My Good Fellas

My Good Fellas

It’s passionate. It’s emotional. It takes attitude and persistence and a few drinks, and that includes beers. There is so much to be said about the life-long journey of wine. When I entered the wine world, I was extremely fortunate. Everyone from sommeliers to educators to wine producers opened the door, inspired me, educated me, held me accountable, rooted for me.

My Good Fellas are mia famiglia. Comprised of wine professionals with some serious chops, creds, and clout. In the world of wine, you might consider they’ve been “made.” But me? Not a sommelier or a beverage professional, but a writer. And they knew I was thirsty. My inquisitive nature led to asking questions, asking them to tell me stories, asking the same damn questions repeatedly. “Who has time for this chick, anyway?”  

But, I was enamored. For me, getting to know wine is like falling in love. In the beginning, we may be ravishingly affectionate, sometimes possessive, mixed with struggles of emptiness, bursts of emotion. It takes time to come upon a clearing where wine flows like pure streams of kindness, tenderness, reminding that you don’t always have to always comprehend. It says, “Just keep loving me.” The beauty is the path to understanding and appreciating. We grow only when we bring something to the journey through attention, sacrifice, effort, passion. Wine does that, and my Good Fellas keep filling the glass.

Now, during the pandemic, it goes without saying that times have been different. I haven’t seen my fellas much at all. I haven’t been to any wine seminars or tastings (unless they are virtual). And I certainly don’t sit on a fancy marble top bar with a bunch of guys for a photoshoot on a regular basis 😂. Yet, despite the lack of engagement, I don’t feel like too much has changed with them.

Where am I going with this? The real influencers of the world are those who empower. They are the ones we find support through good times and not-so-good times. Along with having the personal drive and setting forth challenges and goals, my Good Fellas help me to be my best version. These are the ones that have my back and continue to raise me up. These are the ones who will share a bottle of wine on any given day and talk about Serravallian soils, sexual confusion (in the vineyard), autochthonous varieties, or raise a glass … just because.

If you’re wondering if I love these fellas … fugetaboutit!

Meet my Good Fellas. The original story entitled The Good Fellas of Italian Wine ran in Vegas Magazine in 2019. It’s been updated for


“The Captain”
Owner, Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar

Gino Ferraro

Calabria-born Gino was a purveyor of Italian foods before opening his award-winning off-Strip spot in 1985. He feels compelled to evangelize about the superiority of Italian wines, more specifically, the Nebbiolo grape. Taste & Learn events in his private dining room and an extensive Italian wine list draw those who appreciate his homeland’s wines as fervently as he does.

Aha moment: Realizing French oak is terrible for Italian wine.

Favorite hangout: Late-night Barolo and cigar on Ferraro’s patio.

Biggest secret: Years ago, there was an article in the newspaper written by John L. Smith during the same time I was getting my liquor license. Metro investigators accused me of being the head of the Lucchese family in Las Vegas. Of course, that wasn’t true.

Currently drinking: Always Nebbiolo.

Marisa’s favorite Good Fellas moment with Gino: Sitting at one of Gino’s many Taste and Learn dinners at Ferraro’s. Watching his passion reminds me of why I love wine so much.


“The Natural” 
Educator, Wine Writer

Kirk Peterson

He whet his appetite while exploring fine wine with the money that was meant to pay for film school. Witty, measured, and funny, Peterson’s insightful palate and decade-long tenure at the helm of Joe Bastianich’s Las Vegas wine programs and years as the Import Wine Specialist at Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits made him one of the most powerful Italian forces in the U.S. Now, he’s as Italian as a Kiton suit.

Aha moment: [They] happen all the time and are among the best aspects to studying Italian wine.

Favorite hangout: Terminal 3, McCarran International Airport.

Deep, deep, dark secret: I have a surprising amount of enthusiasm for fried chicken sold at gas stations.

Currently drinking: Furlani “Joannizza” Vino Spumante. Molto vivace!

Marisa’s favorite Good Fellas moment with Kirk: Could it be when he introduced me to a new favorite wine, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato? Or when he’d spontaneously quiz me with questions like, “Tell me what you know about Gattinara?” There are countless moments, but here’s a very early one: During my visit to Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, (where Kirk was the beverage director) he asked if I had 20 minutes to spare. He then asked the barman to set out 8 glasses – 4 for Kirk and 4 for me. Then he poured into each set of glasses Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella, Ripasso, and Recioto. Somehow he knew I’d never had these wines. We tasted them together while he taught me about the unique winemaking process of each. It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had.


“The Professor”
VIA Certified Italian Wine Expert and Faculty, Vinitaly International Academy 

Henry Davar

There had to be wine life beyond France. And when he dropped some Lira on his first Amarone and his first Taurasi, he truly fell in love with wine. Today, if he’s not teaching Italian wine classes somewhere in the world, he’s likely to be at home enjoying wine made from native Italian grapes.

Aha moment: Driving in Barolo. October. Fog.

Favorite hangout: Got Verdicchio by the glass?

Biggest secret: When Liz and I moved back to Las Vegas in 2013 and started hosting dinner parties for our friends, someone named our home the #houseofnebbiolo. Sure we share a lot of great Barolo and Barbaresco, but I am just as happy enjoying some of the simpler everyday wines of Italy. In fact, in Piedmont, where they make the world-famous Barolo and Barbaresco, those wines were traditionally reserved for special occasions… holidays, birthdays, weddings. The locals drank Dolcetto with dinner. So maybe Dolcetto is my dirty secret. But I’ve got a closet full of them – regional wines made from native Italian grapes that capture the purity of the variety and offer a transportive expression of place. Tell me, who couldn’t use that these last twelve months? A vacation in a bottle of wine…

What’s in my glass: Don’t even get me started about Italy’s white wines, which I probably drink even more often than reds. Fiano, Falanghina, Greco, Carricante, Vermentino, Verdicchio, and even Biancolella (grown on the island of Ischia) are all in regular rotation!

Marisa’s favorite Good Fellas moment with Henry: Besides a fierce game of Bocce ball over a bottle of Barolo? There are many! He has led wine classes featuring producers from all over the world. One that comes to mind is an afternoon of German and Austrian wines with an intimate group of sommeliers inside a Thai restaurant. As a writer, I should have been the one to ask questions, but leave it to Henry to always ask the best ones. That’s what a good educator does.


“The Advocate” 
Lead Sommelier, Carbone, Aria Las Vegas

Hristian Iliev

His father, a doctor, made wine. But Hristian’s teenage years in Bulgaria were all about the hardcore punk scene. Then one wine class in Las Vegas reconnected him to his viticultural roots, and he has since poured “excitement into every glass with everyone who dines at Carbone.”

Aha moment: I’ve had many subliminal moments, tasting amazing wines, but if I go back to the beginning, my AHA moment was identifying the aroma of grapefruit in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Wine didn’t smell just like wine anymore, but a whole new world presented itself to me. The rest is history. 

Favorite hangout: The Sea Garden in Varna, Bulgaria. I basically grew up there, and even now, when I go back, it feels like I never even left. The old friends are still there, hanging out at the same places. Time stands still, and you are just in the moment. 

Biggest secret: Stop and listen. Really listen.

What is in my glass? Champagne! It’s always a good time for bubbles. I can start, end, or never even leave Champagne.

Marisa’s favorite Good Fellas moment with Hristian: Sitting inside Carbone and watching one of the best in the industry work that dining room with charisma and elegance. He’s the sommelier’s sommelier and a great advocate of all wines.


“The Explorer” 

Mike Tadich

The mechanical engineer from Serbia helped develop what is today’s “FlexFuel” for GM and retired early, only to find out three days later he was bored. Mike filled in for a sommelier who had a broken leg, and memories of his grappa-making grandfather brought him full circle, and today he focuses on discovering boutique producers and bringing their wines to Las Vegas.

Aha moment: The more I learn about wine, I find out how little I know about it.

Favorite hangout: Opera in Verona.

Biggest vice: 1947 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino!!! Immediately after opening it, the room is filled with aromas of white truffles of Alba. And that is just the beginning of pure enjoyment.

What is in my glass? I have a confession: I am an extreme social drinker! I do not drink alone. I have never opened a bottle of wine at home to have a glass. Wine is to be shared; therefore, I always find someone to drink with!!! 

Marisa’s favorite Good Fellas moment with Mike: I wanted to learn more about grapes on the brink of extinction. We met for lunch, and he introduced me to Oseleta, a rare native grape from the Veneto, and then left me with a thick green book by MASI. He told me to take the time to read it. But then give it to Kirk Peterson afterward. It was like receiving a starter for great sourdough bread then passing it along.

Group and Iliev’s photos by: AndStudios/Tyler Gallo

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