Master of Wine

On Timorasso and Belonging

Saturday, May 14, 2014 – The last full day of the 8th Institute of Masters of Wine Symposium found me glumly sipping my way through the day’s first tasting, entitled “Discovering the New Italy.”  Why glumly?  A little back story:  Just two weeks prior to making my way to Florence, I had rather abruptly quit my job and had therefore arrived at a conference for wine professionals devoid of credentials, business cards, or a profession.  For the previous three and a half days I had answered the incessant “What do you do?” question by saying I was, “between positions,” “in the market for a new opportunity,” or “taking time off.”  All euphemisms for unemployed.

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Me on May 14, 2014

So there I was at a tasting in an exhibition hall in Florence among hundreds of successful, employed wine industry people feeling decidedly like I did not belong.

There were roughly 45 wines featured at the tasting.  I had been systematically making my way through the whites figuring I would circle back later to any reds that looked interesting.  It was just before 10 am and the hall was filling quickly.  I spied a table to my right that wasn’t too crowded where a gentleman was pouring two white wines.  I consulted my program, it read:  Derthona Costa Del Vento, Vigneti Massa, Colli Tortonesi, Piedmont, Italy – Vintages 2008 and 2011 – 100% Timorasso.  Other than Piedmont, Italy I had no idea what any of it meant.

I stepped up to the table and held out my glass.  The gentleman, who spoke only Italian, poured a splash of wine from the 2011 bottle.  I looked down at my program and found that the wine’s technical notes were also in Italian.  With no information in English and no idea what to expect, I sipped.  My palate lit up immediately.  It felt like there were fireworks in my brain it was so good.  The only coherent thought I could form was, What is this?  My less-than-eloquent notes from that first sip are as follows:  At once lush and linear, minerality and fruit, seriously delicious!!!

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2011 Vigneti Massa Derthona Timorasso

As it turns out I had just met Timorasso, one of about 500 or so grape varieties that is indigenous to Italy. (Fun fact:  Italy has more indigenous grape varieties by far than any other country, and the vast majority of them aren’t grown anywhere else.)  Its home is Piedmont, where the red grapes Nebbiolo and Barbera rule the day.  By any typical measure of a wine’s success – production volume, critical acclaim, number of vines planted, name recognition – Timorasso isn’t successful.  At all.

And yet, here was a wine so captivating, so distinctive, so unlike any other I had ever had that I was transfixed.  Could I describe it in that moment?  No, not at all.  Could I draw comparisons to something more well-known?  Not really.  Did I love it?  Yes.  Timorasso didn’t fit into any of the usual boxes.  It defied my attempts to place it among the usual suspects, Italian or otherwise.

And therein lies Timorasso’s one great success (and the reason why you should seek it out).  It is truly in its own quirky, idiosyncratic, and seriously delicious league.  Perfectly at home in obscurity, waiting patiently to teach us a new definition of what it is to belong.

Inspirations for this Post: 

A terrific article in Wine Enthusiast, “Why You Should be Drinking Timorasso” by Kerin O’Keefe, featuring Walter Massa, who is responsible for the wines I tasted and for cultivating Timorasso in Piedmont even when others thought it was a crazy idea.

International Masters of Wine 8th Symposium held in Florence, Italy.  The next one is slated for Rioja in June 2018.