Barolo and Barbaresco

The Nebbiolo-based wines of Piedmont Italy are some of the finest in the world. Enjoy this limited selection of wineries from Barolo and Barbaresco DOCGs. Although the French Wine Explorers “Treasures of Tuscany and Piedmont” tour is sold out for 2018, stay tuned for future offerings to taste these treasures in person!

Tuscan Food and Wine Pairings


Pici Pasta

‘Tis the season to be eating (and drinking) well! The traditional food and great wines of Tuscany will add depth and warmth to your holiday entertaining!

Enjoy this piece written for French Wine Explorers, and check out the new tour of Tuscany and Piedmont in September 2018.

Photo credit Pinterest

Napa Saved by the Vines

I was in Italy on October 8 when news of rampant fires in the wine country hit international media. Friends and family texted alerts and updates to make sure I knew “real time” what was going on. But ”real time” quickly became very confusing as the multiple fires, and stories about the fires across social and mainstream digital media, raged faster than the fires themselves.

I arrived in Napa yesterday (November 6) to interview Darioush Khaledi, who is chairing the 2018 Cincinnati International Wine Festival. I frankly braced myself for the worst, with pictures of the fires and resulting damage fresh in my mind. One of the early “real time” reports, cascaded throughout multiple media outlets, was that Darioush had burned to the ground. (Spoiler alert: it did not.) That incorrect news was swept up in early reports — sadly correct — that the Signorello property was lost. Darioush is right next door.

Exactly one month later, it’s a different story. If I hadn’t known about the fires — well, I might not have observed much difference. Driving to the property on Napa’s Silverado Trail from SFO was just like every other fall visit to the Bay Area. The skies were crisp blue, puffy white clouds announcing a future rain with striated wisps of gray, and there was plenty of traffic. Just like always. Until I got to the old dairy business on Highway 121, just west of Domaine Carneros. It was gone, multiple buildings melted into the ground, trees and underbrush turned to ash from tinder. I held my breath as I rounded the curves toward Domaine Carneros, letting it out only when I found the winery to be untouched.

Then all returned to normal. Until I turned into the driveway of Darioush.  The charred hillside where Signorello’s winery once stood made it all quite real. I am only including this one photo. I am not a professional photographer, and I couldn’t bring myself to go in search of further tragedy. So just this one:

Entrance to Darioush and the site of Signorello (to the left) lost in the Napa fires

To the many stories that have already been written about the fires and the aftermath, I would like to add perspective from my interview with Darioush Khaledi and winery president Daniel DePolo. According to Dan, “the fire was a humanitarian and housing disaster. Only six wineries were lost or seriously damaged. But 3,000 homes were damaged and people have no place to live. The vineyards served as a firebreak. Vines don’t burn.”

Indeed, the vineyards in Napa look just like any other fall harvest cycle with the leaves turning brown to prepare for winter. At Darioush, only the olive trees and landscaping was burned. “The fire skipped around randomly” as evidenced by the total loss of nearby neighbor Signorello. In Napa, the sturdy oaks and general lack of ground cover protected the Valley to the east of the pine-covered Mayacama Range. “We are all beyond grateful,” according to Darioush Khaledi, who with his wife Shaphar lives at the winery in the manner of French chateaux.

More good news: 80-90 % of harvest was complete for most vineyards. The plan at Darioush? Test the remainder of the crop, and if the grapes are tainted, they will be discarded. Dan DePolo believes this will be the Napa standard so that consumers can be confident in future purchases of the 2017 vintage.

Wineries may not have been physically touched, but business is down 50% during what would ordinarily be Napa’s peak season for tourism. That said, the Darioush tasting room was busy, the streets are bustling, and both wineries and restaurants are welcoming customers with open arms. The mood of the community is upbeat, full of well deserved pride for the communal response to a crisis (including firefighting crew from near and far). “Things are not back to normal yet. We lost a month of business. But you can’t really tell just by driving around.”

Kashy Khaledi, who is Darioush’s son, celebrated the grand opening of new new winery called Ashes and Diamonds just two days ago. In a perhaps prescient act, the new winery’s website includes a poem written by 19th century Polish poet Cyprian Norwid that scrolls across the bottom in stanzas on each page:

“So often are you as a blazing torch with flames of burning rags falling about you flaming, you know not if flames bring freedom or death. Consuming all that you must cherish if ashes only will be left, and want Chaos and tempest. Or will the ashes hold the glory of a star-like diamond, the Morning Star of everlasting triumph.”

Barbaresco vs. Barolo: What’s the Difference?

In my most recent article written for French Wine Explorers, I explore the subtle but important differences between Barbaresco and Barolo winegrowing regions and the resulting styles of wine. Spoiler alert: it’s mostly the Mother Nature factors, but there are a few winemaker choices and aging rules that also explain style differences. Enjoy the story, but more importantly, love the wine! Even better, join French Wine Explorers for the 2018 “Treasures of Tuscany and Piedmont” tour! Kathy Merchant

Italian Wine Labels

What’s actually in the bottle? Does the wine label tell you the place, the grape, or both? I hope you will enjoy my recent article, written for American wine travel company French Wine Explorers, to demystify the various ways Italian wine labels explain the product within.

What Makes a Super Tuscan?

Enjoy this short piece on the history of Super Tuscan wines, featuring a profile of Ornellaia, published by French Wine Explorers.

Montalcino, Italy

Click on this link to enjoy a piece about the incredible wines of Montalcino written by Vino Ventures for French Wine Explorers.

Montepulciano, Italy

Click on this link to enjoy a short piece about the great wines of Montepulciano written by Vino Ventures for French Wine Explorers!

Benvenuto Brunello


Each year in February, in glorious anticipation of welcoming a new vintage, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino hosts a bountiful tasting for the wine trade in the quaint Italian hilltown of Montalcino. Row after row, table upon table, 150 producers share their current release wines: light, fresh, “drink now” Rosso di Montalcino, current release Brunello di Montalcino, and age-worthy Riservas.

2017 Benvenuto Brunello in Montalcino, Italy

2017 Benvenuto Brunello in Montalcino, Italy

The 2017 extravaganza featured 2015 Rosso di Montalcino, 2012 Brunello di Montalcino, and 2011 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.

The 2012 vintage has already been rated by Italian wine expert Kerin O’Keefe who, in a recent Wine Enthusiast review, proclaims this vintage to be a “return to finesse” for the second year in a row. See Kerin’s top 20 list of 2012 Brunellos here.

Wine critic James Suckling has called the 2012 vintage a “rock star.” Read about his early assessment of the 2012 Brunellos here. His earlier take on the 2011 vintage bodes well for the Riservas that are just now being released into the market. Suckling’s top 95+ Brunellos, by rating, are:

  • 100  Valdicava “Madonna del Piano” €175; Renieri €150
  • 99  Fuligni €130
  • 98  San Fillippo “Le Lucere” €58; Sassetti Livio “Pertimali” €55
  • 97  Ciacci Piccolomini “Pianrosso” €58; Altesino “Montosoli” €75; Banfi “Poggio All’Oro” €120; Castelgiocondo “Ripe al Convento” €120; Castello di Romitorio €120; Siro Pacenti “PS” €160
  • 96  La Rasina €38; Argiano €40; Castiglion del Bosco €40; Casanova di Neri “Tenuta Nuova” €75; Giodo €85; Valdicava €85
  • 95  La Mannella “I Poggiarelli” €38; Talenti €95; Banfi “Poggio Alle Mura” €95; Canalicchio di Sopra €45; Siro Pacenti “Pelagrilli” €45; Uccelliera €55; Poggio Antico €58; Renieri €59; Fuligni €60; Siro Pacenti “Vecchie Vigne” €85; Biondi Santi €100; Le Ragnaie “La Fornace” €120; La Ragnaie “Vecchie Vigne” €120; Caparzo €60

I chose my “top 10” selections  from the moderate price range (€30-45) to round out O’Keefe and Suckling top picks, and to encourage your regular experience of these fine wines. These are some perennial favorites of mine as well as some new to my personal cellar (not rated, just well liked at Benvenuto Brunello!):

  • Campogiovanni “San Felice” €35 (rated 93 by JS)
  • Casanove di Neri €45
  • Cinelli Columbini “Prime Donne” €45
  • Fanti €32
  • Fattoi €30
  • Il Poggione €45
  • La Fornacina €35
  • Lisini €40
  • Padelletti €35
  • Villa Le Prata €35

Two more bonus wines from me: Villa Le Prata 2004 and Lisini “Ugolaia” 2010. Villa Le Prata still has library wines available from most years 2003-2010. I am particularly fond of the 2003 (even though the vintage was only rated 88 — it shows what a quality winemaker can do in a less than great year!!).

Want your wines before they show up on shelves at your favorite wine merchant? You can order directly from Molesini Market in Cortona. Brothers Marco and Paolo Molesini host a trade visit to Benvenuto Brunello each year, assess the best of the best wines, and stock up for international wine lovers. Reach out to Marco. You won’t be disappointed!

Marco Molesini (center right) at Villa Le Prata in Montalcino

Marco Molesini (center right) at Villa Le Prata in Montalcino

Introducing “Ask Kathy”


The world of wine can be intimidating. Where should I shop? Which wine goes best with a certain meal or cuisine, or favorite cheese? What is Carménère? Where is Irouleguy? What’s the best itinerary to enjoy the wines of Tuscany? Why is Pinot Noir so difficult to grow? Where can I take wine classes, and which type of education is best for me? Is Soave and place or a grape? Can you help me “translate” a German wine label? And so it goes…

This is an experiment to gauge interest among readers in addition to my immediate friendship network (and to try using WordPress as the vehicle)! If you have a question, just fill out the “leave a reply” comment box on the “Ask Kathy” page of my website (or use this post), and I will get back to you as quickly as I can.

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