Virtual Gourmet

  April 2,   2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


"My Father and Uncle Piacsek Drinking Red Wine" (1907) by József Rippl-Rónai



By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John A. Curtas



Part One

John Mariani


    As Carolyn Bánfalvi’s comprehensive, though now thoroughly out of date,  Food Wine Budapest (2007) notes, “Our biggest disadvantage is that all of our traditions disappeared during the forty years of communism. And worse, we don’t have anyone to ask about our past traditions. We didn’t just have to start from the beginning in 1989, but from below the beginning.”

    In just one decade since that book’s publication, everything has changed.  Not only have the traditions been revived but Budapest’s chefs now have the money and ingredients to produce food as good as any in Eastern Europe, not least in the new deluxe hotels, which have poured as many resources into their restaurants as into their rooms and amenities.




Erzsébet Körut 43-39

36 1 479 4000


    If any hotel in Europe deserves to called Grand, the new Corinthia certainly does, having been hewn from an edifice that debuted in 1896 as the Grand Hotel Royal, which included innovations like a spa and indoor heated pool now restored to its blue-tiled luster. Today there is also a sauna, steam bath, and fitness room, a business center, complimentary WiFi and non-allergic pillows are available. And the multi-lingual service staff has the kind of Mitteleuropean savoir-faire one would like to think is a long Hungarian tradition but which barely existed ten years ago in this town.

    To experience just what the hotel was like in its heyday—before World W II,  serving as an officers’ quarters till 1953 and during the more restricted post-war Soviet control—inquire about a tour held every Tuesday and Thursday morning by the unflappable Tibor Meskál, senior duty manager, who has kept files, photos and mementos of his days working there since the 1960s.  I hesitate to call him jolly, which makes him sound frivolous, but his palpable excitement is infectious in showing guests all the glories of other times and how they have been improved upon since the hotel's re-opening in 2004, now with 439 rooms, 31 suites and 26 apartments.

    There is no question you can ask that he does not have a fascinating answer for, including anecdotes like the Lumičre Brothers’ first screening of a motion picture in the vast Royal Ballroom, later converted to a cinema.  Meskál can personally identify every photo on the exhibition wall, compiled by the Hungarian Museum of Trade—with enormous help from Meskál himself.  If you recall Frank Morgan’s portrayal of storeowner Hugo Matuschek at his happier moments in the wonderful film The Shop Around the Corner, you’ll have a good sense of Meskál’s spirit.  He is a treasure.

There are three restaurants at the Corinthian, one casual, serving traditional Hungarian fare, another set within the magnificent atrium, serving a more global menu, and a third Rockshaw Asian restaurant I did not have a chance to try.

    Bock Biztró (left) is a good-looking, very airy and bright restaurant overlooking the street, with a tiled counter and floors, blackboard menu, hanging lamps and table mats. The fare is very homey, modern-day versions of dishes like goose liver terrine cuddled in its own yellow fat (1700 Hungarian Forints; 284 HUF=$1), goosemeat soup with semolina noodles (1100HUF), excellent veal paprikash with cottage cheese pasta (3700HUF), and perfectly fried Wiener schnitzel (3700HUF), sided with butter-laced potatoes.  For dessert have the chocolate-sour cherry sponge cake (1100HUF) or the quaintly old-fashioned poppy seed noodles with plum (1100HUF).  There is a very complete wine list of the best bottles coming out of Hungary and Eastern Europe these days.

    The Brasserie and Atrium (right) is a stunning long, six-story open space whose use at breakfast, when it is bright and sunny, and at dinner, when it becomes romantic by candlelight, give it a dual character that is never less than casually chic.  The menu, under Chef Balázs Ölvedy, is international in scope but grounded in the best available Hungarian products.

    We began with an unexpected smoked trout sushi roll (3400HUF), and an imaginative dish of beets, wasabi and rye crisps  with thin chocolate slices and sweet citrus (3200HUF), followed by generously portioned main course of lamb chops prettily presented on a small wooden desk (10,000HUF).  Pike perch, a fish that can use added flavors, was well served here with ratatouille, potato foam and garlic ash (3900HUF).  My favorite dessert was a luscious milk chocolate caramel slice with salted hazelnuts and rich chocolate sauce (1800HUF ).

    As at Bock Biztró, the wine list at the Brasserie is one of the best in the country.  A 12 percent service charge is added to the bill, so no need to tip.

Bock Biztró is open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat.; Atrium is open for breakfast and dinner daily.


Széchenyi István tér 5



    Nowhere is the new sophistication of Budapest more evident than in the Four Seasons Hotel, occupying what was formerly the magnificent art nouveau Gresham Palace, which long ago lost its 1907 Secessionist-Art Nouveau magnificence.  Now cleaned and restored, it is more beautiful than ever.

    The building seems to anchor the Chain Link Bridge on the Pest side of the Danube, and its grand arcade entrance hall (left) evokes all the awe it once induced when it was the Gresham insurance company's flagship, from its glass dome and crystal chandelier to its impressive front desk and the hallway leading from it, called the Peacock Passage.   
  You will be greeted with the same graciousness you’d expect at a deluxe hotel in London, Paris or Rome, and the 179 rooms—a modest number, for maximum effect—overlook either the river or the Old Town.  USA Today and the NY Times Digest are available, free Wi-Fi works perfectly, and it’s the kind of place where, alerted I was checking out at 8 a.m., they had already brought my car around without having to request it.

    The rooms’ interiors are sumptuous but restrained, done in soft tones of gray, white, taupe and lavender, with fresh flowers set about and large windows to let in the sunlight. Bathrooms are spacious and well lighted. The Health Club takes up the entire top floor, with state-of-the-art facilities.

    The restaurant here is named Kollázs—“collage,” referring to the marriage of old and new interpretations of European brasserie fare by young chef Árpád Györffy. The lay-out could not be more convivial, retaining a sense of Old Budapest comfort while offering excellent service and beautiful presentations, which include a bountiful bread counter to the rear and a smart bar-lounge at the entrance.  Lighting and noise levels are perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  (There is also afternoon tea served in the adjacent lobby lounge.)

    The plates, made of various ceramics, are decorated just enough without being fussy,  beginning with a tantalizing chicken liver ice cream as an amuse.  Goat’s cheese and beets come with pear and dried cherry (3300HUF).   A succulent rack of rosy Hungarian lamb comes with mushrooms, a variety of charred sweet onions and seasoned with a whiff of rosemary (5800HUF).  Particularly delicious was a fat lamb shank cassoulet (4500HUF).  These were followed by a warm chocolate cake with crčme fraîche (1900HUF) and buttery French toast with strawberry ice cream (1900HUF).
     There is also a "Blind Date" menu (19,000HUF; 29,000 with wines) we enjoyed that included
marinated trout with apple and smoked foam;  porcini-packed  agnolotti with leek sauce; braised veal leg with green bean and tomato; a wagyu trilogy and rye bread ice cream with pine bud and dates .
    The eight-page wine list has been selected by  head sommelier Matyas Szik to emphasize the finest local wines--and there are plenty of them--along with European, U.S. and South American bottlings and 15 Champagnes. The selection of Hungarian dessert wines includes a rare Szepsy 6 puttonyos aszú 2008 (59,000HUF).

     A 12% service charge is added to the bill.

Kolláczs is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday brunch.





Hercegprimás utca 5



    Aria is a very different kind of hotel from The Four Seasons or Corinthia. Indeed, it would be unique anywhere, created as it is around music and harmony, which begins in the large lobby (the building had been a somber bank) with a fanciful grand piano designed by Gergelt Bogányi, lime green satin sofas and all sorts of musical motifs.  Breakfast, tea and cocktails are served here, an ideal spot after a night at the Budapest Opera.

    The guest rooms curve around this central lobby in a series of elegant, skylighted terraces, with tracings and cartoons of  jazz and musicians. Each of the 49 rooms is dedicated to a different composer, with different tonal colors and furniture to evoke the master’s style.  Their music, as you might expect, is always available on request.

    The restaurant here is called, not surprisingly,  Stradivari (below), after the Italian master violin maker, and echoes Budapest’s legendary Gerbeaud Café, established in 1858, via  the Gerbeaud family still being in charge at the new restaurant.    
  Ultra-modern as it is, Aria there is not a whiff of the antique here. Violins hang from the ceiling and water washes over a wall of sheet music. The food presentations, by Chef Ferencz Gábor,  are equally lovely and contemporary, beginning with pumpkin cappuccino with pumpkin seed doughnut, ricotta and the sweet red peppers called kapia (1700 HUF). We enjoyed  a crispy millefeuille crȇpe of
wonderfully spiced chicken Hortobágyi paprikash  (2,690HUF). Crispy duck breast came with cauliflower mousse on potato tuiles and steamed yellow beets (4,490HUF) was served on a slab of thin slate (right). Hearty and bracing in cold weather was a traditional Hungarian paprika-potato stew with pork medallions (4,490HUF), and for something quite different, try the Mangalica poached pork belly, fried ears, smoked ham pickles and a sauce gribiche (2800 HUF).  The desserts are well-attuned to modern pastry-making, as in the salted caramel with popcorn, bacon and banana (1990 HUF).
    There is a five-course tasting menu at 16,990HUF.


Stradivari is open every day for breakfast, lunch, wine and cheese, and dinner.


By John Mariani

56 Beaver Street


        Try to imagine a time when NYC had no restaurants, only eating houses and taverns.  Then time travel back to 1827, when John and Peter Delmonico, two Swiss brothers, the first a former sea captain, the second a pastry-shop manager, opened up a small, six-table coffee-and-pastry shop called Delmonico’s on William Street.  After four years it had become a full-fledged restaurant with white tablecloths, a French chef, female cashier, revolving doors and a number of then-exotic dishes that included salad and green vegetables served in the French manner--this at a time when the local merchants ate outdoors or grabbed what they could at a tavern or eating house. 

         Delmonico’s was, then, the beacon of good taste and lavish meals, a standard for fine dining that had never existed before, and the brothers’ success begat ten more restaurants under their family name, each one more grandiose than the last, usually run by a relative imported for the purpose of maintaining tradition.

        Everyone of importance went to Delmonico’s: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Diamond Jim Brady, Lillian Russell, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde,  J.P. Morgan, Prince Edward VII of Wales and Napoleon III of France. It was the first restaurant to allow women to dine together with men, and it was from a room in Delmonico’s that Samuel F. B. Morse sent the first cablegram across the Atlantic from its 14th Street location.

        The menu evolved into several pages, with nearly thirty poultry dishes, eleven beef dishes and sixteen pastries listed, and the restaurant’s French cooking set the mold for American deluxe dining rooms that has been maintained ever since.  The Delmonico steak and Delmonico potatoes, eggs Benedict and lobster Newburg were created there, and an early version of Baked Alaska debuted in its dining rooms.  Last year Delmonico’s was honored in the superb food history Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freedman.

        Sadly, the onset of Prohibition forced the closure of Delmonico’s—no one wanted to dine like that without wine and whiskey—but it re-opened in 1927 on Beaver Street, closed again, and re-opened with successive owners—but only three in all its history.  Today it is owned and operated by the Turcinovic family, who suffered through not only the near collapse of the neighborhood on 9/11—they lost a huge percentage of their wine cellar and had to completely restore the dining rooms—but also the economic crash of 2008.

        Today, however, with Dennis Turcinovic in constant overview and Chef Billy Oliva in the kitchen, Delmonico’s shines as brightly as it did in the 19th century, its clientele a mix of beefy, loud Wall Streeters, the new locals who have moved to the area, and tourists from all over the world who bask in a style of décor and dining comparable only to that of Keen’s Chop House, which opened in 1885.

    When you enter Delmonico’s through a portal with marble columns brought from Palermo, a wide, deep dining room opens up, with murals of noted celebrities who once dined there, broad tables with heavy linens, a marble fireplace, wrought iron staircase leading to private rooms, and golden lighting from above.  Your greeting will be genuine from everyone—Dennis Turcinovic will undoubtedly come by—and immediately a waitress will welcome you and hand you menus and the wine list.  Ours, a Croatian woman named Marina, didn’t flinch in answering any question, historic or culinary, I could ask, and our wine bottle was at our table within three minutes.

    Having not dined at Delmonico’s in several years, I was very glad to see it vibrant with business and looking as if it had been opened that very day.  The festive atmosphere is ever present, any day of the year, and I can only imagine the room’s beauty at Christmastime.

    My party of four focused on Delmonico’s signature dishes, not least the crisp iceberg wedge salad with very good Bayley Hazen blue cheese dressing, pickled onion and crumbled bacon.  A tower of shellfish ($60 or $120), with three dipping sauces, was picked clean, and tuna tartare was very nicely seasoned and came with a rice puff and sriacha aďoli ($22).  The house-cured bacon ($29) will feed four (right) handily.

    As for the Delmonico steak (below), its original cut and configuration--a primal short loin--has changed over years and lost its meaning , so we opted for a 24-ounce 45-day dry aged bone-in ribeye ($65) of very fine flavor and texture (though, frankly, I’ve yet to taste any distinct effect on a good piece of beef after 28 days, and there’s that option at $58). Colorado lamb chops ($49)—four gargantuan ribs—were impeccably trimmed and came atop wilted seasoned  spinach. 

        I usually prefer my lobsters unsullied, but lobster Newburg (MP)—actually named after a regular patron named Wenberg who displeased the Delmonicos, who thereupon changed the name—is one of those sumptuous 19th century-style dishes, like lobster Thermidor.  When prepared with care so as not to overcook the three-pound lobster’s meat in the body and claws, it is  always impressive. Its blend of cream, sherry, cayenne and tarragon (below) is exactly the kind of trencherman fare gargantuans like Diamond Jim Brady lapped up at Delmonico’s.

        So it was to be expected that a dish of crispy red snapper with coconut green curry, forbidden rice and shaved vegetables ($38) would pale by comparison.  Do go for the onion rings with buttermilk blue dressing (a hefty $19!), the Brussels sprouts ($12) and the béchamel cream-rich Delmonico potatoes ($13).

    Attention must be paid to the desserts at Delmonico’s. The baked Alaska ($13) set on a walnut cake, with apricot jam, banana gelato and browned meringue (below), created in 1867 after the purchase of Alaska by the U.S., used to be flamed at the table, but the NYC Fire Department did not take kindly to that traditional display. The cheesecake with a sesame tuile, mango-passionfruit coulis and macadamia-pine nut crust ($12) and the chocolate raspberry fondant with dark chocolate ganache and raspberry ice cream ($12) are less dramatic but delicious.  Six artisanal cheeses are also offered (at $30).

    Delmonico’s wine list—severely diminished during the 9/11 disaster that affected so much of the neighborhood—is back up to world class ranking, 28 tightly packed pages with marginal notes on various kinds of wines. All the California cult wines are here, as well as two dozen prestige cuvée-quality Champagnes.  There aren’t a lot of bottles under $70 and mark-ups vary, not as high as some elsewhere but certainly pricey.  A store-bought Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2013 at $40, is here $105; a $120 Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard 2009 will set you back $525 at Delmonico’s.

    This fall Delmonico’s will celebrate its 180th birthday, with a few time-outs along the way that suggested such a wondrous place could not possibly survive into the 21st century. Of course, the NYC food media seems to believe it must have gone under decades ago. But when all the 20-seat Asian noodle eateries in Soho and the Nordic follies n Tribeca disappear month by month, Delmonico’s doors will still open way at the foot of Manhattan, where it all began, onto something not just rare but as exciting as it ever was.




THE WINES OF ROME, Part Two. . . and Roman Food as Well

By John A. Curtas


    If Cincinnato and Marco Carpineti, of which I wrote in my last article,  represent Roman vintners moving forward by looking to the past, Casale Del Giglio is a winery of a much more modern stripe. Located on the slopes and plains and some former marshland some 30 miles south of Rome, the vineyard utilizes its 445 acres of vines to make an assortment of varietals that stretch the boundaries of what Italian wines can be.

    Along with wine journalist Charles Scicolone, my wife and I toured the winery with winemaker Paolo Tiefenthaler, who explained that the area, being located on sandy soil in the Agro Potino valley near Anzio, did not have much of a wine-making tradition before they started cultivating it back in the 1990s. Tiefenthaler told us through an interpreter that they saw this unexplored territory as being perfect for viticultural experimentation, having a temperate maritime climate similar to those found in Australia, California and Bordeaux. As a result, and with the full blessing of the European Union, over sixty different varietals were planted to see what grew and tasted best. With such a broad canvas to work from, Tiefenthaler arrived at a stunning assortment of wines—fifteen in all—that aim to bridge the gap between classic and international tastes, as well as solidifying the area as a microclimate to be taken seriously.

     One very un-Italian thing about Casale Del Giglio's wines are the labels. In a nod towards the international market—and in breaking with the traditional Italian wine labels whose motto has always been "obscurity and confusion over clarity and information"—his bottles identify the maker, the grape (if it's not a blend) and the location of the vineyard. Most of the wines are classified as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), which allots more freedom to winemakers to use different grapes and blends than the more restrictive DOCG and DOC denominations.

        Tiefenthaler takes that freedom and runs with it. His chardonnay uses no oak and goes through no malolactic fermentation. The result is a full-bodied, crisp wine that is a pure expression of the grape. It was one of many non-traditional wines I tasted that caused me to sit up and take notice. Just as pleasantly surprising was the Albiola Rosato,  a rosé of Syrah and Sangiovese grapes, that was surprisingly rich for a wine so pink. Its strong acidity and raspberry/strawberry aromas make it a perfect wine for sipping all summer long.

    On the more traditional front, Casale Del Giglio weighs in with a big, spicy, tannic, vaguely herbaceous Cesanese that Elise Rialland,  our winery guide for the day, said goes perfectly with a spezzatino di bufaletta dell'agro pontino (water buffalo stew). Absent any water buffalo in your neighborhood, a beef stew would match splendidly as well.

    Of the other red wines we tasted, the huge, sweetly tannic Tempranijo was a monster that needs taming by food or aging, and the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon showed promise as well, although, like many of the reds, it seemed quite young, very fruit-forward and a bit rough around the edges. Still, when you consider that these wines retail for well under $20 a bottle, you're getting quite a mouthful for the price.

    Two wines that need no qualifiers are the Bellone and Mater Matuta. The Bellone is yet another worthwhile way to break the bonds of your chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or pinot grigio habit, being a complex and subtle blend of ripe tropical fruit beneath a nicely floral nose. What sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill $15 white wines is the strong acidity and a bracing finish that tastes like a sea breeze smells. I can't think of a better wine to accompany a fish stew or raw seafood platter.

    If the Bellone is an ode to the ancient varietals of Lazio, the Mater Matuta represents a leap into the 21st Century. Elegant and powerful, this flagship wine is a blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Petit Verdot, and displays a deep, dense, ruby red color, and complex aromas of black cherry, coffee and about half a spice rack. The tannins are finely integrated and the finish lasts for days. In all, quite a bottle for $50, and quite a landmark for an area that had no idea it could make such a splash with grapes that had never before spoken Italian.

    Old school or new, Roman wines have broken the shackles of cheap white wine that defined its viticulture for so long. Tasting the full panoply of Casale Del Giglio wines (including a wonderful late harvest wine called Aphrodisium) taught me that no longer will I look past the "Lazio" designation when I see it in a wine store or on a list. These are very attractive wines at very attractive prices, and all of them are made to match with Roman food, one of the world's great cuisines.



"To a Roman, wine is just another form of food," Charles Scicolone reminded me several times as we tasted our way around Rome for a week. What he also impressed upon me was that Romans, who are very serious about their cuisine,  look upon wine as an integral part of any meal. Still, being Romans, they don't exactly stress out over it. You'll never find a Roman dissecting the fine points of a food and wine match. Certain fundamental rules are followed: lighter wines with fish, heavier ones with meat, but after that, it is all about enjoying them simultaneously. Here are a few restaurants and wine bars where you can maximize your enjoyment of both in the Eternal City.


Il Sanlorenzo--4/5, Via dei Chiavari; 39 06 68 65 097.  Despite being 45 minutes from the ocean, Rome has never been much of a seafood town, until now. This elegant, seafood-centric place, a block off of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, proudly displays the daily catch at the front bar, offers six kinds of Le Acque (mineral water), artisanal breads and a stunning selection of raw seafood. It's 85€ tasting menu is quite the bargain, and the modernist carpaccio of red shrimps is just as satisfying as the artful twist on linguine con vongole.


Flavio al Velavevodetto --97, Via di Monte Testaccio; 39 06 574 4194. The trouble with traveling to Rome, as with New York, Paris, and Tokyo, is I'm always torn between classic places to which I can't wait to return  and wanting to try out newer joints that everyone is raving about.  I find that Rome doesn't follow food trends as much as the rest of the world, so it's easier to ignore whatever some travel magazine is writing about this month. Flavio Al Velavevodetto has been around forever, and isn't on anyone's thrill list, but the

food is Roman to the core. A wall of wines greets you as you enter (and doubles as the wine list) and the menu couldn't be simpler. The rigatoni con la pajata (with veal intestines) and coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail) also could not be any better. "Velavevodetto" means something like a Roman "I told you so," and after two bites of your meal, you will have to admit that I told you so.


Checchino dal 1887 --30, Via di Monte Testaccio; 39 06 574 3816. Right around the corner from Flavio al Velavevodetto is this venerable establishment, which is just as comfortable and just as good. Specializing in the "fifth quarter" of the animal, the menu is a testament to how Romans were into offal long before it became fashionable. Wonderful wine list as well (left).


Dal Bolognese --1, Piazza del Popolo; 39 06 361 1426. I never go to Rome without taking at least one meal here. Directly off the Piazza del Popolo, it is a fashionable haunt of power lunchers and well-healed shoppers. The thing to get is the bollito misto with mostarda and salsa verde. There might be other good things to eat on the menu, but this meat platter with mustard fruits is so spectacular I can't even think of ordering anything else. Except the fritto misto (fried seafood); it's out-of-this-world too.


Al Moro --13, Vicolo Bollette; 39 06 678 3495. There is an old saying about Roman restaurants, that the worse the art is on the walls, the better the food. Al Moro's walls (right) won't win any awards, but the fegato (calf’s liver with agrodolce onions) ought to be enshrined somewhere. You won't find better culatello ham or  buffalo mozzarella anywhere else around the Trevi Fountain, either. Go early for lunch to see how the smart business set enjoys its midday repast.




    Roman ristoranti are far less formal affairs than their Parisian counterparts. Still, you're expected to order two or three courses in them, and they are not the place to pick up a light bite. For that you have pizzerias and espresso bars everywhere (of variable quality), but for my money, wine bars are the way to go if you want a simple snack or plate of pasta without a lot of fuss after dark. The bonus is, of course, they also have incredible wine selections, some real bargains by the glass or carafe, and no one frowns at you if you just want a small plate of some incredible artichoke ravioli with a Gravner Breg like we had L'Angolo Divino. The other bonus is these spots are all within a short walk of each other in the Centro Storico.


Il Goccetto
(left) --14, Via dei Banchi Vecchi; 39 06 686 4268. Very popular with the young crowd. Doubles as a wine store. Nice antipasti display counter as you enter. Go early or late and go with a thirst.


Enoteca Cul de Sac --13, Vicolo Bollette; 39 06 678 3495. An old favorite off the Piazza Navona. Friendly welcome. Outdoor seating.  Rome's first proper wine bar (since 1977) is still one of the best, with food a lot better than you expect it to be.


L'Angolo Divino --Via del Balestrari; 06 68 64 413. A cozy spot right off the Camp de' Fiori, the modest entrance gives you not a clue as to the beauty of the food and the wine selection. An incredible list with a very helpful staff.






“There's a Way to Order Wine on a First Date without Looking Like a Jackass”—Jeremy Rapanich, (3/2/17)



Planet Hollywood, once with 100 restaurants, now down to six, is spending
$25 million to renovate its branch Disney Springs, FL, and hiring Guy Fieri to come with brilliant new concepts to spark the brand. According to founder/CEO Robert Earl, “People enjoy his twists on food and his attitude, as opposed to stuffy chefs." After intense thought, Fieri came up with the following menu items:  Turkey Pic-a-Nic sandwich with  “LTOP & Donkey Sauce”;  Bacon Mac-n-Cheese burger, with “LTOP & Donkey Sauce”; and American-raised Kobe beef under a pile melted cheeses, caramelized onion jam, and “LTOP and Donkey Sauce.”




Sponsored by Banfi Vintners


    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


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

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


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."  THIS WEEK: LE DEVELLEC, PARIS

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants, as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


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,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Geoff Kalish, Mort Hochstein, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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© copyright John Mariani 2017