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blog swirl & savor

Montalcino, Rick Steves and How This Whole Wine Thing Began...

Beth Ribblett

 Fog in the Tuscan Hills - First Italy Trip October 2004

Fog in the Tuscan Hills - First Italy Trip October 2004

I can remember the moment pretty clearly.  Before there was Swirl, before hurricane Katrina and the failure of our levee system upended our lives, I was having a lazy weekend in the summer of 2003, flipping through channels and found a Rick Steves travel segment about Montalcino and its famous wine, Brunello.   You know how travel shows have that way of pulling you in and making you want to go there?  Well, that was the day that the travel bug bit deep, infecting me with an all consuming wanderlust and it has never let go...

We were wine enthusiasts at the time, focusing more on the easily understandable California wines, dabbling a bit in Bordeaux and the Rhone, but besides a Chianti now and then, Italy just seemed too vast and complicated.   In watching that show on Montalcino, I became totally enthralled by the history of the place, the beautiful countryside and winemaking traditions,  deciding right then and there that I wanted to visit that town and drink their wines.  Of course, I didn’t know then that it was a life changing moment and the beginning of my ongoing obsession with Italy, wine and travel. 

Because of that show, I began planning our first of many trips to Italy in 2004.  It was also one of those decade birthday years so what better time to reach out to friends who might want to join us on this adventure.  Limiting that first trip to Tuscany, I wanted to experience all that the region had to offer from the Renaissance jewel of Florence to the medieval stronghold of Sienna,  the enchanting villages of Montepulciano, Greve, Montalcino, San Gimignano and even to its coast and the beachside town of  Viareggio – I wanted to see it all. I obsessed over the details, diving headfirst into learning the regional wines and culinary traditions, planning and plotting routes on paper maps, researching villa after villa and most importantly, what wineries to visit.

 The rooftops of Florence - First Italy Trip, October 2004

The rooftops of Florence - First Italy Trip, October 2004

Just before we left I met this crazy Italian guy who just happened to work for Castello Banfi, the winery featured in the Rick Steves travel show.  It was too late for him to arrange anything special for our visit but it was the start of a relationship with my now good friend and Italian "brother", Antonio Molesini.  Little did we know our lives would take many different twists and turns over the next few years and we would be arranging trips together some 7 years later.

So off we went, 10 ladies on holiday (as we were called by a Brit we met in the tiny village of Ambra).  Making our way through the region in our rental cars, frequently getting lost and taking wrong turns down one way streets, drinking an embarrassing amount of wine (even for New Orleans standards!) indulging in all of the local culinary specialties, visiting the cultural and historical sites - it was an exhilarating, festive and gluttonous romp across Tuscany.

The day we went to Montalcino was magical for me.  I scheduled a visit to Castello Banfi, explored the fortress on the edge of town while taking in the views of the valley below, ate the best ravioli of my life, spent time with the friendly locals in the piazza during the passagiata, savoring each moment and experience - I somehow knew then that I would be back many times.  I didn’t know how or why that would happen, but Italy had gotten under my skin and seeped into my soul.  

 Castello Banfi, Montalcino - First Italy Trip, 2004

Castello Banfi, Montalcino - First Italy Trip, 2004

Here we are 13 years later, and it's still difficult for me to explain my connection with Italy and its people because I don't really understand it myself. All I can say is that there's a sense of comfort that comes over me as soon as I step foot on Italian soil. Their passionate nature helps me focus on what is important, their slower way of living life on what is real. As my wise friend and other Italian brother Vincenzo Fusco once said, "life, there is only one”.

 Kerry, Me & Antonio, June 2014 Tuscany Trip

Kerry, Me & Antonio, June 2014 Tuscany Trip

So it seems fitting to do a tasting of Montalcino wines, now 13 years since that first trip with the man who helps fuel my obsession with Italy year after year.  Antonio Molesini and I have been to visit the famous hill town twice together since then and no one knows the region like he does. We hope you will join us in a tasting of wines from one of our favorite places.  

For more information, reservations and tickets, go to Montalcino with Antonio Molesini