Virtual Gourmet

  January 7, 2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Travel Poster (1934) by Alex Diggelmann


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani



Part One


U.S. Bank Stadium
(in warmer weather)
Photo: Krivit Photography, courtesy Meet Minneapolis



         Minneapolis and St. Paul may be called Twin Cities populated by Minnesotans, but each has its own character. As a casual visitor last month it was not something I had time to discern on my own, but inquiries of the natives suggested that the latter is  more laid back than the former, whose population is 100,000 larger.  What was easy to see is that Minneapolis is on a building boom along its broad avenues, quickly filling up with scores of nearly identical glass condos. As one local said, “St. Paul is the last city of the East and Minneapolis is the first city of the West.”

    Whether or not you’re actually attending the Super Bowl LII—whose current average ticket price is $4,320—which as of this writing still hasn’t come down to the final two teams, winter becomes Minneapolis in the ways only American cities settled by Scandinavians and Germans can.  For while the excitement builds around the Super Bowl, the lead-up is a festival week called the annual Great Northern from January 26 to February 4.  Its boosters believe it’s a good way to beat the cold the locals are used to.  As people in the Southwest insist that 110 degrees isn’t all that terrible because it’s dry heat, Minnesotans insist once the temperature drops below zero, any further drop really isn’t all that noticeable.
        Sponsored by Target, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, the Great Northern, which includes the Saint Paul Winter Carnival (January 25-February 10), whose events include the Rice Park Ice Carving competition and a Pioneer Press Treasure Hunt.

    The Great Northern will host the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis, which is as expressive of the city’s winter character as is the City of Lakes Loppet Ski festival, which includes an ice pyramid, fire dancers, and an enchanted forest, and the Columbia Sportswear Skate Marathon that snakes 26 miles through the icebound city. And what would a winter festival be without a fast and furious curling exhibition at the Frogtown Curling Club?                                                              

    Food events will dot the Twin Cities, including a Saint Paul’s Chef’s Experience, an outdoor feast held by the restaurants Saint Dinette and Corner Table and Revival at the Saint Paul's Farmer's Market in Lowertown.  The Surly Brewing Co. will also hold an outdoor party with music and a bonfire.

    At any time of the year Minneapolis has a remarkable array of cultural activities and institutions, most strikingly the Minneapolis Institute of Art, spread over eight acres.  With nearly 90,00 artworks the Institute’s departments include Africa and the Americas; Chinese and Southeast Asia; Japanese and Korean, Photography; Contemporary Art; Decorative Textiles, and 900 European and American paintings from the 14th century to the present.

    The Walker Art Center of contemporary art, founded in 1940, has now greatly expanded to a new building designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre Meuron made of aluminum mesh panels and a connecting glass hallway, with the restoration  two years ago of the outdoor Sculpture Garden set on what was once marshland. From now until March 18, Adiós Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 looks at 65 years of revolutionary Cuban art (left) through more than 100 works of painting, graphic design, photography, video, installation, and performance created by more than 50 Cuban artists and designers.  Nothing of this breadth and depth has been shown in the U.S. since 1944, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York presented Modern Cuban Painters. 

        Since 1963 the Guthrie Theater has been one of America’s most respected venues for repertory performing arts, cast in the spirit of founder Sir Tyrone Guthrie (who passed away in 1971),  who envisioned regional theater as a Midwestern alternative to the brash, ever-more commercial character of Broadway.

      Hamlet was its first production, when the Guthrie was only a summer theater. Since then the Theater has gone through artistic, managerial and financial troughs, but it had a resurgence in the 1970s and became nearly self-sufficient by the end of the decade.  No longer a repertory theater, by 2000 the organization  had outgrown itself and a new Theater (right) was to be built at a cost of $125 million on the banks of the Mississippi River on the east side of downtown, debuting in June, 2006, reviving Tyrone Guthrie’s original belief that “The river itself was what most charmed and amazed us. . . . Eventually the Twin Cities will realize that their river can be, and ought to be, a wonderful life-giving amenity.”

    One of the best things about the new Theater is that anyone can visit it throughout the day without attending a performance, walking through its vast spaces and up the fourth level “Endless Bridge” that overlooks St. Anthony Falls (above).

    I certainly would not miss a visit to the beautiful American Swedish Institute (left), located in the former Turnblad Mansion attached to the modern Nelson Cultural Center.  The mansion, which has been rightly compared with the Gardner Museum in Boston and the Frick in New York, was built by Swan Turnblad, publisher of Svenska Amerikanska Posten, the largest Swedish language newspaper in the U.S.;  he and his family lived in the house until 1929, when he donated it to what is now called the American Swedish Institute. The mansion’s interior was done in exquisite woodwork, with eleven Swedish tile stoves. Dining rooms and bedrooms look much the way they were, but the grandeur of it never spills over into ostentation, which would be an affront to Swedes.

    The Cultural Center includes more than 7,000 museum objects (right) that express the best of contemporary Swedish culture and the history of immigrants who settled Minnesota, whose DNA can readily be seen in the faces of the people who work in or visit the Center. There is also a café inside called FIKA, after the Swedish term for a coffee break, serving specialties like Swedish meatballs ($12), gravlax ($12), smörgasår open-faced sandwiches ($13), and lingonberry rice pudding ($8).

  Far smaller and much more modest is the city’s Somali Museum of Minnesota, which is not easy to find but well worth ferreting out.  Located in the basement of a bodega, the small space was founded by Osman Mohammed Ali, a local entrepreneur proud of his African heritage and of the contributions of 25,000 Somalians who have made Minnesota their home and run more than 600 businesses in the Twin Cities. With more than 700 pieces, the museum is ever growing, including nomadic artwork and a thatched hut with a weaving rack and numerous examples of the colorful woven fabrics indigenous to Somalia. 

    The Museum was clearly a labor of love by Ali, but I do hope you meet the remarkable young curator named Sarah Larsson—her name is clearly of Swedish heritage—whose love and dedication to the Museum is palpable. Trained as an anthropologist and community advocate, with an M.A. from Yale University, Sarah is also a touring folk singer of Eastern European song.  It is rare to meet someone of her background, intelligence and sheer exuberance anywhere, but to meet her in Minneapolis is to find just how international this splendid Midwestern city has become.
    As for the Super Bowl (as I write this the Vikings still have a very good chance to make it) whatever the weather will be outside, the insipidly named U.S. Bank Stadium will be all warm and toasty owing to a translucent ceiling that somehow keeps the heat in.  Say the words "state of the art" and you might as well be saying modern NFL football stadium. Mineapolis's is only a year old--only Atlanta's is newer--and if God were a football fan this is what he'd build, with seats for 66,625 people, 26 food service operations, its own sports art collection, huge well-stocked sky boxes, and exterior glass walls the size of a hangar that slide effortlessly open to let in the fans.  A guided tour takes 90 minutes, proving that there is nothing bigger than football, no matter how cold it gets in America.


Photo credits:  Great Northern: courtesy of BLT WLF Photography; Walker Art Center: courtesy of Walker Art Center; Guthrie Theater:  courtesy of Meet Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association; American Swedish Institute: courtesy of American Swedish Institute; Somali Museum: courtesy of Somali Museum; US Bank Stadium: courtesy of  US Bank Stadium.



By John Mariani

  Mario, Marco, Sirio and Mauro Maccioni. (photo: Melissa Hom)

    Were I about to write an elegy for the New Year’s Eve closing of Le Cirque, I would lament the demise of not only one of the great restaurants in NYC but also one of the most important. Fortunately, I do not need to do so because, despite its closing on East 58th Street, Le Cirque will re-open elsewhere—word is it will be this spring—and, I trust, be better than ever.
    It would be easy enough to describe Le Cirque as one of the last of the old line French restaurants and a place where only the fashionable people dined.  But neither would be true. For nearly a half century Le Cirque was one of the most innovative restaurants in any decade, graduating scores of cooks who became distinguished chefs in their own restaurants, including Michael Lomonaco, David Bouley, Thomas Keller, Bill Telepan, Rick Moonen, Geoffrey Zakarian and so many others (right).  The restaurant’s executive chefs through the years were among the most respected in their field, from Alain Sailhac and Daniel Boulud to Sottha Kuhn and Sylvain Portay, all of them masters and teachers, each keeping Le Cirque in the forefront of American gastronomy.
    Yes, there was indeed a glamorous clientele, from Sophia Loren (left) and Paloma Picasso to Woody Allen and Luciano Pavarotti, whose appearances added dramatic excitement to every evening. The “ladies who lunch” were wooed by the suave Tuscan owner, Sirio Maccioni, as were heads of state, royals and fashion designers, but the nonsense about Le Cirque serving “nobodies” inferior food—as if there was a kitchen for the “A” list and another for the “B”—was in some ironic way just plain stupid. (A scurrilous review by the NY Times’ new critic of the time, Ruth Reichl, charged she was treated differently and served different food when she came in as an unknown and when recognized; she also once complained she was given a poor table when in fact that table—just inside the entrance--was one of the most sought after in the restaurant.)
    The fact is, most of the “A” list people dined daintily and without much interest in the food, while the rest of Le Cirque’s clientele came because it had great food. And as Sirio once said, “There is no one more stupid than the waiter who thinks that just because a rich person smiles at you, you are set for life. Usually, it’s the opposite. They use you when they need you and then don’t remember you when you have a problem.” Every great chef and restaurateur who came to NYC headed straight to Le Cirque--Paul Bocuse, Roger Vergé, Alan Ducasse, Ella Brennan, Tony Vallone, Piero Selvaggio, and the great winemakers like Piero Antinori and Angelo Gaja.
    Le Cirque has changed locations twice now: moving from its original location on East 65th Street to the Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue and then to the just-closed East 58th Street site (right). Each restaurant had a radically different décor, the last two designed by AdamTihany. Le Cirque has never been the stultified, dated place its detractors sniffed that it was. Neither was it the most expensive restaurant in NYC by a long shot;  à la carte was always available, in addition to an amazing $98 four-course menu.
    True, over the past few years Le Cirque’s culinary clout lessened and critics have not been kind, as chefs came and left after short tenures.  And some of its former clientele did not feel at home in the vast space of its last location. Last, and most important, Sirio Maccioni himself grew older and unable to be present in his restaurant every night of the week, though his sons, Mario, Marco and Mauro, kept the Maccioni personality impressed upon the dining room. Today Marco is largely the face of Le Cirque (Mario has retired and Mauro spends much of his time overseeing the family’s international branches, which include restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, New Delhi and Mumbai).
    Over the years Le Cirque’s once extensive menu had grow somewhat smaller and more Italian dishes entered it—the famous pasta alla primavera, created on a whim by Sirio in the 1970s, has never actually been listed on the menu—and signature items like “Black Tie Scallops,” flounder Le Cirque and crème brûlée have never left it.  The wine list is still one of the finest in America.
    So another page is turned by Le Cirque and a new chapter is about to begin.  I, among many, believe it will be a very exciting continuance of the story, with drama and comedy, glamour and excitement, good taste and fine manners. 


By John Mariani

30 Lincoln Center Plaza


     When I went for Sunday brunch recently at The Grand Tier Restaurant, set atop a grand staircase at the Metropolitan Opera, and I looked around at the gleaming, beautifully restored Lincoln Center campus, I sighed for the thousandth time at just how wondrous New York City truly is. 

    Below us our panorama on the plaza widened to include the Henry Moore sculpture set in a pool of water, the dramatic wedge of glass that houses Lincoln Ristorante, the Juilliard School of Music and the array of theaters within the Center.  Beyond that is brash Broadway, always streaming and teeming with people and cars, taxis and buses in both directions.  No matter how many times I experience such a New York moment, I am always reminded of Little Orphan Annie singing, “To think that I've lived here all of my life and never seen these things!”

    The vast space of The Grand Tier, beneath gleaming chandeliers, is in itself an astonishment, flanked on either side by Marc Chagall murals—“The Triumph of Music” and “The Sources of Music.” (One of the Met’s secrets is that the paintings were mistakenly installed opposite of the way Chagall intended them, but the artist eventually decided the mistake was a good one, because the trumpet players in each painting now face each other, as if welcoming visitors with a fanfare.)

    The restaurant’s tables are widely spaced, the linens glow in the noontime sunshine, the flowers flourish, and on Sundays a singer from the Met ‘s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program comes to serenade diners.  On the Sunday I went it was an extraordinary basso named David Leigh, whose un-amplified renditions of Verdi, Mussorgsky and Cole Porter boomed through the huge dining room to a chorus of bravos.

    The Grand Tier is unique beyond its décor. Pre-opera, it serves dinner ($74 prix fixe or à la carte), though you need not be attending a performance to dine there. To save time, you can even pre-order cocktails and food before the performance. Two hours before the curtain goes up, guests sit down to a two-course meal, then, during the opera’s half-hour intermission, they return to their table, where dessert is waiting for them.  After 8 p.m., the restaurant functions as does any other, depending on the tables available.

    There is also a Saturday matinee menu, at $48. At Sunday brunch ($45 prix fixe or à la carte) guests also have free access to Gallery Met, which presents contemporary art exhibitions on operatic themes. The Revlon Bar at The Grand Tier offers a full beverage selection, including a Champagne and Prosecco Bar, and signature sandwiches and desserts.

Executive Chef Richard Diamonte, who previously was with Jean-Georges, offers an extensive brunch—not a pre-made buffet—and you get “Endless Grand Tier Bellinis.” The menu mimics the one at dinner to some degree, so by all means have the crab cake with a rich lobster beurre blanc, celery root rémoulade avocado mousse and citrus ($22).  The wild mushroom risotto ($28) is excellent, tender and melded with truffle butter, while Benedict Royale ($25) is one of the most sumptuous versions in the city, layered with  Niman Ranch jamon royal and Gruyère atop cornbread, all of it lavished with an impeccable Hollandaise sauce and accompanied by roasted potatoes.

    The dinner menu has some unusual items, like a velouté of sweet cardoons with toasted almonds, persimmons, celery root and chervil ($22) and veal tenderloin with roasted squash, caramelized gnocchi, Parmesan, pancetta and sage ($48). There are also five cheeses available.  And to finish, there’s a fine rendering of an often mis-rendered dessert, baked Alaska ($16), and a Valrhona chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise ($18), perfect for two people. A dense chocolate mousse cake ($16) comes with a praline glaze and hazelnut cream, while a delightful torrone maringue parfait ($16) is a lovely dessert atop a pistachio cake lavished with a rich zabaglione foam, sour cherries and poached figs.

    The wine list is formidable and well-balanced, not least for the number of Champagnes carried, and it is not unusual to see an icy bucket of bubbly on most tables every night.

    Dining at The Grand Tier has become such a ritual for so many guests that they return as regularly as churchgoers each week, and now, with Sunday brunch, that is even more the case.

    Lincoln Center, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art Grand Central Terminal and Rockefeller Center, is a quintessential part of NYC’s cultural landscape, and The Grand Tier is a very special place right in the midst of all in which to savor its delicious glory.




By John Mariani

    Invitations to dinner at the illustrious Château Latour in Pauillac do not come along often, so my acceptance was immediate and my anticipation heightened by the added incentive that an array of great Bordeaux was to accompany a menu created by master chef Michel Guérard.

    Château Latour is, of course, one of the Premiers Crus of Bordeaux and has been since the Classification of 1855 that ranked the various wines of the region in quality categories.  The château itself dates to 1331, and the tower (left)  that gives Latour its name to1453, although that one was destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War, replaced by the current one (actually built as a pigeon roost) in the 1620s.

    Uninterrupted ownership by the Ségur family ended only in 1963, when the estate was acquired by the British Pearson Group, then in 1989 sold to the international corporation Allied-Lyons, which in turn sold it to Francois Pinault in 1993 at a value of £86 million, which seems like a steal now. Today Latour produces about 300,000 bottles (25,000 case)s of its three wines (the second, Les Forts de Latour, the third sold as Pauillac), set on 93 hectares on the Left Bank of the Gironde River and modernizing the château in the current century.

    The dinner at the estate, attended by about 400 people, most from within the wine community but with a good number of celebrities and French politicians, also offered a tasting of the Grand Crus of Sauternes and Barsac from 2012 to 2014.  What was so remarkable was the timing of the meal, which took place last June, by a service staff and kitchen that turned out superb French cuisine with military timing, plates put down with dispatch and removed when everyone was terminé.  Within minutes the next course arrived, accompanied at the same moment by sommeliers pouring the wines, all at the perfect temperature.

    The meal began with potatoes cooked in parchment paper and ennobled by caviar, accompanied by Château Haut-Brion Blanc 2009 in magnum, which showed wonderful structure and that identifying clay and limestone of the terroir.  For the next course, morel mushrooms and local asparagus atop a pillow of mushroom foam, each table received a different Grand Cru of Médoc, in the case of our table, Brane-Cantenac 2009, a Second Growth in Margaux that was very sophisticated and a true expression of everything Bordeaux manifests in its balance of fruit, acid and soft tannins.

        The next course was a tart of chicken with foie gras and wild cabbage, with which we enjoyed a 1982 vintage of Château La Lagune (Third Growth), owned by the Frey family and run by Caroline Frey. It had a lush, blossoming bouquet, softened tannins and a velvety texture that comes from 30 percent Merlot.

    Curiously enough, the host wine of the evening, Château Latour, served its 1975 in magnum with a cheese course of Brie de Meaux and truffles. Not out of the ordinary, but I find that dry red wines, though often served with cheese, do not show as well with examples as rich as Brie de Meaux, which I would have preferred with the Haut-Brion Blanc 2009. Nevertheless, the    wine showed astonishing freshness for one so old, peppery still, its fruit emerging beneath the tannins, with a very long, satisfying finish.

    But, for me, the best was yet to come. A dessert of mascarpone with a confit of apricots and scented with verveine was accompanied by a Château d’Yquem 2005, as perfect as any wine I’ve ever had. The distinguishing mark of Yquem has always been the backbone of botrytis and oak behind the intensity of sweetness from a blend of 80 percent Semillon and 20 percent Sauvignon Blanc. It proved again why it is considered one of the greatest wines in the world.

   There are evenings you remember and then there are evenings you never forget. This grand assemblage at Château Latour, where the sun set late and the event ended with a spectacle of fireworks, was one where     I learned as much as I reveled in the glamour of it all. Buoyed by the food, the wine and the company, I knew that everything I have always found unique about France was on full display that warm June night in Bordeaux.





In Paris, O’naturel (left), founded by twin brothers Mike and Stéphane Saada, is the city's first nudist restaurants. The restaurant debuted with members of the the Association des Naturistes de Paris. The owners have outfitted the restaurant windows and entryway with thick blackout curtains to ensure customers’ privacy. The restaurant also has a cloakroom where customers can shed their clothes before sitting down to dinner.




“[Julia Child’s] touching depiction of their pleasure driven creative collaboration makes it clear that in Paul Julia had found the lid to her 6-feet-2-inch pot.”—Christine Muhlke, “Francophiles,” NY Time Book Review (Dec. 3, 2017).




Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners


    Cooler weather here means it is time to start enjoying more red wines and especially Sangiovese based wines.  That includes Banfi’s cru of Brunello, Poggio alle Mura, literally the cream of the crop of our Sangiovese vineyards. Alongside our Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino, this year we introduced two more wines from the cru Poggio alle Mura – a Rosso di Montalcino and a Riserva of Brunello.  Rosso is sort of like the younger brother of Brunello, also made from 100% Sangiovese grapes but usually a selection from younger vines and the wine is aged only two years compared to the four required for Brunello.  The Riserva, on the other hand, is an even more selective harvest of Sangiovese, and ages for an additional year before release.

    What is so special about this cru Poggio alle Mura?  Well, it is the result our over 30 years of ongoing research at my family’s vineyard estate, Castello Banfi.  When we first began planting our vines there in the late 1970s studies from the University of Bordeaux indicated which strains of many varietals we should plant, based on the soil type and microclimate of each vineyard.  But when it came to the region’s native Sangiovese, there was only local lore, no scientific research.  So we took it upon ourselves to figure out this vine, and set off on three decades of incredibly detailed research. 

    We started with 600 apparent variations on Sangiovese, because it is so susceptible to variations in weather and soil, and narrowed that down to 160 truly genetically different clones.  We planted a vineyard with two rows of each type, made wine from each of them, and charted the differences – remember, you only get one chance a year to make wine, so this took time. 

    It took about ten years to get some concrete results, though we continue to experiment today and always will – you never stop learning in science and nature!  Once we determined which were the best, complementary clones that could be planted together to make the best Brunello, we chose to plant them in what we determined to be the optimal vineyard sites.  Coincidentally, the best soils and climate conditions are in the slopes surrounding the medieval fortress today known as Castello Banfi, known since Etruscan times as Poggio alle Mura – the walled hilltop.  Hence the name of our most special “cru” of Brunello, representing a synthesis between tradition and innovation.

    Though the focus of this study was our Brunello, all of our Sangiovese-based wines, including the super Tuscans SummuS, Cum Laude, and Centine, benefitted from this work.  And that’s the third reason for celebrating Sangiovese this month, for the range of wonderful reds that usher us into autumn!  One wine in particular was inspired by our research – the BelnerO, a Sangiovese dominant blend with what I like to call a kiss of Cabernet and a whisper of Merlot.  We grow the grapes a little differently for BelnerO than for Brunello, make the wine with less oak aging and released it earlier from the winery, providing a counterpoint to Brunello and a lovely terroir-driven wine in its own right.

     If you know Italians, you know that by nature we are multi-faceted, varying in mood, and always passionate.  As a nation, we span from the hot sunny beaches of Sicily near the African coast to the rugged mountains and Alpine ski slopes of Trentino-Alto Adige in the north.  Sangiovese is grown in almost all of Italy’s regions and reflects the unique nature of each; it is most famous (rightfully so) in Tuscany, yet even there it reflects the nuances of each hilltop, valley and subzone.  It has something a little different to say in Brunello than Chianti, Morellino than Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino than Super Tuscan blends. 

    Here is a smattering of Sangiovese-based wines that you may wish to get to know better, reflecting a spectrum that appeals to every occasion, every taste, and every budget.  We can assure you that the conversation will never become boring.

Recommendations for Celebrating Sangiovese 


BelnerO Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese – A refined cuvée of noble red grapes perfected by our pioneering clonal research. This dark beauty, BelnerO, is produced at our innovative winery, chosen 11 consecutive years as Italy’s Premier Vineyard Estate. Fermented in our patented temperature controlled French oak and aged approximately 2 additional years. Unfiltered, and Nitrogen bottled to minimize sulfites. 


Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Rich, round, velvety and intensely aromatic, with flavor hints of licorice, cherry, and spices. Brunello di Montalcino possesses an intense ruby-red color, and a depth, complexity and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering aftertaste. Unfiltered after 1998 vintage. 


Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino – Brunello's "younger brother," produced from select Sangiovese grapes and aged in barrique for 10 to 12 months. Deep ruby-red, elegant, vibrant, well-balanced and stylish with a dry velvety finish. 

Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – A single vineyard selection of our most historically outstanding Sangiovese, aged five years before release, the additional year more than that required of Brunello including 6 months in barrel and 6 months more in bottle to grant its “Riserva” designation.  Incredible elegance and harmony. Intense with lots of fruit and subtle wood influence. Round, complete, well balanced with hints of chocolate and berries. Unfiltered after 1998.


Poggio alle Mura – The first tangible result of years of intensive clonal research on Montalcino’s native Sangiovese grape.  Estate bottled from the splendidly sun drenched vineyards surrounding the medieval Castello from which it takes its name.  The Brunello di Montalcino is seductive, silky and smoky.  Deep ruby in color with an expressive bouquet of violets, fruits and berries as well as cigar box, cedar and exotic spices. The Rosso di Montalcino is also intense ruby red.  The bouquet is fresh and fruity with typical varietal notes of cherry and blackberry, enriched by more complex hints of licorice, tobacco and hazelnut.  It is full bodied, yet with a soft structure, and a surprisingly long finish. The Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is deep ruby red with garnet reflections and a rich, ample bouquet that hints of prune jam, coffee, cacao and a light balsamic note.  It is full and powerful, with ripe and gentle tannins that make it velvety and harmonious; this wine is supported by a pleasing minerality that to me speaks soundly of that special hillside in southern Montalcino.

SummuS – A wine of towering elegance, SummuS is an extraordinary blend of Sangiovese which contributes body; Cabernet Sauvignon for fruit and structure; and Syrah for elegance, character and a fruity bouquet.  An elegant, complex and harmonious red wine. 

Cum Laude – A complex and elegant red which graduated “With Honors,” characterized by aromas of juicy berries and fresh spices.


Centine – A Cuvee that is more than half Sangiovese, the balanced consisting of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Vinified in a firm, round style that easily accompanies a wide range of dishes, this is a smooth and fragrantly satisfying wine with international character, and a perennial favorite at my own dinner table. 

Banfi Chianti Superiore – The “Superiore” designation signifies stricter government regulations regarding production and aging requirements, as compared to regular Chianti.  An intense ruby red wine with fruit forward aromas and floral notes.  This is a round wine with well-balanced acidity and fruit.

Banfi Chianti Classico – An enduring classic: alluring bouquet of black fruit and violets; rich flavors of cherry and leather; supple tannins and good acidity for dining. 

Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva – Produced from select grapes grown in the "Classico" region of Chianti, this dry, fruity and well-balanced red has a full bouquet reminiscent of violets.

Fonte alla Selva Chianti Classico – This is our newest entry into the Chianti arena, coming from a 99 acre estate in Castellina, the heart of the Chianti Classico region.  The wine is a captivating mauve red that smells of cherry, plum and blackberry with hints of spice.  It is round, full and balanced with very good acidity.  

Col di Sasso – Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Luscious, complex and soft with persistent notes of fruit and great Italian style structure.



 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 Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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© copyright John Mariani 2017