Luigi shows up promptly at 9AM to load us up for the 1-hour drive to Montalcino and our exploration of its wine. Brunello di Montalcino, by law, may only be made of 100% Sangiovese grapes. In 1968, the region was awarded the designation of DOCG. Even today, Brunello ranks among Italy’s finest and most expensive wines. There are over 200, mostly small farmers and family estates, producing 330,000 cases of Brunello di Montalcino per year.
Our first stop on the way was at the Abbey Sant’Antimo, built of travertine in the 12th Century amidst the olive groves and wheat fields. The Abbey originally provided services to the pilgrims on the Via Francigena (the pilgrimage highway to Rome). Legend has it that the abbey was founded by Charlemagne AKA Charles the Great in 781AD. The king and his army stopped at this location on their way back from Rome where an angel appeared to Charlemagne telling him to make his men drink an infusion of a local herb to cure a disease. Due to its success in curing the ailment Charlemagne erected an abbey which, until recently, was inhabited by monks prior to their return to France.
After a 30-minute visit, we traveled to Podere Le Ripi, founded in 1998 by Francesco Illy (of the espresso coffee fame). The vineyard of 75 acres is situated between two mountain sides in a valley of olive trees, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and forest. Podere Le Ripi is known for their innovative high-density planting system. Rather than allowing the root stock to take the usual 35-years to mature, Francesco successfully experimented with densely planting the vines and thereby forcing the root to either survive by quickly growing to the deep layers of minerals or die.
After our tasting and light lunch, we purchased a half a case of their oldest vintage of Brunello for consumption at our villa and departed for Montalcino (population 5,056) for a leisurely stroll through this charming, small village. During the ride to Montalcino we divided into two groups for those who were interested in a private visit with a wine expert at Enoteca La Fortezza (wine shop) to select wines to ship back to the US. It is difficult to find places to ship wine which made Enoteca La Fortezza a real find. In the shop, Alegio had pulled the top 15 Brunellos that would age well and were not exported to the US. The corks from five of the choices had been pulled for tastings. We found several that we wanted to add to our home cellar and made arrangements for payment and shipping.
On the return trip to the villa we stopped for a private visit to Antonio and Iris Origio’s La Foce. After reading “The War in Val d’Orcia” I was anxious to learn more about this remarkable couple. The tour exceeded my expectations as we witnessed, first-hand, the stunning villa and gardens that they and now their children and grandchildren share with the world.
As Luigi began to drive us home, the weight of the warm sunshine and good wine settled in causing a few to nap during the ride back to the villa.
Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.