TORRENIERI is a small town located in the extreme north-east of Montalcino in Tuscany. As Torrenieri was incorporated into Montalcino’s boundary in 1777, it meant its vineyards qualify for the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and the other wine deonominations allowed in Montalcino.
HISTORY | Torrenieri takes its name from a fortified outpost with a black (‘nero’) tower (‘torre’), either by virtue of having been built of dark stone or because the stone was blackened by fire. In 1452 Eleanor, Princess of Portugal, stayed here on her way to marry the emperor Federico III. The town lies on the Via Francigena, and so is constantly traversed by pilgrims on their way to Rome. The diary of the travels of Bishop Sigeric describes the tower as having been a hostel from around the year 1,000 AD, but from the 12th-century became a private dwelling and later a castle. Dante may have stopped here during a trip to Rome. In the 14th-century several events in the town are recounted in the novel of the ninth day of the Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio. In the 18th-century census Torrenieri was described as “on the road from Siena to Rome, upon an easily accessible hill, entirely cultivated in vines and olives, the small castle of Torrenieri.”
RECENT PLANTING | Kerin O’Keefe (2012, p91) says Torrenieri ‘is perhaps the most disputed Brunello production area’ because it had no real history of wine-growing, although in 1971 Casanova di Neri planted vines in the higher areas of Torrenieri). The bulk of Torrenieri’s vines were planted from 1998 after the Brunello vineyard registers briefly reopened. This coincided with European Union regulation 950/70 which subsidised those under the age of 40 wanting to start agricultural businesses. To take advantage, families who divided their holdings to favour younger members could thus finance a switch from growing only traditional field crops (barley, alfalfa, clover, wheat) to vines as well. The Torrenieri area could have been excluded from ever being planted with vines for Brunello when the consorzio was founded in 1966 but it seems few assumed that wine-growing would ever be consisdered here, other than perhaps for small amounts for personal consumption as part of a mixed arable farm.
TERROIR | O’Keefe says ‘thick clay, frost, and fog make for less than ideal conditions in most of this sub-zone.’
CLAY | The clay comprises Pliocene era marine sediments (clay and yellow sand) which were deposited here about 5 million years ago, referred to as ‘crete’ or ‘crete Senesi’, creating what O’Keefe (2012, p178) calls ‘a vast expanse of gray badlands and knolls’.
FOG | The fog is driven in part by the presence of the Asso river which runs through Torrenieri on its way to join the Orcia. O’Keefe (May 2014) also says the ‘dense, compact clays [here] can result in excruciatingly tannic wines that originally deterred the recent, widespread Sangiovese planting around the hamlet of Torrenieri,’ adding that ‘the best wines hail from a limited section of hilltop vineyards, where better soils produce full-bodied, well-balanced wines like those made by Citille di Sopra and SassodiSole.’
ROOTSTOCKS | The nature of the soils does require careful choice of rootstock, with over-vigorous rootstocks like SO4 liable to induce vine stress.
TORRENIERI WINE STYLE | Wines from Torrenieri have plenty of aroma and are ‘grassi’ (fat, succulent) but are generally low in acid strength (high pH) due to the high levels of calcium (Ca) and potassium (K) in the soils which combine to increase the likelihood of the precipitation of acid (adding tartaric acid to the wine can correct this). Such low acid strength wines have less potential for longevity. In addition, tannins are less stable at high pH so the wines can lose their colour too – even if they can appear really quite dark when just bottled. Moving the wines to barrel early can help fix tannins; but once the wines go to botti they can lose acid. Brunellos with less than <5g/l total acidity are not allowed under the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG’s rules, hence tartaric acid additions are normal (the limit was lowered from 5.5g/l TA pre-DOCG to the current 5.0g/l to make it easier new entrants.
ATTRACTIONS | The Church of Saint Mary Magdelene, with a fine wooden sculpture of the ‘Virgin on her throne with her child’ [sic], by the artist-sculptor Domenico di Niccolò dei Cori, dating from the 1420s to 1430s. In the nearby 16th-century oratory of the Company of San Rocco frescoes from the same era depict the ‘Virgin with Child’.
RAILWAY LINE | The railway (single track) arrived in Torrenieri in 1865, and runs to Grosseto on the Tyrrhenian coast, and inland as far as Asciano.
BANKS WITH ATMS | Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Via Romana, 20
CERTIFIED ORGANIC, BIODYNAMIC PRACTICES
WHERE TO EAT
La Compagnia Pizzeria, restaurant. Bottled Belgian beers. Covered outside terrace. Closed Wednesday. Tel+39 0577 834265.
Brunello di Montalcino by Guelfo Magrini (Morganti Editori, 2003), English edition, p145-6.
Brunello di Montalcino by Kerin O’Keefe (University of California Press, 2012), p91.
Making Sense of Montalcino, by Kerin O’Keefe, Wine Enthusiast May 2014.