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August 31, 2008                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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In This Issue

Yachting the Inner Passage of Alaska By Suzanne Wright

NEW YORK CORNER: 81 by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLARChilean White Wines Seek to Share Reds’ Rep  by John Mariani


Yachting the Inner Passage of Alaska
By Suzanne Wright

     It’s the ultimate dinner and a show.
    That’s what I’m thinking as I am interrupted mid-forkful of beef by a shout of “tail” from a steward.  We’ve heard it for days, but we respond with enthusiasm.  Simultaneously, each of the 31 guests onboard the Safari Explorer push back our chairs, grab our binoculars and head up to the bow.  Beth, our exhibition leader, has spotted a pod of humpback whales engaged in “bubble net feeding.”  The whales dive deep under a school of herring, form a circle and simultaneously blow their breath out, creating a “net.”  Their haunting calls frighten the herring.  The herding forces the herring to the surface, where the humpbacks surge to the surface, their huge, gaping mouths capturing their prey.  Beth says this is a rare occurrence; that you could come to Alaska for years and never see this sight.  We are lucky.
   “Whales rock,” she says. So do sea lions, bald eagles, brown bear, Dall’s porpoises, Sitka black-tailed deer, seals, otters and puffins, all of which we see during our seven-night American Safari cruise in Alaska’s Inner Passage.
    The journey begins and ends in Juneau, an unassuming former gold mining, city  of just 30,000 people, but it has a cool vibe.  A town, it has one great shoe store, several galleries and lots of saloons.  You can tour the charming Alaska State Museum with tribal artifacts and the capitol, a former territorial building. Fortuitously, my visit coincides with the annual Celebration.  More than 2,000 dancers from Tlinglit and Chilkat tribes in Alaska, Canada and. Washington perform at several indoor and outdoor venues wearing spectacular ermine-trimmed and button-festooned robes, beaded dresses and clan hats.
   Before boarding the yacht, we take a bus to Mendenhall Glacier, one of 38 glaciers that flow from the Juneau Icefield.  The area is part of the Tongass National Forest (below), the largest in North America, with old-growth Sitka spruce and western hemlocks. Peering through a telescope in the Visitor Center, I can see mountain goats scrambling up the mountains adjacent to the glacier; beavers are in evidence at the creek.  Mendenhall Lake has a milky color because of the ground up rock, called glacier silt, it contains.
    The excitement is palpable as we greet the awaiting crew of the 145-foot Safari Explorer, which holds just 36.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, wildlife viewing is up in popularity in by 22% over the past five years. Because of its size, we can ply waters larger vessels cannot. The advantages are myriad:  we can get up close and personal with wildlife, we can reach little-seen villages, there are no waits for shore excursions, we are flexible as we chart our course and we have less impact on the environment.
    My stateroom is casually elegant with a bathroom with heated floors, an iPod docking station, and a flat screen TV. There are no room keys.  The guest/crew ratio is 2:1. The combination living room, library, bar and dining area boasts a large screen TV (for slide shows and lectures), leather couches and chairs, board games, DVDs and books.  Almost immediately, guests kick off their shoes, some snuggling under throws, and chat, read or nap.
     Camaraderie is a big part of the shared small-ship experience. Many of us will exchange email addresses.  We are from different parts of the globe, we have different occupations, we have different life experiences and we are of different ages, yet we intermingle with ease.
   Gourmet cuisine is another big part of the voyage, and Chef Phil and his staff of two turn out regionally inspired, two-course breakfasts and lunches and three-course dinners.  We also enjoy fresh-baked cookies every afternoon and pre-dinner hors d’ouevres  like salmon sashimi, potstickers or house-smoked cheddar.  Ninety-five percent of the food is prepared from scratch.
    Breakfast might include a spinach and feta quiche with Dungeness crab or apple oat pancakes with ham steak and red eye gravy. My favorite lunch was our only buffet:  a BBQ sampler with pork ribs and grilled marbled King salmon, coleslaw with carrots, cabbage and apples, home-style potato salad and mini pecan tarts.  Dinners featured tomato bisque, sockeye salmon with zucchini and summer squash, Alaskan King crab legs, smoked black cod with pesto risotto, rib eye with Stilton crumbles and cheesecake with raspberry puree.

Day 2

   At 6 a.m., we stop to pick a U.S. National Service park ranger who will be pointing out wildlife and answering questions while we are in Glacier Bay.  The water is glassy, calm, a Caribbean aqua.  The park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site, is ever-changing, the result glacial movement.  It feels as though we have it to ourselves—there’s not another boat in sight.
    Alaska is two and half times the size of Texas, with more designated wilderness area than any other state.  Much of the land is remote, with few roads; there are more licensed pilots in the state than all other states combined.  From the ship, the unsullied and breathtaking grandeur of the place reveals itself.  The weather plays hide and seek as we traverse the fjord (left) where the water plunges to 600 feet.  Then it clears.  The water sparkles; the sun warms enough to remove a layer of clothing.  It’s a pristine early summer day, ideal for wildlife-watching.
   First, we spot magnificent bald eagles diving for fish and resting on icebergs.  Then come the humpback whales, the largest mammals in the world (some females are 50 feet or longer), distinguished by their enormous fluke (tail fin) breaking the surface.  Next are the coastal brown bears, a mother and cub at the shoreline.  The female rears up on her hind legs as another adult clambers down from the mountain. There are also cawing gulls and puffins, perched on rock outcroppings, and harbor seals, slithering off rocks into the water. It’s a lifetime’s worth of animal spotting, all before lunch.
    There are glaciers in Southeast Alaska the size of Rhode Island.  At Grand Pacific and Margerie Glaciers, we hope to see dramatic “calving” as large chunks break off and crash into the water.  Just 200 years ago, this entire region was completely covered by ice.  Glacial ice is a special clear, brilliant shade called storis blue.  The ice appears blue because it absorbs all colors of the visible light spectrum except blue, which it transmits.  As we drop anchor, we watch and listen to the stresses and strains of melting ice, water dripping, air bubbles popping and cracking.  “Ice crispies,” Beth calls it.
     We hear the calving before we see it:  it sounds like a giant thunder clap.  Eyes riveted to the glacier in front of us, we wait.  A few minutes later, a huge block breaks off and hurtles into the water—just like on TV.  I have goose bumps and not because I’m cold.
    Later, we hike with Richard, our other onboard naturalist, who points out the old man’s beard that hangs on the hemlocks in the forest.  It looks like Spanish moss and is an indicator of good air quality and a lack of pollution. When I return to my cabin, the bed’s been turned down with chocolates.  Sweet dreams indeed.

Day 3

     Merlinda, wellness instructor, has been offering yoga and stretching every morning at 7 a.m.  But I’m not an early riser.  Instead, I sign up for my complementary 45-minute massage. There’s also a sauna and two step machines on deck.  Just a few steps away is the bridge.  Open to guests 24/7, it could probably accommodate all 31 of us at the same time.  Scott is passing the wheel after this trip and Shawnda will pilot the ship for the balance of the season.
     We’ve entered the richest whale waters in Southeast Alaska.  We don orange life vests, put our cameras in the waterproof bags provided and climb into an inflatable skiff to get nearer to these gentle giants.  Humpbacks are endangered, but this is their summer playground.  It is thrilling when Beth spots telltale plume spray: there’s a pod of five, including a mother and calf.  She cuts the engine and we watch, riveted, as a light rain begins to fall.  The humpbacks are aerobic, acrobatic whales, diving, breaching and slapping their massive flukes on the surface of the water. At one point they come within 15 feet of the skiff, their huge knobby heads just above the water.  We can feel the sea spray. Then comes the money shot, when the Y-shaped fluke crests the water.  After 20 photographs, I finally snap proof.  Sea lions cavort just in front of the skiff.  We might be a little wet and a bit chilly, but we are energized.
    Tonight, we celebrate the birthday of an 85-year old female passenger with a candle-lit cake.  She’s given a tiara to wear, but I suspect she’d rather have a kayak paddle.

Day 4

       Thousands of sea lions on Brother’s Island jostle for space on the rocks, bellowing their discontentment when a patch of sunny stone is compromised. Talk about high-density living.
   This morning’s excursion is kayaking in Kelp Bay where Sea lions bob their heads up, playing a game of hide and seek. They follow us, ducking below the surface as we attempt to steal a glance or take a picture.  When we round the rocks too close to them, they waddle and slip with a splash into the water.
     In the afternoon, we pull into Baranoff Harbor to hike to the hot springs.  The sulfuric smell fills the air as we disrobe to our bathing suits.  The springs are located in a shallow rock pool directly over rushing falls; the rocks are slimy with moss but the water feels silky and warm.  One of the group brandishes a bottle of champagne from his backpack and pours each of the (all-female) “Baranoff Babes” a plastic cup of bubbly.
     We hike further into the woods, coming upon skunk cabbage.  It’s well named—the odoriferous plant fills our nostrils before we see the bright yellow flowers and waxy leaves.  Richard tells us Indians used to wrap fish in them. The ground underfoot is mossy, springy and spongy; the forest looks almost fairylike.  One passenger spontaneously hugs a giant tree.

Day 5

   We’ve pulled into Petersburg, a Norwegian fishing village (below).  It’s the quintessential Alaska fishing town—think Northern Exposure.  The hardware store sells groceries.  There’s also a great bookstore where several of us replenish our reading material.  The townspeople are friendly and stop their trucks to let us (jay)walk across the street.
    A small group of us bike around town.  We spy two Sitka-black tail deer on the front lawn of a house.  They are not spooked by us at all. The owner is backing out of his driveway.  He rolls down his window when he sees we have stopped to admire them.  “They’re a nuisance,” he shouts with a smile.  “You can have ‘em.  I can’t keep them out of my yard.”

    After dinner, we get another show as Dall’s porpoises appear below the bow.  With their unique black and white coloration and thick-in-the-middle bodies they look like miniatures Orcas.  We lean over the rail to get a closer look; at one point I count ten of them.  I try to react quickly enough to catch them on camera, but their rapid-fire swimming, jumping and zipping from side to side shows up as a splash and bubbles on all my shots.                        Photo by Mike Colvin

Day 6

   It’s raining this morning, so we don rubber boots and raingear (provided by the Explorer) for the skiff excursion to look for brown bears at Admiralty Island; sadly, it’s a bust.  Many of us opt for a dip in the hot tub.  I opt for a nap and a DVD.  Call it a mini hibernation.

Day 7

   We are hugging the steep fjord walls of Endicott Arm and Ford’s Terror.  The name comes from a naval crew member who rowed a dinghy into the narrow entrance at slack tide in 1889.  As the tide began to rise, Ford was trapped in the turbulent current of the granite-chiseled canyon for six terrifying hours.
     We’ve dropped anchor.  The weather, mostly warm and sunny all week, has turned rainy, chilly and a bit melancholic but it’s hardly terrifying.  Still, Beth, our onboard exhibition leader, gives us a serious safety briefing before we launch our kayaks.  “Watch out for icebergs—and not just the big ones.  Even the bitty bergs can capsize your kayak.  You can’t see what’s underneath.” Dawes Glacier is both spectacular and surreal; I feel as if I am floating in a giant cocktail.
     Some chunks of ice are the size of cars; others the size of ice cubes.  The water is gin-clear, aquamarine, smooth as glass. It’s quiet, so quiet that the only sounds I hear are the paddle slapping water, a seal crying out and ice creaking, cracking and shifting.  I begin clicking off pictures, trying to capture this moment.
    We begin to paddle, heading toward the wall of ice that glistens a couple of miles ahead of us.  It takes us a few moments to gain a rhythm, to get our paddling in sync, and we have to make split-second decisions about the potential hazard of the icebergs—big and small—in our path.  I shout out the simplest, most succinct directions:  “Iceberg right, steer left.”  “Big iceberg ahead.  Bear right, then straight.”
    We paddle toward a huge iceberg that glints like blue topaz. A harbor seal pop its head above the surface.  We paddle toward a mother and pup on an ice floe, getting within a paddle length before they slip into the water. We paddle toward the rocky shoreline, then back toward the glacier.  We take turns coasting, putting the paddles across our laps and taking photographs.  Or just listening intently for the tell-tale boom of calving.
   Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the sun comes out.  Misty clouds lift from the mountains. The icebergs begin to melt like a huge slushy.  There are fewer, less imposing obstructions and we navigate with greater ease.  Fewer words are exchanged.  We have gained some mastery and more than a little faith in our abilities in the past hour.
   All too soon, Beth is signaling for us to return to the ship.  Bradley and I are the last of the passengers to paddle in; we jokingly contemplate making a break for it, forcing the boat to chase us through the fjord, thinking we are nimble enough to elude the captain.
   Back onboard, Elaine, the bartender, uses an ice pick to break up a CPU-sized block of glacier ice and proposes a martini.
“It’s the purest ice you’ll ever have,” she says with a grin. “Cheers.” We clink glasses.

    At the farewell dinner, champagne is poured and Captain Scott speaks of friendships that are formed during oceanic voyages.  Beth shows a photographic slideshow of the weeks’ activities to raucous good cheer (we will receive a copy during breakfast before we disembark the next morning).  Even though we have to be in port at Juneau early the next morning, no one wants to end the night, so Elaine obliges us into the wee hours.

The Safari Explorer’s season in Alaska runs from May to September. For information and reservations, log onto

Suzanne Wright is a writer living in Atlanta and founder of

by John Mariani

eighty one
45 W 81st Street (near Central Park West)

     for many, many years my family's Christmas outing was to go to Rockefeller Center to have lunch at the Sea Grill, skate on the ice rink, and take in the great lighted fir tree.  But while the skating and the tree still hold their wonder, I haven't been back to the Sea Grill since  chef Edward Brown, who had been there 17 years,  left a year or so years ago.  Fortunately he has reappeared, now on his own, at Eighty One, a splendid new Upper West Side restaurant near the Museum of Natural History.
     Brown's impressive résumé, before the Sea Grill, includes stints at the Maurice under Alain Senderens and Christian DeLouvrier, and before that at Lucas Carton in Paris.  His own book, The Modern Seafood Cook (1995), is still one of the best on the subject.  So I was all prepared to see what Brown could do with non-piscine fare too.
     Eighty One is a deep, broad restaurant with high-backed booths, deep red lipstick colors, and polished wood floors. The tables are well set with the finest napery, stemware, and silverware, the winelist is very strong on every count, and service is amiable throughout the evening, well attiuned to the pacing of the  kitchen.  Over two visits the decibel level in the full room never rose above the conversational level. This is a fine restaurant for people who want to dine, not be part of a scene.
     Brown's modern American cuisine shows the deft way he used to focus on fish species to bring out their best, now with meat, fowl, and vegetables.  He combines foie gras and chicken in a terrine (left), light and mild, with baby arugula, celeriac, apples, and truffles.  Wonderful New Bedford sea scallops and foie gras ravioli in a chervil-based wine sauce makes for a refined starter. One evening gnocchi parisienne were much too soft and starchy, but a summer's fava bean and pea soup with fromage blanc, a hint of garlic, and crab croquette showed marvelous delicacy and flavor. Crispy softshell crabs were fat, sweet, and indeed crispy.
      he cooks  fluke on the Spanish griddle, giving it a gentle sear, then combines it with summer's vegetables in a fresh lemon-thyme broth. His succulent roast squab comes with peppery purslane, walnuts for texture, and caramelized daikon for sweetness. And Colorado lamb comes two ways, with roasted baby zucchini and the lovely creamy touch of ricotta. You can taste in every dish the finesse and respect he has for the principal ingredients, because they are always top of the season.
      For dessert John Miele provides more complex, textured dishes; his bittersweet chocolate-hazelnut mille-feuille with Mandarin hot fudge and a white chocolate crèmeux will give you the general idea; there's also a fine Meyer lemon frozen soufflé with lemongrass pannacotta, pistachio, and a blood orange sorbet.
        Brown (right) has said he wants elegance with comfort at 81, and that is what you get. It's not at all stuffy, but the propriety of good service and sophisticated cooking makes this (still) a rarity on the West Side, where restaurants get better all the time--just not with this much refinement.
       Appetizers run $14-$19, entrees $28-$39.



Chilean White Wines Seek to Share Reds' Rep

by John Mariani

     While Chilean red wines like Concha y Toro’s Almaviva, Casa Lapostolle’s Apalta, and Montes Alpha “M” have achieved real status among the wine media and the enviable sales to go along with them, Chile’s white wines have not, as yet, fared quite so luminously.
     Of course, white wines have a lot of catching up to do in Chile, where the Spanish brought red wine grapes, mainly Pais, during the colonial period. Indeed, red European varietals like cabernet sauvignon and carmenere were only really planted there as of there 1980s, and, only in the last decade, has modern technology allowed vintners to boost white wine quality.
        Overall, Chile’s wine industry is booming: in 2007, Chile was the fourth in bottled wine market share, with 8% of the imported bottled wine market in the US, according to the Gomberg-Fredrikson Report. Imports of Chilean wine increased by 13% in 2007 and increased in value by 24%, up to $207 million. Currently, Chile is the only one of the top ten wine- producing countries in the world showing an overall increase—2 percent--in wines being imported to the US.  Of that amount, white wines grew by 9 percent, making up 24 percent of the Chilean wine brought into the US. The most recent data, from the of 2006, shows that there are 28,468 hectares of white wine planted in Chile, which is a remarkable 24.4 percent of all vines planted.
      The two main white Chilean varietals are sauvignon blanc (8,697 hectares) and chardonnay (8,548 hectares), with viognier beginning to make some gains. Shamefully, it was not until the 1990s that Chilean vintners admitted that a lot of what they said was sauvignon blanc was actually the unrelated, inferior sauvignonasse, also called sauvignon vert.  Those days are, apparently, long gone.
      Chile’s vineyard regions spread up and down the Pacific coast, whose winds cool the white grapevines in the morning and evening, from Casablanca in the north to Bio-Bio in the south. The soils seem to favor the kind of fruit ripeness these days preferred in white wines, especially sauvignon blanc, which I found the most desirable of the dozen examples of Chilean whites I tried.
      I expected to find the wines refreshing and bright—all from recent vintages—as an aperitif, but because some reach a minimum of 13.5 percent alcohol, they go very well with food, which included a salad of avocado, chickpeas, and peppers. To my surprise, the chardonnays, with their mellow acids, went well with lasagna made with mozzarella, ricotta, and parmesan cheeses with tomato sauce, because the creaminess of the cheese is ideal with chardonnay, and the sweetness of the tomato (itself a fruit, not a vegetable) was enhanced by the wine.
     By far the largest wine producer in Chile, with sales in excess of 6 million cases annually, Concha y Toro was founded in 1883. (It now has a 50-50 agreement with France’s Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA company to make Grand Cru class red wines like those from Château Mouton-Rothschild.)  Concha y Toro’s Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc Vineyard Selection (Block 28) 2006 ($22-$25; above) was a striking example of how far Chilean whites have come.  The seductive tropical fruit is definitely there, but this is no fruit punch. Its balance of acid, flinty notes, and creamy smoothness on the finish make it uniquely Chilean, without the cloying sweetness of so many New Zealand sauvignon blancs or the acrid grassiness of lesser Sancerres.
      Punto Niño Sauvignon Blanc 2007, from the Casablanca Valley, is a great buy at $15, a brisk and refreshing wine with which to enjoy tapas like shrimp, sardines, and cheeses, with a pretty floral bouquet and just enough fruit, minerals, and crisp acid to keep it on the dinner table.
      Casa Marin Sauvignon Blanc Laurel 2007 ($22) also has a fine, passion flower nose, but it was far too fruity and a tad too sweet to enjoy with most foods aside from a nibble of country bread with an olive tapenade.
      Of the chardonnays I tried, I was not much taken with Los Vascos 2007 ($9-$10) from Colchagua Valley.  This winery also has a Rothschild connection—this time Lafite—and they make a pleasant Bordeaux-style red called Le Dix.  But this chardonnay had almost no color whatsoever, little of the aroma of a white Burgundy, and none of the oak and caramel of a California example. It was simply a bland, ten-dollar white wine.
      The Garces Silver family’s Amayna Chardonnay 2005 ($20) is a limited run of only 1.543 cases, and it shows the benefits of oak and age without crossing the line into muscularity.  At 14 percent alcohol it’s a bold white wine, and I sensed that it is at its peak right now and probably won’t gain further maturity. Drink it right now with the last lobsters of summer.

~~~~~~~~~~From September 18-30 the trade organization Wines of Chile will partner with Gourmet Magazine to present the third annual "Salud! Chilean Wine Fest" in New York. Thirty restaurants and ten retail wine stores will be showcasing Chilean wines, some with complementary tastings.  Restaurants include A Voce, Blue Fin, Porcao Churrascaria, The Modern, Spice Market, and others. For info go to or write to

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play on the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.


“The road beckons, so we heed its call and peel out. The radio’s playing a song with a gravelly refrain that goes `Minnesota. . . we got pride, pride, pride!’ Motorcycle gangs, all bandannas and flapping leather fringe, thrum down the asphalt.  A crust of butterflies forms on the front bumper.  We slow down to let wild horses cross, and I wrestle splinters of beef jerky out of my molars.”--Nathalie Jordi, “Farm Fresh,” Condé Nast Traveler (August 2008).


The French Foreign Legion is producing a wine called "Esprit de Corps" to raise funds for its veterans. The 2007 Côtes de Provence red and rosé vintages are produced from grapes grown in southern France where  its war-wounded and former fighters work in the vineyard. Lieutenant-Colonel Xavier Lantaires described them as “strong when attacked, solid on the onslaught, full of grapeshot on the front line."


* On Sept. 6 the Napa Valley Grapegrowers will hold the Harvest STOMP at the Round Pond Estate in Rutherford. Guests will enjoy local cuisine and have the opportunity to meet Napa Valley's most notable grapegrowers pouring wines, dancing to great bands, an instant cellar raffle, and a live auction. $100 pp.  Also,  exclusive luncheons hosted by pioneering grapegrowing families at vineyards not typically open to the public, at $300 pp.  Call 707-944-831.

* In Paris ,  guests of Hôtel Le Bristol’s Bar can enjoy a trio of mini-sandwiches for either lunch or dinner, a novel idea from Chef Eric Frechon and by Bakery Chef Wesley Tulwa, as an entire meal complete with a starter, main course and dessert.  Accompanying the assortment is a sandwich in the form of a drink.   38 Euros. Call +33 (0)1 53 43 43 42 or visit

* Throughout September, Lark Creek Restaurant Group will offer special dessert menus in each of its Bay Area restaurants made with the best of American chocolate, incl. E. Guittard and Scharffenberger. Participating restaurants include The Lark Creek Inn (415.924.7766), One Market Restaurant (415.777.5577), LarkCreekSteak (415.593.4100), Lark Creek Walnut Creek (925.256.1234), Yankee Pier in Larkspur (415.924.7676), Yankee Pier in Lafayette (925.283.4100), Yankee Pier at Santana Row in San Jose (408.244.1244), Parcel 104 in Santa Clara (408.974.6104) and Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas (702) 731-7413).

* From Sept. 6-12 the Denver Independent Network of Restaurants (DINR) has created "Harvest Week," a weeklong celebration of Colorado’s  produce and products,  with the Colorado Wine Board, Colorado Proud, and the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. Restaurants may do a 4-course meal with Colorado wine pairings; a selection of local beers ; or a wine tasting with local wines and cheeses.  In addition, several restaurants will host individual programs and events incl. talks with local farmers; presentations by Denver Urban Gardens; pick and cook events with kids; and much more. Fir a list of restaurants go to

* This autumn the Taj Boston Hotel “Brunch on The Roof " on the 17th floor features Chef Franck Steigerwald’s buffet along with a special presentation of Indian cuisine by Chef Prabeen Prathapan and desserts by Taj Boston pastry chef, Susan Lagalle. Taj Boston Brunch on The Roof is on Sept. 7, 14, 28, Oct.  12, 19, 26 and Nov. 2, 9, and 16. $62 pp., $30 for children. The Taj Boston Brunch on The Roof Package rates start at $499. Call 617-598-5255; visit

* On Sept. 8 An Heirloom Tomato Dinner will take place at Cantinetta Luca in Carmel, CA, with a tomato reception at 6:30 pm, followed by dinner.  $105 pp.  Chefs incl. Jason Balestrieri, Cantinetta Luca; Christophe Grosjean, Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel; Jesse Kloskey, Bouchée Bistro; and Ron Mendoza Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group, with wine pairings by Thomas Perez, Wine Director, Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group, Carmel.  Call 831-626-7880.

* On Sept. 10 in NYC, Alto will hold a dinner with Lombardy's most acclaimed winemaker, Nino Negri's Casimiro Maule. $215 pp. Call 212-308-1099 or email Eric Zillier, Wine Director, at

* September is California Wine Month in NYC, with a month-long series of tasting events, incl: Sept. 9--Santa Barbara and Napa Valley at Morrell Wine Store; Tale of Two Valleys at Union Square Wines & Spirits; California regional wines tasting Harlem Vintage Wine Shop & Bar;  Sept. 10--California Wine Rush Consumer Tasting at Espace; 1Sept. 11--Napa Valley Wine Dinner featuring Margaret Duckhorn at Zachys; Sept. 12--Santa Barbara, Sonoma & Carneros wine tastingat Zachys; Sept. 13--Paso Robles, Mendocino & Napa wine tasting at Zachys. Ticket proceeds benefit the Central Park Conservancy. Visit

*  On Sept. 12 the 
Third Annual "NY Brewfest"
 will be held at  NYC’s South Street Seaport
, with more than 100 Local, Regional, National, and International
Craft Breweries to Participate

Plus: Live Music 
and Barbecue from Spanky's
. Held by The New York State Brewers Association and Heartland Brewery.  $50 pp. Visit

* On Sept. 13, Westport Rivers, Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport, MA, help Levin Gillespie raise money to save “AN AFRICAN GARDEN”
A Women’s Cooperative Garden Relocation Project: 
A Peace Corps Initiative For Wompou, Mauritania, Africa, by holding a party whose $25
ticket price incl/ a cash bar ash Bar for beer, wine & soft drinks, local art vendors, raffle & silent auction
Live music by
Rebecca Correia, Jack Jennings & Royal. Call  
508 264-4841.

* Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten now offers a "Culinary Master Course" at Trump International Hotel & Towel New York incl.  a 2-hour private cooking lesson in the kitchen of his namesake restaurant,  3  nights in an Executive Park View Suites, 3-course dinner for two with a bottle of Champagne, Breakfast for two daily at Nougatine, and signed copy of Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges. $8,999. Visit

* On Sept. 13 in Brewster, MA, Chillingsworth will hold a Vintner's with the Chateau St. Michelle  portfolio of wines. $125 pp. . . Oct. 18: The Annual Game Dinner;  Nov.  15 : Beaujolais Nouveau. Visit

* On Sept. 13 the 25th anniversary of Masa’s Restaurant in San Francisco will be toasted in benefit for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.  Chef Gregory Short has invited Masa’s alumni Julian Serrano, Elizabeth Falkner, Richard Reddington and pastry chef Keith Jeanminette, for a 9-course tasting menu. Two seating’s. $250 pp. Wine pairing selected by Masa’s Master Sommelier Alan Murray additional.  Call 415-989-7154.

* On Sept 13, the 14th Annual Staglin Family Vineyard Music Festival for Mental Health will be held at the Staglin Family Vineyard in Rutherford, Napa Valley, feauturing the music of   The Pointer Sisters.   Chef Mark Dommen of One Market Restaurant will cook for attendees at the VIP post-concert dinner, and chef Todd Humphries of Martini House in St. Helena, Napa Valley will provide pre-concert hors d’oeuvres with over 70 of the Napa Valley and Sonoma County’s best wines.   Visit, call (707) 944-0477, or email

* On Sept. 14 in Boston, in honor of the shellfishermen and women of the Bay State's coastal waters, the  Massachusetts Aquaculture Association (MAA) is uniting a shellfish farmers to celebrate its first Shellfish Shindig at the Samuel Adams Brewery, with demos of shellfish preparation. Samuel Adams brews will be paired with each dish.  Rowan Jacobsen,  author of A Geography of Oysters, will host a book signing and discussion.  $10 pp.  Call 508-934-9753.

* On Sept. 16 celebrates the New York Rising Stars Chef Awards at the American Museum of Natural History with a walk-around tasting gala. $150 pp. Visit  or call 212-966-3775.

* On Sept. 16 Angelina’s Ristorante in Tuckahoe, NY, will host a 5-course wine dinner with Jordan Winery.  $100 pp.  Call 914-793-7319.

* On Sept. 16 three of Washington D.C.’s Irish-American chefs will combine their expertise for an evening of cuisine and Irish culture at Sewall-Belmont House--Brian McBride of the Blue Duck Tavern, Tracy O’Grady of Willow Restaurant, and Geoff Tracy of Chef Geoff’s and Lia’s Restaurant/ Pete Moss and the Bog Band will provide entertainment. Call 202-772-3824; visit

* On Sept. 18 in Oak Brook, Ill,   Reel Club will present a 4-course  “Dinner and Wine to Fall in Love With,” hosted by chef  Alpana Singh.  $75 pp. Call 630-368-9400; visit

* On  Sept. 18, Del Posto  in NYC will play host to “Magic, Martinis & Mario,” with Mario Batali, mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim and comedian Billy Harris for a 4-course Italian menu with wines from La Mozza. Guests may also a variety of s prizes. A percentage of the proceeds will benefit the EarthLab Foundation.  Call 630- 618-4756 or . Tix are $1500.

* The Wine Academy of Spain is hosting a traveling, in-depth, two-and-a-half-day seminar series on the wines of Spain, beginning in NYC (Oct. 21-23), then San Francisco (Oct. 27-29), and conclude in L.A. (Oct. 30-Nov. 1).  Testing on the third day is optional, but those who pass will receive the title of Spanish Wine Educator. The top 15 scorers will have the opportunity to travel to Spain for further training in 2008, incl. a  week-long trip with meals, lodging, tours and seminars. Those who pass the exam in Spain earn the title of Spanish Wine Ambassador. Contact:; call +34 91 781 63 67 or visit

* To celebrate Gidleigh Park's (Chagford, Devon, England) 80th Anniversary year, executive chef Michael Caines is welcoming a handful of talented chefs this Autumn:   Sept. 22: Atul Kochhar from Benares, in London. Oct. 16:  Shaun Hill (Merchant House in Ludlow and The Walnut Tree - Abergavenny) ;  Nov. 17: Adam Simmonds, of the Oak Room, Danesfield House in Buckinghamshire. Visit

* Asia Transpacific Journeys of Boulder, CO, offers a new tour, "The Cuisine and Culture of Thailand and Vietnam," a 14-day trip small group trip departing Feb. 7. Package incl. incl. accommodations, most meals, regional flights, transfers, visa fees, tips, entrance fees, medical and emergency insurance, and a  pre-departure packet. Led by culinary travel authority Peggy Markel, the trip will show the harvest of lemongrass and coconuts, cooking lessons, personal visits with acclaimed chefs,  market shopping, local arts and performances,  UNESCO World Heritage sites. $7,895 pp . Visit or call 800 642 2742.


NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with three excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  To go to his blog click on the logo below: THIS WEEK: THIS WEEK: 6 EUROPEAN HOTEL CHAINS PROMISE CHEAP SLEEP.


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contrinbutor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). THIS WEEK: A Report on The Four Seasons Jackson Hole. Click on the logo below to go to the site.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, and Diversion.  He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. It was a beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there.
Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our
Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

© copyright John Mariani 2008