Recently tasted: Timorasso and Barbera from Vigneti Massa

Above: Barbera Terra by Walter Massa and the cheese board at Third Corner in Encinitas, CA.

The ever-pungent Terry Hughes, one of my favorite daily reads over at Mondosapore, often teases me that out here in far-flung San Diego, I’m living among the antipodes and that I should come to my senses and move back to the City (yes, there is only one city in Terry’s mind). Despite his antipodean chiding, I’ve been enjoying the ocean and the sun and the laid-back feel of “America’s finest city.” And to Terry’s surprise (and often to mine as well), I occasionally come across some interesting Italian wine here: case in point, wine director Brian Donegan at Market (in Del Mar) recently poured me a glass of Timorasso, a rare white grape from the Tortonese hills of Piedmont, nearly forgotten and extinct until Walter Massa of Vigneti Massa revived it some years ago.

Above: Brian Donegan, wine director at Market, is one of San Diego’s leading wine professionals. He always surprises me with his by-the-glass program: last time with a Vin de Savoie by the glass. My experiences at Market have been good, although I’ve heard that mileage may vary. To a New Yorker (which I remain in my heart, despite my California roots), it’s a strange confluence of high-end market-fare dining and So Cal “heavy metal” attitude (including sports programs on the constantly glowing flat-screens in the bar and a row of luxury SUVs in the valet parking lot). Brian divides his list into “New” and “Old World” selections, an editorial decision that I believe educates his patrons and informs their palates. But, unfortunately, he includes Californian-grown Italian varieties among the Italian lots — a blow to us terroirists.

According to Calò, Scienza, and Costacurta’s Vitigni d’Italia (Grape Varieties of Italy), Timorasso Bianco (also known as Timoraccio, Timorosso, Timorazza, or Morasso) was a popular grape variety in northwestern Italy until the advent of phyloxera, when it virtually disappeared. It was brought back to the fold by Massa, who makes wines in the province of Alessandria (Piedmont). The straw-colored wine was fresh on the nose and had more body than Cortese, the top white grape in a region where red grapes prevail. It also had a pronounced minerality that you don’t find in other Piedmont whites.

Above: in classic So Cal fashion, the bar at The Third Corner in Encinitas is also dominated by flat-screens and sports programs. I’ve always been a fan of the Ocean Beach location and although you won’t find me at the bar (wine and TV don’t pair well in my view), the main dining room in Encinitas is one of the warmest, most comfortable in San Diego.

Massa’s been on my mind: another one of San Diego’s sommelier stars, Alex Lindsay of The Third Corner in Encinitas recently turned me on to Massa’s entry-level Barbera, “Terra.” This stainless-steel, very reasonably priced wine impressed me with its earthiness and it certainly deserves its name (terra or earth). It showed natural fruit and vibrant acidity, pairing perfectly with the cheese board. I’ve not tasted Massa’s higher end wines (I believe he makes a Croatina and a single-vineyard Barbera, both aged in barrique — probably not for me). But I found this $15 bottle to be a great example of an affordable terroir-driven wine. Californian Barbera just doesn’t cut it for me.

Terry, I’m pouring Massa’s Timorasso tonight at Jaynes Gastropub if you’d like to stop by!

4 thoughts on “Recently tasted: Timorasso and Barbera from Vigneti Massa

  1. If a wine is well made and without defects, it won’t always be evident to the taster what type of vessel the wine was aged in.
    For the record, Massa’s Barbera Terra is not stainless, but was aged for 18 months in barriques – clean ones, but mostly a couple, three, and four-years old. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered, and then stayed in bottle for five years in the cellar – hence the heavy “cammiccia” seen on the inside of the bottle.
    There does exist a younger, fresher stainless Barbera grown anad bottled by Massa which is sold under the ‘Mattei’ label.

  2. It’s not always possibile to taste in what kind of vessel a wine was aged. I often wonder why so much importnace is given to the type of “house” a wine grew up in. Some barrels are unclean or infected, and some wines too oaky, and in such cases, the superficial part of the wines upbringing becomes a permanent part of its character. But more often than not, a taster cannot tell on which side of the tracks the wine was raised – nor should it be of great importance.
    For the record, the 2001 Massa Barbera Terra was indeed aged for 18 months in clean, two, three and four year old barriques. Terra was then bottled unfined and unfiltered and sat in Walter’s cellar for 5 years – hence the “cammiccia” of sediment seen on the side of the bottle.
    Massa does grow and bottle a younger, fresher, stainless aged Barbera which hits the market labeled as ‘Mattei’ – as Walter doesn’t like to be personally known as young and fresh.

  3. It looks that in the States is more easy to find Walter’s great wines than in Italy.
    When in Austin, Tx I always buy his wines at Central Market to share with my American friends. That’s kind of a weird thing!

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