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  April 13, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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By John A. Curtas

BLT Steak
By John Mariani

By John Mariani

Mondavi Family Estate
By Andrew Chalk



by John A. Curtas

     Solvang, California, used to be a paragon of kitsch, corny architecture and lots and lots of butter cookies. When last I visited ten years ago, it was, as one local put it, at the tail end of its “outlet store phase,” and the Danish bakeries nearly outnumbered the vacant storefronts-–which is really saying something. These days, a great ableskiver, cheese Danish, or thin, Danish pancake accosts your waistline on almost every corner, but the real reason to come here is that this formerly sleepy little hamlet--known affectionately for decades as “Little Denmark”--has quietly become the wine capital of central California.
     Before illuminating the food and wine possibilities throughout the area, a little geography lesson is in order. Calling the Santa Barbara wine country the Santa Barbara Wine Country is a bit misleading, since the vineyards and wineries don’t even appear until you’re about forty minutes north of the city. The Central Coast is a more generalized description, but even that may confuse the novice, since the entirety of the Central Coast stretches roughly 250 miles from San Francisco County to Santa Barbara County. No matter what you call it, this area is huge, with more than 90,000 acres planted with wine grapes and home to around 360 wineries. The good news is that Solvang puts you right on the doorstep of all of it, and over the past decade the entire town has developed a food and winey vibe that matches the excellence of the unique wines surrounding it.

    Two other towns, both so tiny they make Solvang seem like San Francisco, compose the oenophilian epicenter of the area. Buellton is for the budget traveler, home to a few motels, one good restaurant, several diners, and the only inn and eatery in the world named after a legume soup:
Pea Soup Andersen’s, and say what you will about, it has endured for 90 years on the back of its thick and silky broth, redolent of nostalgia and pea-ness. One slurp of that soup, and a stroll around the premises, will take you straight back to 1962. Andersen’s is virtually unchanged since then in offerings, accoutrements or attitude, and that’s just the way it should be.
     The one good restaurant in town is also the famous one. The Hitching Post II is where “Sideways” (above) was filmed in 2003, and everyone stops by the bar to check out the modest wall of photos showing Miles and Jack (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) doing their thing and posing with cast, crew and employees. What I love about HPII are the smoky “barbecued” steaks (right)--they call grilling “barbecuing” out here--and the ever-changing selections of Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post pinot noirs. What I don’t love is that nothing else on the menu rises to the level of those steaks--or the pea soup down the street. If I had to plan a meal over again, I’d start with some hap-pea-ness at Andersen’s, savor a steak and pinot at HPII, and grab a left-over Danish in my room for dessert.

     Meal disappointments are quickly forgotten, however, once you hit the two, tiny streets of Los Olivos, a village that has also grown up a lot in the past decade. What used to be barely a blip on the map, with a single, tony B & B--the Fess Parker Inn--is now home to more than a dozen tasting rooms, art galleries, gift shops and one serious restaurant, Sides.
Located in the old Sides Hardware and Shoes store, it is the perfect place to relax once tasting fatigue sets in, and the minimalist menu cleverly disguises some real serious work being done in the kitchen. Our midday meal sounded as utilitarian as a crescent wrench when we ordered it: soup of the day--carrot-ginger (left)--fish tacos and a corned beef sandwich. But what appeared was house-made corned beef, sashimi-grade albacore, and an intense, beautiful soup, revealing a certain level of kitchen sophistication we had not previously encountered in trips to the area.
     Like most restaurants in the area, Sides charges only retail prices for the wines on its list, yet another reason to appreciate the unassuming nature of this wine region.

     You could lose yourself just walking around the various Los Olivos sipping parlors--especially the Syrah-based beauties of Andrew Murray and Mikael Sigouin’s dense and vivid Grenache blends at the Kaena tasting room--but that would leave precious time to search out new finds, like the Beckmen Winery (just five minutes out of town, specializing in Rhône varietals) or visit old friends like the Quonset hut tasting room at Foxen, still as rustic and charming as ever twenty years after I first stumbled upon it.

     Stumbling becomes a problem when you do eleven wineries in one day (helpful hint: learn to spit gracefully), and becoming wined-out is a pitfall best avoided by pacing yourself. Another way to dodge this inconvenient truth is to walk a lot, and nowhere in the area is more conducive to drinking and strolling than Solvang. The town has undergone quite a facelift, and what were once faded storefronts and empty windows are now teaming with tenants, an amazing number of which focus on eating and drinking. Once you carbo-up with a kringle cake, 7 sisters coffee cake, or a cinnamon bun and sip some remarkably good coffee from Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery, you’ll be ready to swirl and sip all day.
        What used to seem an afterthought in Solvang is now front and center, as the town boasts a number of tasting rooms and wine bars, all within a short walk of each other. The great thing about wine bars, as opposed to tasting rooms, is that you can sample bottles from throughout the area, not just a single winery. The great thing about The Good Life is that they also serve fabulous craft beers, along with some serious charcuterie, and will happily chat you up about some obscure stout or whatever pinot noir Lane Tanner has just released. (Note: Lane Tanner sold her interest in the “Lane Tanner Winery” in 2010; just as “Sanford Wines” are no longer made by Richard Sanford. Both individuals still make wines--under the Sierra Madre and Alma Rosa labels, respectively--and the wines are as worth seeking out as their winemakers are difficult to keep up with.) After some cheese with some California brews, it’s back to the barrels--in this case the Toccata Tasting Room--where Italian varietals boasting big flavors at reasonable prices are the rule.

     The “Sideways Effect” did more than put Solvang in touch with its inner oenophile, it also brought modern cuisine to a place where the food used to be as dated as the half-timbered architecture. Fifteen years ago, your choices were either a chain restaurant or anything you wanted  as long as it was wrapped in a pancake. These days, the town sports two restaurants--Root 246 and the Succulent Café (right)--with serious intentions.
     My dinner at the SC--a house-made charcuterie platter, pumpkin seed-crusted rack of lamb, and bacon-wrapped diver scallops--married perfectly with a 2010 Ken Brown pinot noir. All of it was served by a wine-knowledgeable staff in a room where I couldn’t hear myself think. After dinner, I strolled past Root 246 , which had a raucous bar scene going on and what appeared to be a much quieter dining room. Everything on its menu (côte de boeuf, lamb 3 ways, cassoulet) seemed perfectly suited to the bold, smoky pinot noirs that put this region on the map, so we resolved to book it for our next trip to this delicious wine country, which I hope will be very soon.


By John Mariani

BLT Steak
106 East 57th Street


   It’s hard to imagine it’s been ten years since the opening of BLT Steak, a restaurant that had more influence on that staid genre than any other up till then. 
     At the time I wrote, “The room here is light and fresh, not burgundy or glitzy; the staff is cordial and well informed rather than brusque and kvetchy . . . The house sandwich is, appropriately, the BLT--though this one’s made with foie gras, which like everything else here, takes it to the next level.”
     Partnering with ESquared Hospitality, renowned French chef Laurent Tourondel crafted an ebullient steakhouse where women felt very welcome and men enjoyed bringing them.  The lighting was good, though the decibel level was terrible. There was a blackboard menu, ebony tables and suede booths.  The beef was Certified Black Angus and USDA Prime cuts, the seafood from impeccable sources.
     In all these years--except for Laurent Tourondel leaving the company to which he gave his initials (he now has his own steakhouse called The Arlington Club)--this BLT flagship, now with 12 branches worldwide, has remained very much the same, and on a recent visit it was so good to see some familiar faces among the managers and captains, still greeting customers with professionalism and gusto. Even the noise level seems somewhat lower.  Only the prices have risen, but they are commensurate with BLT’s myriad NYC competitors'.
        BLT also pioneered the greatest cheese popover (right) the world has ever seen--rising five inches in airy splendor, very crisp on the outside, soft, eggy and cheesy inside, and always brought to the table very very hot, with plenty of butter.
        The menu, overseen by Chef Clifford Crooks, is a reasonable size, enough to satisfy the stalwart carnivore as well as those who’d prefer seafood.  The tuna tartare with avocado ($18) made one of its earliest NYC appearances here, and it’s still one of the best in town.  So, too, was a lobster salad ($23), with plenty of big chunks of seafood in a Cobb-like mince.  There is, of course, a seafood platter at $34, $65 or $98, and ask about their fine charcuterie board.
        The steaks and chops are impeccably cooked, charred but juicy on the outside, medium-rare, as ordered, inside. My favorite cut is the 28-day aged NY strip weighing in at 16 ounces ($48), along with the bone-in ribeye at 22 ounces ($49).  Highly surprising is the fact that BLT serves inferior Australian lamb ($44), when American lamb is so much better.
        Knowing I’d be noshing off my friends’ steaks, I opted for sautéed Dover sole ($48) with a soy-caper-brown butter sauce (right) I asked to be put on the side, so as to appreciate the full-fatted flavor of the sole, cooked on the bone. A sautéed branzino ($30) came with shiitakes, baby carrots, and the scent of basil.  There are always blackboard specials posted.
        Side dishes like hen of the woods mushrooms, potatoes au gratin, and Brussels sprouts seemed revolutionary on a steakhouse menu back when BLT introduced them; all that’s changed is their refinement.  Creamed spinach is really creamy, and the truffled mashed potatoes and golden French fries will not last long at any table.
        Heidi Kornhorst’s desserts, all $10, show a French pastry slant, as in the superb signature crêpe soufflé with passion fruit sauce.      
      Sommelier Alex Berlingeri stocks more than 500 global wines on his list, and he is an ideal and amiable person to ask for advice in any price category.       
        So, Happy Tenth Birthday, BLT.  Don’t ever change what you so distinctively pioneered.

BLT serves lunch Mon.-Fri.  and dinner nightly.


By John Mariani

         For some in the food media, the death this week of French master chef and restaurateur Roger Fessaguet at 82 was yet another blow to the legacy of fine dining in NYC.   Yet for me it was more a case of “The king is dead, long live the king!” For Fessaguet’s true legacy was to leave an indelible trail of impeccably crafted cuisine whose principles of French classicism are still the inspiration for fine dining at a time when so many young chefs, held aloft by the same media, delude themselves into believing they are re-inventing the wheel every time they pick up a knife.

         Back in 1968 Fessaguet, then executive chef (later partner) at the renowned La Caravelle on West 55th Street, made dishes praised by the Times’ restaurant critic Craig Claiborne: “The stuffed turbot, imported fresh from European waters but as sweet in flavor and as tender in texture as if it had been pulled within the hour from the waters off Long Island. The stuffing was Nantaise style — a mousse of sole, fresh cream, deftly mixed herbs such as rosemary, bay leaf and thyme, and a suggestion of shallots"--obviously a classic dish requiring immense precision to make correctly, but one probably considered passé today.  Yet imagine for a moment that the same dish were to be found on the menu at a hip new downtown restaurant with an under-30, tattooed chef.  Chances are the food press would fawn over both the chef and the dish, for Fessaguet’s dish is not so different from one currently being cooked up in Chelsea at the new Willow Road, as described by The New Yorker’s Ariel Levy: “Risotto is made with barley, which the kitchen folds with fat clam bellies, leeks, and a touch of crème fraîche dissolved in clam broth.”  
It is true that French Cuisine à la NYC had become stultified on menus back in the 1960s when they were near Xerox copies of the one at the most famous restaurants of its day, Le Pavillon, where Fessaguet and La Caravelle’s first owners, Fred Decré and Robert Meyzen, had all worked.  But it was in the daily specials that chefs like Fessaguet showed the endless variations French classicism offered from soup to dessert and everything in between, all of it requiring enormous training to produce—this at a time when access to first-quality ingredients was often impossible.  No wild mushrooms, no fresh foie gras, no virgin olive oil.
     Fessaguet was born in Villefranche sur Saône in 1931, dropped out of school at 14 and apprenticed at a wide range of restaurants in France before coming to NYC to work at Le Pavillon, then at La Caravelle, becoming a partner in 1980. 
    From the start, La Caravelle was a new kind of French restaurant, far brighter and less fussy than Le Pavillon and others in midtown, and, although the snob factor was still part of the ethos back then, La Caravelle was a more ebullient place with less attitude towards guests who did not have names like regulars Prince Rainier, Marlene Dietrich, Noël Coward, Cecil Beaton, Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, and Bill Blass.

    The premises were enlivened by impressionistic Jean Pages murals of Paris, so that in 1977 Gourmet Magazine wrote, “Seventeen years after its launching, the restaurant steers as steady a course as ever. Paris, dressed in its holiday best and transported to New York.” By then, Le Pavillon had been shuttered for seven years and La Caravelle had become a classic all its own.
    In 1980 Fessaguet retired from the kitchen but still was a formidable eminence in the dining room, where his infectious bonhomie was palpable.  Stout and ruddy-faced, the very image of the French chef, he always had a twinkle in his eye, a nose built for sniffing wine, knew his social strengths, and hobnobbed with his French colleagues on weekends.  Fessaguet would leave service early on Saturday, hop in his Porsche and speed headlong to his New England country house, returning on Monday afternoon in time for dinner.

      Eventually La Caravelle was sold to André Jammet (his father had run Le Bristol Hotel in Paris) and his wife Rita, who maintained the restaurant’s eminence while freshening the menu by bringing in an impressive number of young chefs who went on to great careers of their own, including Michael Romano, Cyril Rénaud, David Pasternak and Tadashi Ono. La Caravelle closed in 2004, owing not to changes in culinary fashion but to the hard facts of NYC realty: a new owner of the building wanted a fortune for a new lease.
    Meanwhile Fessaguet, whom I only really knew after he’d left his kitchen for the dining room, was enjoying his retirement with friends, perhaps lamenting a certain decline in civilized dining but never for a moment in doubt of the power and glory of French cuisine as the underpinning of all modern non-Asian gastronomy.

       He was once one of many respected masters in NYC back then; now none of his kind is left working in NYC. But their influence is everywhere, in every kitchen, whether a young chef who’s never eaten turbot with sauce Nantaise knows it or not.  At a time when chefs have become celebrities and smug egomaniacs, it is a good thing to remember what Duke Ellington said when asked what he really thought of an old-timer like Louis Armstrong. Ellington just smiled and said, “No he, no me.”  



Keeping It In The Family At Michael Mondavi Family Estate
By Andrew Chalk

Animo Vineyard, Napa Valley

       It was an historic moment when Robert Mondavi founded his eponymous winery in 1966. What is less well known is that he jointly founded it with his oldest son, Michael. More than just a name on a legal document, Michael was actively involved in the establishment and evolution of that winery with its focus on superior wines and made the wine for the first eight years of its existence. Subsequently, he took charge of sales and marketing and later became CEO.
     Some wine it was. The first Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that I ever tasted was the 1974. It bested the bunch at a 1984 private tasting of great California 1974 red wines and is one of the wines that helped put the Robert Mondavi Winery name on the map.
    Michael left the winery in 2004, shortly before its acquisition by Constellation Brands, and founded a company to import wines from family-owned and managed wineries, Folio Wine Partners; two years later he launched a new boutique winery, Michael Mondavi Family Estate
, where he and his wife Isabel make wine with their son, Rob, and daughter Dina (below). Their first wine. “M by Michael Mondavi,”  was released in 2008.
    There is an unmistakable family structure to affairs at the winery. Michael is in overall charge but clearly wants to delegate to his children. Rob is President of Winemaking, Dina is in charge of marketing. They make seven different wines totalling just 18,000 cases a year. They source fruit from throughout Napa Valley but pride of place goes to the family-owned vineyards. Animo Vineyard (above)--Italian for spirit or soul--is 15 acres located on Atlas Peak at 1,270-1,350 feet. The soil is rocky and volcanic and planted to Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 4 on 110R rootstock. This vineyard was purchased by Michael in 1996 and planted from scratch. As a result, current releases are from vines that are 10-15 years old.
     Oso Vineyard, purchased in 2006, is at the other end of Napa Valley between Sugarloaf and Howell Mountain at 1,250 feet, its vines planted on stone-lined terraces in rocky, porous soil. Excellent drainage stresses the vines, leading to concentration of flavors, and the smaller diurnal shift than on the valley floor, with warmer nights and cooler days, results in fresh, vibrant fruit.
     The Isabel Mondavi (below, right) line includes a Chardonnay ($30), a Pinot Noir ($40) and a rosé ($20). The latter is especially  unusual for being made almost entirely (91.5%) from Cabernet Sauvignon, the remainder Petit Verdot. The fullness of the Cabernet fruit makes this a more fruity and beefier rosé than most. It is enjoyable on hot days as an aperitif wine or with Mediterranean hors d’oeuvres.
     The other four wines are all Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley. The 2011 Emblem, Napa Valley ($35) is sourced from multiple locations, with some fruit from the Oso Vineyard, some from growers on the valley floor in Rutherford. This wine is a barely legal under California wine laws that dictate 75 percent of the grapes must be from Cabernet Sauvignon to use that name on the label; this one is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon,  blended with 7% Syrah, 6% Petite Sirah, 4% Zinfandel, 4% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot. The main effect of such a complicated cépage appears to be a softening of the wine for early consumption and aromatic embellishment. This wine is very approachable but will improve with aging for 3-5 years.
     The 2011 Emblem Oso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, with 87% Cabernet Sauvignon,  and 13% Petit Verdot ($60),  is a more structured wine than the Napa Emblem. Unlike many producers, the winery does not appear to have been negatively impacted by the cool growing conditions of this vintage, allowing a longer hang time to achieve full ripeness. If you consume this wine now, choose a well-marbled steak such as rib eye or T-bone and salt it well. It will cut through the tannins. Better still, age 3-6 years to allow the wine to resolve.
     The tête de cuvée wines of the house are those from the Animo Vineyard. The 2010 Animo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, with 87% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Petit Verdot ($85), is picked in multiple passes, then cold-soaked for four days after destemming. Aging is for 20 months in 87% new French oak. The result is very concentrated fruit and hints of vanilla and spice. The tannins are supple enough to drink now, albeit with the same steak advisory as above, but this wine will keep and improve a decade or more.
      The flagship wine is the 2009 “M by Michael Mondavi” Animo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, with 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot ($199). The objective here was to craft a wine redolent of the Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernets of the 1960s and early 1970s. It is sourced from the “Crown Block” in the Animo Vineyard harvested over four weeks starting with the highest elevation and working down. The harvested fruit is hand-selected, destemmed and lightly crushed. The grapes see a 5-day cold-soak period, fermentation at 27-30
C and extended post-fermentation maceration for around three weeks. Aging is in 87% new French oak for 22 months, followed by 15 months in bottle. 
     This is a wine to cellar with your other “reference Napa Cabernets” as a marker of the evolution of Napa styles and effects of vintage variation. It is immensely concentrated with formidable tannins, dark fruit, black pepper and cooking spices. Keep 10-20 years.
     In one sense, Michael Mondavi Family Estate is Robert Mondavi Winery redux; in another, it has evolved. The commitment to Napa fruit and the iconographic Cabernet Sauvignons that the terroir produces is as strong as ever. But whereas Robert chose To-Kalon on the valley floor, Michael prefers mountain fruit. And whereas Robert revolutionized viniculture with the laboratory and squeaky-clean winemaking (a vital step in those days), Michael practices the minimal intervention and sustainability practices front and center in this century.
     For wine drinkers, all seven wines here are interesting and many tasted at the winery (left). The single most important piece of news, if you pinned me down and forced me to confess, is that “M by Michael Mondavi” is a candidate for admission to the pantheon of top-tier Napa Cabernet Sauvignons.


Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners
Reliable Old Friends

by Cristina Mariani-May         
co-CEO of Banfi Vintners America's leading wine importer

April Showers of Red and White Goodness      

    As Spring finally kicks into gear, we are reminded of the fragility of Mother Earth and her bounty.  As an importer representing several family wine makers from around the globe, I often like to point out that all the wines that we represent are green, some of them greener than others.  The greenest of all are classified as Biodynamic or certified Organic.  One of the most interesting selections of eco-balanced, organic and biodynamic wines comes to us from Chile and the vineyards of Emiliana.
    Emiliana was founded by our friends, the Guilisasti family, who have a long and proud history of winemaking with their Concha y Toro brand.  Three decades ago, well ahead of the curve that has made organic wines all the rage today, they set up dedicated and, most important for organic farming, isolated vineyards for this type of agriculture.  Many may picture the small farmer as being the most “organic,” but in the reality of our wine world, sometimes it takes the “big guys” to act as a locomotive to get a movement such as this on track.
    Organic farming is a form of agriculture which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators, and livestock feed additives.  Organic farmers rely on crop rotation, crop residues, animal manures--including llamas (below)--and mechanical cultivation to maintain soils productivity and health, to supply plant nutrients, and to control weeds, insects and other pests.  To call a wine organic in the US, government regulation says that it must be produced from 95% organically grown ingredients with no added sulfites.  If you add sulfites in the relatively minimal amount of 100 parts per million, you can only say that the wine is “made from organically grown grapes.”  Now, not to go into a chemistry lesson, but it is virtually impossible to make a wine without that modest dose of sulfites, at least if you want to drink it beyond ten feet of the cellar it was made in and wish it to survive any moderate amount of aging.
    Biodynamic farming adheres to the same principles, but takes it one step further by relying on the cycles of the moon and the sun to dictate much of what is done in the field, and uses animal treatments such as compost teas, horns buried with fertilizer, deer bladders, etc., to treat the soil.  It may sound a little hocus pocus, but in reality it is very comparable to homeopathic medicine, using the body’s (in this case, the earth’s) own energy to heal itself.
    Emiliana has four distinct collections of lovingly crafted organic wine now available in the US – the base line of Natura, the next step up in Novas, a stand-alone wine in Coyam, and the ne-plus-ultra of bio-dynamic wines, Ge.  One taste of any of these and you too may find yourself turning green – not with envy, but for a newfound love of organic winemaking!

Recommended – green wines for Spring:

Natura Chardonnay In the cool coastal Pacific climate of the Casablanca Valley, organically grown grapes are hand picked during the last week of March, and vinified in stainless steel tanks, free of the domineering influence of oak.  On the nose, tantalizing citrus aromas of grapefruit and lime blend with notes of pineapple, all of which reappear on the palate and finish with balance thanks to the wine’s freshness and natural acidity.  Delicious with spring salads and seafood dishes.

Natura Carmenere –  From the rustic isolation of the Colchagua Valley, this intense and voluptuous offers aromas of cherries, chocolate and spice, coming together in ramped up volume on the palate with soft, round tannins and firm, well-balanced structure.  Great balance between fruit and oak, with a long, juicy finish.

Novas Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva – Hailing from the San Antonio Valley’s thin rocky and clay soils, the organic grapes for this wine are harvested by hand in March and undergo fermentation in stainless steel to preserve their bright fruit character.  Herbal notes mixed with citrus and soft floral hints fill the bouquet; the taste is medium bodied with grapefruit flavors joined by a delicate acidity and a touch of minerality. 

Novas Pinot Noir Gran Reserva – The grapes for this wine are grown in the cool, coastal Casablanca Valley’s permeable sandy loam soils, and harvested by hand.  After a cold soak on the skins, the wine is aged for 8 months in French oak barrels to add character, depth and roundness.  Bright ruby red in color with attractive aromas of berries, strawberries and notes of spice and cocoa, this wine bursts with fruit flavor, layered with earthiness. Delicious with white meats, light sauces, full flavored fish and shellfish, cured ham and sushi.

Coyam – A blend dominated by Syrah with nearly equal parts of Carmenere and Merlot balanced by “soupcons” of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre and Petit Verdot, from the Colchagua Valley estate called Los Robles – Spanish  for the oaks, called “Coyam” by the native Mapuche people in their own language. Hand harvested certified biodynamic grapes are naturally fermented in French oak barrels.  Coyam is largely unfiltered and aged for 13 months in barrels.  Aromas of ripe red and black fruits integrate with notes of spice, earth and a hint of vanilla bean.  Elegant expressions of fruit are delicately interwoven with oak, mineral and toffee. 

Ge – Chile’s first certified biodynamic wine, the name Ge is a nod to Geos, the earthly environment pulling together all the elements that surround us.  Ge is a blend of nearly equal parts of Syrah, Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the deep soils of colluvial origin in the coastal range, which lends mineral complexity. Naturally fermented in oak barrels, Ge is deep plum red with violet tones; it offers intense aromas of black fruits and berries alongside mineral notes and a soft touch of tobacco leaf.  Generously fruity with cedar notes, Ge is well balanced with tremendous volume, well rounded tannins and a long finish.

For more information please visit

Cristina Mariani is not related by family or through business with John Mariani, publisher of this newsletter



A 51-year-old English woman was recently buried in a coffin emblazoned with the logo of her favorite coffee, Costa, and the words "One shot, extra hot skinny latte," printed on one side,  which, said her husband, brought a "smile to our faces at a time of sorrow."


"For the last several years, I have been obsessed with the Vietnamese snack known as nem nuong, charcoal-grilled pork most often eaten with herbs as a component of a rice-paper roll."--Jonathan Gold, "Brodard Chateau elevates Vietnamese street food," LA Times (3/21/14)


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,  The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to four 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." 

Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor 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).

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;

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

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© copyright John Mariani 2014