2017 Terre di Breccia
Castello di Torre in Pietra
$19.99 on 6+ (code: breccia)
Sangiovese 50 %, Cesanese 30%, Montepulciano 20%
Breccia - planted 1995, exposure: south
Fermentation on the skins for 20 days at a temperature of 30 ° C. Malolactic fermentation in wooden barrels.
In 500 litre French oak barrels for 12 months, then in cement for another 12 months and a further 6 months in the bottle.
Winery Tasting Note
Intense ruby red color. The nose is fine and persistent, fruity, ripe red and spicy. You can also recognize plum jam, cherries in alcohol, herbs and dried tobacco. The entrance is soft and the centre of the mouth full, quite fresh, with silky tannins and a persistent finish on fruity-spicy notes with the contribution of integrated wood.
In the words of the importer, Jay Murrie, with some help from Ian D'Agata, Joe Bastianich, David Lynch and Elsa Morante.
Make no mistake, Cesanese is a great Italian red grape, worth mentioning in the same context as Sangiovese, Aglianico, Nebbiolo. The fact that few have heard of it is a twist of historical fate unrelated to quality. Romans knew it was excellent, emperor Nerva built a palace in Piglio to be close to beloved Cesanese vines. Popes Innocent III and Bonifacius VIII were fans. Five hundred years ago the family of Pope Sixtus V owned the property where the Cesanese we import is cultivated, Castello di Torre in Pietra, which makes the sprawling estate just north of metropolitan Rome as good a place as any to start the story of this forgotten vine.
Five hundred years ago the cellar of Castello di Torre in Pietra was carved into a tufa cliff face by the Perotti family, of Sixtus V fame. For centuries the marshy, malarial coastal land surrounding the pontiff’s farm was a hunting ground for the nobility of Rome. Falconieri princes decorated a quite elaborate “hunting lodge” with architecture and frescoes from the best artists 18th century Rome had to offer. An impressive hexagonal chapel was built beside sturdy pavers of the Roman road that winds through Torre in Pietra, bound for the Tyrrhennian sea. As the fortunes of Falconieri princes waned their attention turned away from Torre in Pietra. The property sank into disrepair.
Its existence today is tied to the fate of Senator Luigi Albertini, an early 20th century media moghul (owner of Milan daily Corriere della Sera) and strident antifascist (always a good thing to be) who was forced to divest himself of newspaper ownership by the very profascist government of Benito Mussolini. Albertini used his unwillingly freed up capital to purchase Castello di Torre in Pietra, and quite literally “drain the swamp” surrounding the ancient structure. He imported black-and-white Carnation dairy cattle from Washington to graze on the newly rehabilitated land. Torre in Pietra became the major milk source for urban Rome. Albertini also planted olives and Cesanese vines, setting the stage for the modern activity of this mixed-use farm.
I met senator Albertini’s heir Filippo Antonelli for lunch in the excavated cellar of Castello di Torre in Pietra. Along with a Tuscan cousin, Filippo manages the modern operations of the winery. It was a typical hot-as-blazes July day in sun-baked Lazio. The winery’s courtyard was scorching, inside the cave was wonderfully cool. We talked about the long history of the property (detailed above) and went even deeper into the land’s pre-history, admiring the ancient-and-massive mastodon femur which occupies pride of place in the entrance to the cellar. The bone was unearthed during excavation of the cellar. The rest of the elephant skeleton (which provides the name for Torre in Pietra’s “elephas” line of IGT wines) was stolen by Nazis, who used this bomb-resistant space as their headquarters during WWII. Fascists: so easy to dislike, and so interwoven with our modern lives, and the stories of the wines we sell.
But back to the farm.
Torre in Pietra has livestock, but today the largest part of the farm is devoted to growing cereals. There are eight hectares of olives, and on breezy, sunny hills facing the Mediterranean, several parcels of native grapes are grown: Vermentino, Fiano, Sangiovese, and thankfully Cesanese. The farm is certified organic. Its vineyards have been cultivated in accordance with the precepts of organic agriculture for over two decades.
Breccia is a single vineyard. “Terre di Breccia” features Cesanese fermented on the skins for 20 days at 30 degrees Celsius. After alcoholic fermentations the wine completes malolactic fermentation in wood barrels. Post-malo, the wine is aged in 500 liter French barrels for a year, followed by an additional year of aging in cement, and six months of resting in bottle.
There are at least three distinct versions of Cesanese, unsurprising given the grape’s long history of cultivation. The homeland of all three is Lazio. The best of the three seems to thrive primarily in the outskirts of Rome. All versions of Cesanese are difficult to ripen, making the arid coastal expanses of this region ideal for its cultivation. Cesanese needs heat. The wine exudes red cherry fruitiness and (like high quality peers Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, et al.) never becomes inky in color. You should expect (and in the case of Terre di Breccia, you’ll get) something wonderfully in-the-middle. Aromatics and freshness that harken to cooler northern Italian wines, ripeness and texture that speak meaningfully of the presence of the not-too-distant Italian south. Like Rome, the wine seems to be a fulcrum point of Italianness.
If you are like me when you read that, you needed to get centered back to reality....no, we are not in Lazio in the outskirts of Rome on a wine adventure in-between gustatory galavanting...but soon I hope we can!