Virtual Gourmet

  May 28,   2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Roger Moore (1927-2017)


By John Mariani



By John Mariani




By John Mariani

 "Sphaera" (2007) on Kapitalplatz by Stephan Balkenhol

    When I was in Salzburg last December, the whole town was done up like a Christmas card, complete with horsedrawn carriages, jingling bells, wreaths and garlands, windows piled high with confections, and steaming hot cider sold on every corner.

     But Salzburg at any time of year is a fairy tale city, quaint without ever being coy, baroque without being excessive, and in thrall to native son Amadeus Mozart without being mawkishly idolatrous. There is grandeur in the 17th century Dom cathedral (left) and the Residenz Palace, once home to archbishops, with a collection of European art from the 16th to 19th centuries and its famous horse fountain.

    There is music everywhere in Salzburg. Streets are made to stroll through, flanked by arcades, their store windows displaying beautifully tailored Austrian jackets and festive dress, dirndls and loden coats.

    The city is chocolate mad, home to two particular specialties created there, the Salzburger Mozartkugel and the Cappezzoli di Venere, which means Venus's nipples.  The former, to be expected in a city where it's said there is a Mozart recital every day of the year, was created in 1890 by Paul Fürst, who won a gold medal for it in the Paris Exhibition of 1905. It is made of dark chocolate and wrapped in special paper, and you can buy it at the four Fürst confectioners in town. Facsimiles abound under other names.

    Venus's Nipples are made from chestnut and nougat paste in white or dark chocolate—said to have been a favorite of  Mozart competitor Antonio Salieri—found in their little paper cups at the delicacy shops Kolbl Feincost and R.F. Azwanger.

      Of course, the city also has its Sachertorte, the rich chocolate-and-apricot cake created in 1932 for Prince Metternich's court guests and forever associated with the Sacher Hotel in Vienna. 

    Salzburg is also a city of cafés, like the famous Café Bazar, since Mozart’s day a celebrity draw, now constantly full of locals, well-dressed matrons, young women with their school friends, and business people, all on their iPhones and nibbling on croissants and Milchbrot (a sweet milk bread).

    Rightly so, the Old Town, much of it closed to vehicular traffic, has status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its mix of Romanesque, Gothic, baroque, and 19th century architecture has largely been uncompromised by anything too brutally modern—except for the grotesque  Museum der Moderne Mönchsberg jutting from a cliff above the city and made even less inviting by the poor quality of its exhibitions.  Far more appealing in every way is the Salzburg Museum (left), opened only in 2007 on Mozartplatz, with its Glöckenspiel bell tower, whose works manifest the city’s historic culture.

    My wife and I stayed at a two-year-old boutique hotel, the Hotel Goldgasse, set on a winding street under an archway just off the Alten Markt in the Old Town center and wholly devoted to the city’s music and opera.  Indeed, each of the hotel’s 16 rooms has an entire wall with a color photo depiction of an opera production (below, Il Trovatore).  The interior’s narrow winding staircase might pass for one in the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but the ambiance of the place is that of a private residence overseen by the remarkable Ulrike Koller, whose hospitality and interest in her guests is boundless.

    Downstairs is a traditional restaurant named Gasthof whose copper pans evoke its origins as a coppersmith’s house dating to 1573.  It also has a copy of Austria’s first cookbook dating to the 15th century, from which are culled some of the ever-changing recipes used in Chef Philippe Sommerspurger’s  hearty, inventive cuisine, which includes a signature fried chicken (left) with a cucumber salad and cranberries (€18.90); a housemade sausage with sour cabbage, parsley potatoes and mustard (€15.90); smoked cheese noodles with crispy onions (€16.90);  excellent Wiener Schnitzel of veal (€23.90);  and for dessert, the fluffy burned meringue dessert called Salzburger nockerl (€18.50) with vanilla ice cream and raspberry cream. The wine list is heavy in modern Austrian labels.  And at breakfast there is a splendid buffet with terrific breads and good coffee.

   For something more basic and inexpensive, there is Triangel, a hangout for locals, especially students, because the University owns the building and keeps menu prices in line so that a good meal can be had for very little.  The blackboard postings each day indicate what's most fresh and good, the cheery room is chockablock with old wood tables, and the beer flows freely.

    For a far more lavish gastronomic experience there is the unique Stiftskeller St. Peter, set within the monastery walls of St. Peter’s Abbey,  whose low street arcade outside gives no indication of the restaurant’s immense size on several levels with eleven rooms.  Upstairs there are huge banquet rooms, stunningly decorated, and a thousand people a day come through the restaurant; one room has live Mozart music every night via period costumed musicians.  (The composer himself is said to have dined there, and it is claimed this is the oldest restaurant in Europe, dating to 803 AD, and where, legend has it, Faust met the demonic Mephistopheles.)  Given its centuries in business, St. Peter has built up a legendary wine cellar, one of the finest on the continent.

    My wife and I dined in a small, far more charming and warm-spirited Burgerstube room (right), softly lighted and done in varnished paneled wood, thick tablecloths, hanging lamps, and old-fashioned rathskeller wooden chairs.

Our seasonal menu began with a velvety chestnut and chocolate puree soup and a nicely cooked risotto dauntingly rich with Gorgonzola.  They had a pork schnitzel Cordon Bleu stuffed with ham and cheese, served with parsley potatoes and cranberries.  The stand-out that night was a lamb knuckle in a well-reduced demi-glace accompanied with potato cannelloni.

        We could not resist ordering another Salzburger Nockerl (below), which could serve three or four people easily.  The dessert is traditionally made in three mounds of meringue, representing the  snow-dusted so-called mountains (rather more like big hills) in the city, all of them fairly easy to trek.

    I also recommend a visit to one of the loveliest gourmet stores I've run across in Austria, the family-run Koelbl-Feinkost, stacked with local delicacies and wines, including an array of the best the country has to offer.  Also good is Rigler’s grocery store to see the panoply of Austrian artisanal foods now available, and Cook&Wine is a new winebar and eatery where you can take courses in Austrian cooking.   And to get a true and enduring sense of Old Salzburg, visit the city’s oldest bakery, Stiftsbackerei St. Peter (left), which dates back to the 12th century as a  monastery flour mill—still run by flowing water—and bake shop. Each morning the bakers make marvelous sourdough bread whose aromas  suffuse the air outside of the little store, which has never seen fit to expand its offerings much beyond a few different loaves of bread and cakes.  But once you’ve tasted them slathered with butter and jam, you’ll never forget them, and you will return there whenever you can.

    But that’s also true of Salzburg itself, where one visit betokens another, at any and all seasons.


 The best bargain in Salzburg is the Salzburg Card, which can be purchased on-line before arriving and gives you:

  • one-time FREE admission to all city tourist attractions and museums
  • free travel on public transportation (incl. Festungsbahn funicular, Untersbergbahn lift, Mönchsberg lift, Salzach River Tour I)
  • attractive discounts on cultural events and concerts
  • additional discounts at many excursion destinations
  • in some cases, express entrance without having to stand in line at the ticket window

The card is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours.




By John Mariani


    You may notice that I did not entitle this article, “Why Are So Many NYC Restaurants Closing?”—which has become a perennial question posed by the food media any time a noted eatery closes.  Ever since Prohibition put extravagant Gilded Age totemic restaurants like Delmonico’s, Rector’s and Louis Sherry’s out of business in the early 1930s, the media have lamented the economic and social reasons for a restaurant closing, and predicted the demise of similar enterprises. 

    Yet closings happen all the time, especially in NYC, where there are more restaurants—about 20,000—than anywhere else, so the competition is fierce and the capital to open and maintain a restaurant is always a critical factor in success or failure.

    Nevertheless, the current media mantra is that restaurants—even some of the best known—are dropping like flies because of intimidating, greedy landlords, of which NYC seems to have no other kind. People were stunned when places like Nobu, Carnegie Deli, The Four Seasons, Da Silvano, Le Périgord, Spice Market, Telepan and Betony closed, but the reasons vary widely.  Just last week media darling chef Alex Stupak opened a much grander version of his Empellón in Midtown at the same time he closed the original premises that opened in 2011 in the East Village, explaining, "This is not the tale of a greedy landlord or a rent hike amidst new developments like the ones we sadly read about all too often these days. Our lease is in fact up with an option to renew but we would rather close up shop and begin looking for a new location.”    

    First, let’s consider that a restaurant lease generally runs about 15 years, sometimes with guarantees of an extension, though not at the same rent.  Landlords, bless their black hearts, see their own expenses go up and can’t be blamed for wanting to protect their profits. But, it is reasonable to ask, why would you hike a rent by 400% for a restaurant doing good business and expect the owner to be able to pay? 

    That was certainly the case with the great Italian restaurant San Domenico, which ten years ago balked at a 400% increase and left the building, which went unoccupied for more than two years.  (Marea finally moved in and is doing fabulous business.) So why would a landlord risk losing all that money for that length of time?  The answer is fairly simple most of the time: a loss is a tax deduction, which is often more than worthwhile to balance the books vis-à-vis gross income elsewhere.

    Exorbitant rent hikes happened to La Caravelle, which never re-located, even to the Union Square Café, which took more than a year to re-open on East 19th Street, in larger quarters.  The Four Seasons (left) was booted out of its half-century residence in the Seagram Building, not because of rent but because the new owner wanted something different, under another name--The Grill.  The partners of the former Four Seasons will open in a nearby location this year.

        In Nobu’s case, as partner Drew Nieporent explained to New York magazine, “We’ve been there 23 years, and the rent has accelerated quite a bit. I have customers who pay money to us, so I understand that without those people, I can’t be in business. For some reason, the tenant-landlord relationship is different. It’s like we pay all that money and are treated like the scum on someone’s shoe. I just don’t understand it. But I think our time had come. The building was fair to us, more or less, but it wasn’t like at the end they said, `We really don’t want to lose you.’” Nobu has re-opened in a much larger space, within a hotel, with “greater facilities to do what we need to do.”

    Thirteen years ago, the closing of the bellwether classic French restaurant Lutèce, in business for 40 years, but not for lack of business or a rent hike: Chef André Soltner (right) owned the building, so rent was not an issue.  Soltner just decided to retire after a lifetime behind the stoves.  Yet, then and now,  the NYC food media continue to beat the death drum of what Sierra Tishgart of New York calls “this kind of ornate, old-school, romantic French restaurant  [that cannot] hold the same allure and survive in New York.”

        Here’s a sampling of notable French restaurants that have closed: Alain Ducasse’s Adour, Alain Allegretti’s Bistro La Promenade, Keith McNally’s Pastis, André and Rita Jammet’s La Caravelle, Jean Jacques-Rachou’s La Côte Basque, Jean Michel Bergougnoux’s L’Absinthe, the International Culinary Center’s L’école, Amadeus Broger’s Le Philosophe, David Waltuck and George Stinson’s Élan, Philippe Lajaunie’s Les Halles Brasserie, and Georges Briguet’s Le Périgord.

Let’s look more closely at that list and why the restaurants closed:

     • Alain Ducasse did not own Adour and his management contract had run out.

    • Allegretti’s Bistro La Promenade was in no way an “ornate, old-school” restaurant; it was a bistro and decorated accordingly.  It simply failed to attract enough business. Neither did new restaurants like Le Philosophe and Elan, neither ornate nor old school.

    • Nor was L’Absinthe fancy or highfalutin, and it had a very long run for more than a decade.

    • L’école was part of what was called the French Culinary Institute as a restaurant to train culinary students. The Institute changed its name to the International Culinary Center and became more global, so a place called L’ecole was not the right fit.

    • La Caravelle did fall victim to a landlord’s outrageous demands, but that was 13 years ago—hardly indicative of anything at all.

    • Business at La Côte Basque collapsed after terrible, very unfair health department inspection ratings, but  the premises were immediately occupied by Ducasse’s still-thriving Benoit, which was just redecorated and still going strong.
    Yet when the original and legendary Palm steakhouse (opened 1920) on Second Avenue closed last year because of a landlord hike, the media did not proclaim high-end steakhouses were falling out of favor.

      Tishgart fails to mention that La Grenouille, Le Bernardin, and Daniel are still mobbed every night, and very high-end modern dining rooms with multi-million dollar interiors, like Eleven Madison Park, Nomad, Lincoln Ristorante, Gotham Bar & Grill, Gabriel Kreuther and Per Se are too.  The hottest place in town this year is Le Coucou, a fine dining French restaurant in SoHo with white tablecloths, romantic lighting, and high prices.  So, too, is Vaucluse on the upper East Side, which owner Michael White calls “a celebration of the uniquely spirited Provençal joie de vivre,” serving escargots, páté en croûte, poulet rôti and canard à l’orange.

    Then there is the question of NYC’s Restaurant Union, Local 100, which is notorious for making it near impossible to run a restaurant while paying dishwashers in excess of $20 an hour.  When Tavern on the Green lost its lease (with NYC), it took years before anyone could negotiate a deal with the union, whose bosses couldn’t have cared less if scores of their members lost their jobs.  L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in the midtown Four Seasons Hotel was another union casualty.  So, too, after 53 years in business, owner Georges Briguet of Le Périgord faced extra costs of $12,000 more per week if he agreed to union demands.  Le Cirque moved out of the Palace Hotel to East 58th Street, where they did not have to hire union workers. 

    Such examples have nothing to do with “this kind of ornate, old-school, romantic French restaurant  [that cannot] hold the same allure and survive in New York.”

    Le Cirque's entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy this spring was rooted in the usual landlord disputes.  I spoke directly with Marco Maccioni, who explained that Le Cirque—with nine restaurants worldwide and the new Dubai Ritz-Carlton just opened, as well as Doha, Dallas, and Orlando this year—had a cash flow problem that will be resolved soon. ”We would not have filed Chapter 11 if we planned to go out of business. You file it in order to stay in business,” Maccioni told me. While he said that business has been off somewhat in NYC (as many top-end restaurants are reporting), there are no plans whatsoever to close the doors at Le Cirque. So much for the sensational story “Is This the Beginning of the End for Le Cirque?” in, yes, New York by (guess who) Sierra Tishgart.

    There are, of course, a plethora of NYC restaurants that close because they were never properly capitalized in the first place, so that, despite rave reviews, Michelin stars and packed houses, they couldn’t survive the rigors of the restaurant business.  TV celebrity chef Tom Colicchio’s ground-breaking Craftbar and his Meatpacking District steakhouse went belly up. Yet, when a much-praised sushi shop in Bedford Stuyvestant goes under, neither New York nor any other of the media bewail that New Yorkers no longer want to eat sushi.       
     Restaurants are rarely opened without investors—to open his first restaurant, Montrachet, Drew Nieporent borrowed money from his mother—and investors have to be paid back out of gross income.   Mom-and-Pop start-ups are a thing of the past. In the case of Tapestry, owner Suvir Saran told the Times, high rents and slow traffic caused the place to close in less than a year.
 “The overhead was high, and we had to do two turns a night and were only doing one.”

    The tiny Take Root (right) vegetarian restaurant in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens, which earned a Michelin star, closed within four years because its lease ran out.  More telling, however, the owners, Anna Hieronimus and Elise Kornack,  had from the start decided to be open only three nights a week and serve only 12 guests per night—la dee dah!  Do the math.

    And don’t for a moment underestimate the Trump factor; many people refuse to eat in a Trump building where some of their meal costs will go to him. Owing to the security block-offs around Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and 56th Street many of the restaurants nearby have been suffering. A small drop in profits can mean the demise of a restaurant, which in the best of times may survive on five to ten percent net profits.  Protesters carrying anti-Trump signs have paraded outside other Trump buildings. Some entered Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant in Trump Tower (left), and police had to usher them out as guests were paying for their $58 lunch.  Ironically, Vongerichten had turned down two requests from Trump’s assistants asking for a reservation the day after he won the election. “At that point,” said the chef-restaurateur, “Trump hadn’t dined at my restaurant in two years—he’s my landlord and I know him, of course. I told his PA: ‘Maybe not so soon. There are journalists standing outside my restaurant now!’"  A third request, with Mitt Romney to be along, was granted.

    The way the new math adds up, one of the best options for an established restaurateur is to sign a management contract with a hotel trying to establish its credentials and distinguish itself from the pack in NYC.  In such cases restaurants, like Wolfgang Puck’s CUT in the downtown Four Seasons, Tom Colicchio’s Fowler & Wells and Keith McNally’s Augustine, both in the Beekman, and Stephen Starr’s much praised Le Coucou (right) in Hotel 11, opening cost them a fraction of what it would have cost if they did it all on their own.  Costs for design, kitchen equipment, glass and silverware, staff outfits and the like are all absorbed by the hotel, in most cases.  And, if the restaurant flops or founders—as happened when Jonathan Waxman’s JAMS in 1 Hotel Central Park got deadly reviews—the restaurant either stays open out of convenience for hotel guests or it changes into “a new concept” when the contract ends. Or the celebrity chef is sent packing, as when Scott Conant exited Faustina in the Cooper Square Hotel after weak reviews and poor business.                                                     Photo by Michael Breton

    So there are plenty of reasons NYC restaurants close, and while almost all have to do with money and the fact that costs for everything are higher in NYC, restaurateurs all around the country fight the same battles.  But to suggest that any particular kind of restaurant—haute cuisine French, high-end Italian, expense account Japanese—closes because it is out of fashion or not trendy is to completely misunderstand the complexity of the business. And when all the eateries on the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn shutter their graffiti-scarred corrugated metal gates, the $100-a-person steakhouses and the $150-per-person French restaurants and the white truffle-rich Italian restaurants in midtown will still be flourishing. 

    There’s a lifetime for everything, especially restaurants, and staying open for the length of one’s lease is pretty damn impressive.





By John Mariani


    More than once I’ve been asked, if I could drink only one wine, what would it be?  Assuming the query does not mean the last wine before the firing squad (that would be a double magnum of Romanée-Conti), I answer as if I were going to be stranded on a deserted island for a long time, in which instance, the wine I would hope might wash up on shore would be a case of Chianti Classico from a fine producer like Ruffino. 

    For, although Chianti may not be the best match for the fish that swim around my little island, it is without doubt one of the most versatile wines in the world, with a generous balance of fruit and acid and a characteristic earthiness underpinning its light tannins. 

    Chianti used to be so simple. It was the pizza wine you bought in a green bottle in a straw (later plastic) basket called a fiasco. Even if it wasn’t all that good, you could always use the bottle afterwards as a candleholder.

    It was the wine on the table of every movie scene set in an Italian restaurant, even the romantic dogs’ dinner in “Lady and the Tramp.” But that plonky image has been outdated for quite some time.

    Starting in the 1970s, well-heeled, market savvy producers like Ruffino, Antinori and Frescobaldi upgraded not just their own image but that of all Chiantis in Tuscany, helping the entire region obtain the prestigious D.O.C.G. appellation from the Italian government in 1996, guaranteeing high quality along with strict standards for making the wines.  The Classico regional consortium, founded in 1924 with 33 members, now has more than 600 producers.

        Chianti Classico must now be made with a minimum of 80 percent Sangiovese grapes, based on modern, healthier clones, with up to 20 percent other grapes allowed. Beginning in 2005 the long tradition of blending in inferior Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes was no longer permitted. Also, the old “governo” process, by which unfermented grape juice is added to young wines to restart fermentation in order to make the wines marketable at an earlier date, is now very rarely done anywhere.

    Today Chiantis are fuller, richer, with more alcohol. Still, they have not been able to achieve the reputation of other Sangiovese-based Tuscan wines like Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and, increasinlgy, Chianti Classico.

“The so-called ‘Super Tuscans’ pushed Chianti aside in the 1980s,” says Gabriele Tacconi, Chief Winemaker at Ruffino, referring to the wholly unofficial marketing term for the region’s red wines not made according to the D.O.C.G. rules.  “It’s my job to put us on an equal footing with wines like Sassicaia and Ornellaia, which use a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon. But in the higher altitudes of the Chianti region, except for Bolgheri, you should be careful in using Cabernet.” (Ruffino has made its own highly regarded “Super Tuscan,” named Modus, since 1997.)

    I spoke with Tacconi (left) in New York at The Modern restaurant over a dinner that was decidedly not Italian—warm foie gras tart, white asparagus with trout roe, lamb with Israeli couscous—but the Ruffino wines showed very well, including a remarkably youthful Riserva Ducale Oro 1999 vintage of enormous charm and a 2005 Greppone Mazzi di Brunello di Montalcino with interesting licorice notes.

    Tacconi, who speaks impeccable English, told me 2017 is the 140th anniversary of Ruffino, founded by Leopoldo and Ilario Ruffino, and he is only the estate’s third winemaker.  This is also the 90th anniversary of the iconic Riserva Ducale and the 70th anniversary of Riserva Ducale Oro (Gold Label).  The name derives from when, in 1890, the Duke of Aosta was so impressed by the Ruffino wines that he appointed the estate as the official supplier to the Italian royal family; in 1927 Ruffino returned the honor by naming their best wine Riserva Ducale.  In time Ruffino became the first Chianti imported into the U.S.; they began making wines in the Chianti Classico region after World War II. The Gold Label was awarded Gran Selezione status with the 2010 vintage.

    Tacconi has been working hard to improve the estate year after year, with the most modern enological means, which include using GPS to track the vigor of the plantings in the six vineyards within the company. At the Poggio Casciano estate, an underground barrique tunnel connects the villa with the newer winery buildings, where extensive soil and climate research is performed to find the best clones to fit the individual terroirs, such as Gretole (left), whose name refers to galestro rock that gives a particular taste to Sangiovese.  At  the hilly Solatia (“sun-bathed”), Chardonnay finds an amenable home.

    Oddly enough, Tacconi is actually from Modena, in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, and he joked, “When you don’t turn your head when a Ferrari goes by, it means you’re from Modena,” referring to the auto manufacturer’s headquarters in that city. In addition, he’s married to an American woman, Tasha, from Westchester County, NY.

    “I have 140 years of winemaking evolution to respect at Ruffino,” says Tacconi, now working at the winery for nineteen years, becoming chief winemaker in 2008. “We have always aimed for elegance in our wines, and although picking our grapes by hand may seem romantic these days, it is still the way to find the best, healthiest grapes among the rest. Sangiovese must be picked within two weeks, or else the alcohol will go too high. That is part of my aim to give the wines a restraint and a finesse that does not overpower all the components of the wine.”

    After enjoying the wine, the food and the conversation that evening, it occurred to me that if a case of Ruffino does come ashore on my desert island, I can only hope that it’s being carried by Gabriele Tacconi, with grape vine in his pocket.



"The canapé we are instructed to eat first is a transparent ball on a spoon. It looks like a Barbie-sized silicone breast implant, and is a `spherification', a gel globe using a technique perfected by Ferran Adrià at El Bulli about 20 years ago. This one pops in our mouth to release stale air with a tinge of ginger. My companion winces. `It’s like eating a condom that’s been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer’s,' she says. Spherifications of various kinds – bursting, popping, deflating, always ill-advised – turn up on many dishes. It’s their trick, their shtick, their big idea. It’s all they have. Another canapé, tuile enclosing scallop mush, introduces us to the kitchen’s love of acidity. Not bright, light aromatic acidity of the sort provided by, say, yuzu. This is blunt acidity of the sort that polishes up dulled brass coins. We hit it again in an amuse-bouche which doesn’t: a halved and refilled passionfruit, the vicious passionfruit supplemented by a watercress purée that tastes only of the plant’s most bitter tones. My lips purse, like a cat’s arse that’s brushed against nettles."--Jay Raynor, “Le Cinq,” The Guardian (4/9/17)


Frozen hash browns produced by McCain Foods under the Harris Teeter and Roundy’s brands have been recalled because they might be “contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials.” The company explained that possibly the golf balls may have been harvested with the potatoes, and when no one noticed, the golf balls were washed, chopped up, and made into frozen hash browns.




Sponsored by Banfi Vintners



    As Summer 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 (left).
     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--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:

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