Category Archives: Italy

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

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

Stories of the Vine: Tuscan Icon Warms Up Cold Night

Posted by Amy Neyer, CSW, WSET Advanced Certified

I admit it. The prospect of staying in the comfort of my warm house with a mug of hot tea and a stack of Decanter magazines was almost too tempting during last Monday’s Polar Vortex redux.

Happily, I’m really glad I didn’t or I would have missed a lovely tasting experience with noted Tuscan winemaker Paolo De Marchi, who was welcomed to Cincinnati with some of the coldest weather in decades. The event, sponsored by wineCRAFT, a local boutique importer of well-crafted Italian wines, featured De Marchi at the Mercantile Library, a perfect venue for informative stories of around the themes of authenticity and history.

If you don’t know of De Marchi and his legendary status in Italian winemaking (with a focus on Tuscany and some Piedmont), you’re not alone. Devotees of Chianti and other wine geeky folks will tell you that De Marchi’s reputation is grounded in a very Old World approach to making wine and his dedication to making classic Chianti wines which rely most heavily on Sangiovese and other indigenous grapes instead of a bolder, modern approach. You can learn more about De Marchi here and here.

With his gentle manner and subtle humor, De Marchi entertained the sold-out crowd of 120 or so with personal stories about the launch and evolution of his family’s vineyards, his approach to wine and on the state of affairs within Italian and Tuscan wine regulatory environments.

Among his most notable (and refreshing) observations:

– “I hate the word ‘winemaker.’ Wine is made by soil, climate and variety (of grape). There is no translation in Italy for winemaker.”

– “Use varieties for what’s made best.”

– “My wine rules are simple. If you make bad wine and add bad blend. You get bad blend. Think before blending.”

– “It’s difficult to make red wine from white grapes.”

– “Appellation rules are written looking to the a past that doesn’t exist anymore.”

– “If I don’t like it, it’s impossible to sell.”

The Mercantile event was the first of several stops De Marchi made during his visit to Cincinnati, which is increasingly attracting notable winemakers. Last fall brought the arrival of Andre Hueston Mack, former French Laundry sommelier and owner/winemaker at Oregon-based Mouton Noir, and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards family, a high quality Pinot Noir producer, at the forefront of the New California wine movement.

The tasting featured six wines from both the family’s Isole e Olena property, located in central Chianti, and Proprieta Sperino from their property in Piedmont.

The Isole e Olena line-up ranged from a very fresh Chardonnay to an earthy Syrah, which he was among the first to bring to Chianti. His featured wines, however, were grounded in the classic grape of Tuscany – Sangiovese – and featured a traditional Chianti Classico and one of his most notable wines, Cepparello. De Marchi intentionally sells Cepparello – which he considers his purest expression of Sangiovese – under the lower IGT designation (versus a higher level of quality designation). De Marchi rather the wine, made of 100% Sangiovese, compete in a lower designation with more traditional varieties than have it compete with other Chianti wines blended in a Bordeaux style, allowed under Italian wine regulations.


The featured wines from Proprieta Sperino included Uvaggio, a Nebbiolo-dominant blend that included indigenous grapes of Vespolina and Croatina and Lessona, comprised of 100% Nebbiolo, a wonderful expression of the grape featuring a granite-driven minerality.

The De Marchi event also featured a few familiar faces from the Cincinnati wine community, who were on hand to lend expertise at the tasting stations, as well as enjoy the wines from a seminal Tuscan winemaker. While beer is enjoying a well-deserved renaissance here, it’s hopeful to see the makings of a much-needed local wine community show itself to the community as well.

Perfect Pairings: the Principle of Place in Northern Italy

Soave 2006
Matching food with wine, third in a four-part series from the 2013 “Perfect Pairings” series created with The Painted Chef Catering at The Grotto in Mt. Adams, anchored in the principle of place: terroir.

Pairing food and wine…simple, right? Chicken goes with white wine, beef goes with red. Cheese is great with anything. Easy! For sure, it takes a bit more effort to create a “perfect pairing” than simply choosing between an entrée meat (or vegetable) and a white or red wine. But the principles are clear and the results are amazing!

Northern Italy MapThe diversity of NORTHERN ITALY’s six major wine regions is impossible to capture in one tasting without seriously over-indulging! The only way to experience Northern Italy and to really understand its delicious complexity is to focus on a few small areas at a time.

From east to west – the direction our tasting flowed — the six major regions are: Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige, Lombardia, Piemonte and Val d’Aosta. Within these six regions there are over 110 Denominazione di Origene Controllata (DOC for short, equivalent to French appellations where vineyard place is controlled), and 38 Denominazione di Origene Controllata e Garantita (DOCG for short, where quality is “guaranteed” by strict growing and winemaking rules). These regions and their (mostly) indigenous grapes are not well known to most American consumers.

A single tasting can only scratch the surface of so many places and interesting grape varieties. Our Perfect Pairing of Northern Italian wines included an amazing (sparkling) Prosecco from the Treviso DOC within the Veneto region northwest of Venice; (white) Garganega from the Soave DOC, also within the Veneto, just east of Verona; and (red) Nebbiolo from the Langhe DOC within the Piedmont region south of Turin that includes the wine towns of Asti and Alba as well as Barolo and Barbaresco.

Ornella Molon Prosecco NV
Goat Cheese Crostini

Without exception, goat cheese and salmon are perfect pairings for every dry sparkling wine. Beautifully presented on crunchy crostini (“little toasts”), this appetizer is a go-to nibble to welcome guests to any type of party. It is easy to maneuver while holding a glass of bubbly, and the salty notes from the cheese and salmon connect with the acidity in the wine to make it truly sparkle. (Potato chips will do the same!)

This may be a news flash for readers, but Prosecco is no longer a DOC. Nor is it a grape! In 2009, DNA testing of the grape thought to be Prosecco revealed that it is actually Glera. Prosecco made from the areas of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene was promoted to DOCG. Any other areas within Italy producing Prosecco, which are primarily in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions, must name the specific DOC somewhere on the label.

So what is Prosecco? It is a style of sparkling wine. Still wine is made sparkling using the Charmat method, meaning that second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, not in a bottle. The grapes are fermented without skins and spend only a short time in fermentation tanks. The resulting bubbly is somewhat neutral compared to other sparkling wines, but still crisply acidic and expressive of the fruit. Winemaker Ornella Molon’s Prosecco shimmers in the glass. Flavors of apple and pear are lifted with notes of crisp lemon and freshly cut grass.

Azienda Agricola Inama Soave Classico 2011
tuna N. Italy

This pairing provided lessons in what does not make a perfect pairing.

By itself, the food was excellent. The tuna was seared to perfection. Garlic/lemon aioli and grape tomatoes provided acidic zing. A slice of avocado lent a bit of color and texture to the dish.

Also evaluated on its own merits, the wine was very tasty. Made from 100% Garganega indigenous to this particular area of the Veneto, Soave Classico is typically a food-friendly wine that is forgiving across a wide range of food flavors. Light yellow in color, the Inama Soave offered aromas of sweet field flowers (chamomile, elder flower, iris) and minerality on the palate with sweet almond notes on the finish.

But together, the food and the wine dueled for preeminence. Each element of the pairing was neutralized rather than enhanced, flavors were subdued rather than accentuated. Analyzing the dish, it seems that the simple preparation of the tuna was a bit too delicate for the body of the wine despite a tangy sauce, and the fresh tomatoes were too acidic.

Fiorenzo Nada Langhe Nebbiolo 2008

Body to body, texture to texture, a heavenly match is made between Nebbiolo grapes and truffles. Although truffles are not unique to the Piedmont region, there is a remarkable truffle festival held in Alba each year in October and it is possible to eat truffles at every meal. But bring your wallet: white truffles cost about 350€ ($469 at current exchange rates) per ounce!!

Our risotto was made with equally divine black truffles and earthy mushrooms. Topped with a light dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano that quickly melted into the Arborio rice, Painted Chef’s risotto was the rock star of the tasting. We served it with a 100% Nebbiolo (“fog”) wine from the Langhe DOC (Piedmont region). Dark ruby red with a garnet red rim, it is an intensely aromatic wine with perfumed notes of roses, violets, autumn undergrowth, wood smoke and tar, all characteristic of the Nebbiolo grape.

Painted Chef team
Thanks to The Painted Chef team – Dave, Brady, Anthony and Amy — for making every pairing perfect!!

Photo credits: Soave, Kathy Merchant 2006; Northern Italy Wine Regions,; Crostini with Goat Cheese and Salmon,; Tuna with Avocado, Game Day Communications; Painted Chef Team, Game Day Communications