine here since the 1920s, are enjoying a well-deserved moment in the sun. Timorasso is prized for its rigid acidic backbone, its aromatic lift, and its ability to transmit minerality, so much so that the Piedmontese believe it to be their answer to Chardonnay from Chablis, Grüner from Austria, or Chenin Blanc from the Loire. They’re gunning for the greats, and Mariotto makes a convincing case with this scintillating sub-$30 showpiece.
The “Colli Tortonesi” DOC zone, which remains exceedingly small in terms of total vineyard acreage, covers the clay/limestone hills (colli) around Tortona, an ancient town in Piedmont’s Alessandria province, not far from Piedmont’s mountainous border with Liguria. Tortona was historically known as Derthona, or Dertona, and many Timorasso-based wines (including this one) carry that archaic name on their labels. Timorasso effectively grows here and nowhere else; it had been practically extinct until a visionary local producer named Walter Massa resurrected it and began attracting serious critical attention in the early 2000s.
Like Massa, Mariotto is one of the region’s heritage producers—and one of the key players in the Timorasso revival—having taken over in the 1990s as the fourth-generation proprietor of the family estate. Their vineyard holdings are substantial by Tortona standards: 54 hectares in the Apennine foothills around Vho and Sarezzano, two small communes just east of Tortona. His “Derthona” bottling is billed as his top-of-the-line offering; it’s a selection of his best-quality fruit, fermented in steel and aged in tank on its fine lees for a year before bottling. It then spends at least six months in bottle before it is released into the market.
This ’19 employs no oak in the aging process, and doesn’t miss it—there’s nice texture imparted by the long lees aging, complementing the bright green-apple fruit and racy acidity. There are a few analogs that come to mind upon tasting it: Smaragd-level Grüner Veltiner from the Wachau; steely Chablis; and Chenin Blanc from Saumur. In the glass, it’s a glistening straw-yellow with hints of green at the rim, bursting with scents of green apple, citrus, wildflower honey, sea salt, and green almond carrying over to the medium-bodied palate. It is a fascinating new sensation for lovers of structured white wines and will be a perfect partner for green salads, seafood, or a strong, salty Piedmontese cheese like Castelmagno. Decant it 15 minutes or so before serving in all-purpose white wine stems at 45-50 degrees and brace yourself for a welcome jolt of energy. You can see why everyone’s excited about it—enjoy!
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