Monday, March 30, 2015

The day I fell in love with a Piemontese white...

I love wine.

My first love affair with wine was with an Australian Barossa Shiraz. She was sexy, spicy, intense and full-bodied. She was my best companion in various dinners and parties in the early years of my wine journey as I grew and learnt about wine.

That intense and passionate relationship slowly faded. Not that I got bored with Shiraz. She is still one of the heavy red that I would usually go for when I have my beef. But over the years, I started to appreciate old world wine more. Do not get me wrong, both old world and new world styles of wine have wonderful things to offer, it was just that personally and currently I prefer the complexity and earthy nature of old world wines to the straight-forward fruity new world wines.

My love for wine had brought me and my family to the various wine countries and regions around the world. Last June, we spent 2 over weeks in Italy's Tuscany and Piemonte (Piedmont) regions. I linked up with wine researcher and writer Paul Balke, who specialises in Italian Piemonte wines, months before the trip and we discussed our common interest, the trip to Piemonte and he provided me valuable pointers and suggestions.

With Paul Balke at Colli Tortonesi

Mention Piedmontese wines, I am sure most of us would talk about Barolo and Barbaresco. The King and Queen of Italian tannic red wine made from Nebbiolo grapes have always been the pride of Piemonte in addition to the less famed Barbera and Dolcetto.

However, the world has not been paying much attention (or was it just me?) to the white wines from this region. I would say my impression of white from Piemonte are mainly the crowd-pleasing floral Moscato d’Asti and occasionally Gavi and Arneis in some of the Italian restaurants here. But during this trip to Piemonte, an intense, strong ancient white varietal, the Timorasso, caught my attention.

After meeting up Paul for the first time over a long lunch, our car followed his through a hilly but very scenic route of Colli Tortonesi, south-east of Piemonte, before reaching the house of Walter Massa in the town of Monleale near the ancient city of Tortona at about 3:30pm.

Walter Massa, the "King of the Timorasso"

Paul had insisted that I met up with Walter, who was (and still is) a star winemaker who produced the first wine from the Timorasso grape since Phylloxera, as part of my Italian wine trip. But he warned me before we arrived. 

"He is a very interesting figure. If he likes you, he will share his mind and wines with you. If he doesn't, be prepared to be turned away totally. Let me do the talking first and see how it goes." 

I was apprehensive hearing this and prepared myself for a not so fruitful trip.

Walter was busy doing some tasting with a few local wine merchants when we reached his place. Because of Paul's earlier warning, we sat quietly in one corner waiting for him to finish his session. But he gracefully invited us over to the dining table where the wines were served and started pouring us his Timorasso and sharing his stories.

The Timorasso white varietal was once widely grown in Gavi, but was largely replaced by the more easygoing Cortese as a result of phylloxera attack. The Massas have worked tirelessly to keep the Timorasso flame alight for five generations but it was only until the recent 1980's when Walter Massa replanted the grape in cooperation with the research institute of the University of Turin to great success.

The native grape varietal is difficult to produce, it is vulnerable to oxidation and the yield is low. But Walter explained passionately how and why he felt so strongly about the Timorasso being highly representative of his vineyard areas and the high potential of this rare varietal that inspired him to produce wine from these grapes.

The aroma was intense, rich and lush. It was creamy, full-body, complex with fresh acidity. I fell in love with my first sip of the Timorasso. It is a shame that the Timorasso is not more widely planted. Currently, the grapes are grown on just about 10 hectares of his vineyard and that produce about 25,000 bottles of wine.   

Beside the Timorasso, another Massa wine that impressed me was the single vineyard Bigolla 100% Barbera. The climate here in ancient city of Tortona is probably the warmest of the whole Piemonte region. The eastern facing and steeply inclined Bigolla vineyard takes full advantage of the strong sun and produces high quality Barbera grapes and wine.

Wine tasting in Massa was a totally different experience from what we had in other vineyards. Unlike the usual tasting which is done in cellar door or tasting rooms, Massa's (and later on in almost majority of our tasting in Piemonte) was done in his very own house.  The feeling of home, the friendliness, the hospitality and the generous sharing of the wine made the experience very special for us.  We were glad that we made Massa our first stop. 

We spent the whole afternoon tasting and appreciating Massa's range of wine while having a great chat with the animated Walter in his halting English about topics ranging from his wine to Italian politics. He was funny and friendly, nothing close to what Paul had warned us. 

I guess he liked me.

Walter was very proud of his vineyard, his fruit of labour.  We did not hesitate to take up his offer to tour his vineyard where he showed us the plots of Timorasso grapes with great pride. Later he drove the kids around the vineyard on his giant red truck, an experience they would never forget, before we ended up in his warehouse where he packed bottles and bottles of Vigneti Massa wines and loads of memories for us to bring home. 

Amongst which, my new love. 


  1. Wowwww!!! The man himself! Lucky you - got to visit the place where this comes from.

  2. Alvin, look at you! All buffed up and bulging with muscles. OK, now I will scroll up again and look at the wine hee..hee...


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