Torre alle Tolfe
- Tuscany, Italy
I have not been to Siena during the famed il Palio, during which the townspeople dress in the colorful garb and emblems of their respective contrade, culminating in a breakneck horse race around a dangerously small rectangular track set up in Piazza del Campo. But I have been to Siena on other random, non-holiday days, and I can tell you that the Senesi don’t need much of an excuse to dress up and act all medieval. Of course, the town itself is beautifully and permanently stuck in another time. There seems to always be a church bell clanging, a wood stove smoldering, and a warm brick-orange light bouncing off stone structures.
This is the lens through which I view Torre alle Tolfe, located just outside of Siena, a mere 3km from the Piazza del Campo. There are documents proving the existence of grapevines here back to at least 1316. As I write this, Torre alle Tolfe is harvesting its 2021 vintage. It is a place steeped in history but also brimming with current creative energy.
It was first mentioned in the year 785, when Charlemagne sent a French knight named Tolfo dei Gricci to the area with the task of building a lookout tower (the Torre). From Tolfo’s name, the area came to be known as Le Tolfe. It seems his tower was badly damaged in the wars between Florence and Siena. The estate became a feudal farming enclave, with sharecropping families living there and working the land well into the 20th century.
Mario Castelli and his wife Lunella Morfini bought the land in 1953 and began restoring its structures, including Tolfo’s tower. In 1974, they made their first commercial wine sale. Today, it is owned and lovingly operated by their granddaughter, Mania Castelli. The entire 100-hectare property is run as a certified organic farm, with 13ha of vines planted between 1993 and 2014, 15ha of olive trees, and 20ha of fields for mixed grains. The remainder is woods and the nucleus of historic buildings, which includes a B&B with farmhouse apartments.
Mania found a great winemaker in Giacomo Mastretta. His first vintage at Le Tolfe was 2018. I know Giacomo from a while back, when he was at the helm the La Porta di Vertine, an now-defunct estate in Gaiole (Chianti Classico) whose absentee owners sold. His wines at La Porta di Vertine were startling in their intensity and structure, reflective of high altitudes and high alberese soil content. He was a daredevil with macerations and exposure to oxygen.
At Torre alle Tolfe, the wines are naturally more juicy and supple, coming from altitudes of around 320m on young, sandy soils from the Pliocene era, rich in oyster fossils. The terroir is very similar to Castelnuovo Berardenga, the southern part of Chianti Classico, which is about 17km east. Giacomo is right to point out that a gentler and quicker approach was needed at Le Tolfe, compared to the past in Gaiole —“I am not a copy and paste winemaker.”
He also has cleverly made the two Chianti Colli Senesi wines from 100% Sangiovese. This leaves the “the blending grapes”—Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, and Colorino—to be vinified and released on their own, a rare chance to taste them in purezza. All fermentations at the winery are spontaneous in glass-lined cement. Aging also occurs in cement, though occasionally chestnut botti or used French tonneaux make appearances.
We welcome Torre alle Tolfe to Bowler’s stable (il Palio pun intended)!
-Kevin Russell, Italy Portfolio Manager