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A Lost Grape of Piedmont, Re-Discovered: Mariotto's Timorasso

Stylized image of Claudio Mariotto, Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Bianco "Cavallina", 2019

Leonardo da Vinci was said to be a big fan. In the 19th century, it was Piedmont’s most widely-planted white wine grape, mostly for export to Switzerland and Germany. But in 1999, when Nicolas Belfrage wrote his excellent and comprehensive book on the wines of Northern Italy, the variety isn't even mentioned. It was all but extinct.

The grape is Timorasso. The 21st century has turned out to have many problems, but it has also offered some positives. One of them is the recovery of so many of Italy’s unique, historical traditions that had been lost to the mechanization and homogenization of the 20th century. Because of the work of a dedicated group of vignerons like Claudio Mariotti, we can once again enjoy da Vinci’s favorite grape — and it is delicious.

Timorasso’s near-disappearance is understandable. It’s a very difficult grape to grow. The berries ripen erratically, so that you will see a variety of different sizes and colors of grapes on the same bunch. And even the fastest-ripening grapes take their sweet time, such that it has been possible to consistently make good wine from Timorasso only in warmer years.

Claudio Mariotto was determined to rise to the challenge. After inheriting an old family estate in the Tortona hills of Piedmont, it was tempting to simply continue growing the easier-grown Cortese, like virtually all his neighbors. But he wanted to revive ancient Tortonese traditions, and thus he worked hard at learning to grow the grape and has played a major role in its recent revival. Today he is considered one of the true masters of Timorasso.

Mariotto’s Tomarisso is exquisite. It has explosive minerality and oozes crushed herbs. It has the structure to reward aging, and actually today’s example, at 5 years old, is showing pleasing signs of maturation.

Like the funny-shaped tomatoes you find in the market in August, you should think of this as “heirloom” wine. It’s a unique wine, of excellent quality, that is a throwback to the times that we almost lost completely.

Claudio Mariotto, Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Bianco "Cavallina", 2019 $38.99


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