Virtual Gourmet

  June 3,  2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Octavia Spencer in "The Help" (2011)


Part One
By John Mariani

Ella Brennan, Empress of New Orleans’
Restaurant Scene, Dies at 92.

By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


Part One
By John Mariani

Jeff McInnis of Stiltsville Fish Bar

    A perception exists among snobs who have not dined out around Miami that the restaurants have glitz but no gravity. This was never really the case, though in the sobering years following the flamboyance of the Gianni Versace period, when steamy glamour outshone good taste, new Miami restaurants of real excellence have been few; the wonderful old Jewish delis have disappeared, the innovations of the so-called New Floridian Cuisine have pretty much receded; and the promised explosion of restaurants in the Design District never really happened.  Still, on a recent trip to the city I found some very good places that may not be breaking new ground but are helping to solidify Miami’s dining out reputation.


1787 Purdy Avenue

    Few restaurants in Miami have a décor that so perfectly sums up the style and spirit of this Sunset Harbour  newcomer, which cannily adapts the look of a much rougher version of an old Florida fish house to colorful advantage.
    Opened last fall and named after a group of wooden houses set on stilts on the banks of Biscayne Bay back in the 1920s, Stiltsville Fish Bar has a smart-looking bar, outdoor and indoor seating, barnacle planters, brass purse  hooks in the shape of  Poseidon with his trident,  beer tap handles made from  swordfish bills, shell chandeliers and wooden columns that evoke the original houses, which are shown in black-and-white photos of the era.
    Owners  Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth (right), who also run Root and Bone in New York, could have coasted with a menu typical of many Florida fish houses, but Stiltsville outpaces that genre by, first, obtaining only the finest seafood available on a daily, local market, and then preparing it with imagination, even wit. Exceptionally fine was the “Big Fish for Two” (market price), on that day a crispy whole snapper with a lemon-basil salsa verde and a dusting of Key lime. Every component emphasized the fish’s freshness, rather than masking it, and cooking it crisp gave it an extra, highly pleasing texture, as it also did to crispy coconut shrimp with roasted coconut, Key lime juice and katafi pastry around it ($14). They take the idea of Buffalo chicken wings and re-do it as fish wings (left) with chili-lime hot sauce and celery hearts ($11).
    The Gulf blue crab cakes are fat and full of lump meat, served with tangy pickled kohlrabi and chayote slaw with a semi-hot horseradish remoulade. All those piquant, savory flavors coalesce in a way that evokes the sea smell and taste of the Caribbean. Of course, there are oysters in various forms, not least wood-grilled with charred sourdough ($18), and a sour orange and red snapper ceviche ($30) to be shared. The shrimp and stone-ground grits with Creole sausage, melted tomatoes, peas and shrimp butte ($27) are a masterful rendering of this Southern classic.
    Each day, depending on what’s best, there might be skillet-grilled black grouper ($36), mutton snapper ($34) or other fish.  But don’t neglect the remarkably good fried chicken with watermelon pickle and hot sauce (half bird $22). The crusted batter stays on the bird and the juiciness is evenly suffused throughout.
    And definitely do not neglect the sweet cornbread with buttermilk cream  and scallions, with the option of adding butter poached lobster  ($13). It’s one of my favorite dishes of the year (right).
    For dessert as much attention is shown to that course as the rest, so you must share a big slice of banana cream pie served in a jar with a chocolate wafer and toffee sauce ($10). The sun-bright Key lime pie (left) is just sour and sweet enough to rank with the best in Miami.
    If Stiltsville were only a dependable fish house, it would be well worth going to just to satisfy one’s cravings, but I’d go back again and again just to see what swam in the back door that day. I know it’ll be something I haven’t tasted made so well ever before.

Open for lunch Mon.-Fri.; dinner nightly; brunch Sat. & Sun.



2637  North Miami Avenue 

    I’ll risk the cliché and call Beaker & Gray the epitome of the laid-back Florida vibe.
    The three-year-old Wynwood Arts District restaurant opened by Chef Brian Nasajon is not a kitschy knock-off of a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville restaurant serving “Jimmy’s Jammin' Jambalaya” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” but it does have the look of a bar-lounge that has unexpectedly good food and a cocktail program that, under partner Ben Potts, for once really makes savory sense.
     Its wide open dining room is called an “eatery,” which I’ll accept along the casual lines and décor of the place, with its bare wood ceiling and industrial steel beams, exposed light bulbs, brick walls and cement floors, folding chairs and straight-backed banquettes, with a big open kitchen to one side.  The place can get loud, especially with wholly unnecessary blaring music in the mix of voices struggling to be heard above it.
    The waitstaff and manager Reymyl Coleman couldn’t be friendlier in a way that is clearly genuine and out to make you have a good time, which will begin with one of those outstanding cocktails, like the “Cocoa Boulevardier” made with
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Campari, Cinzano 1757, and Tuthilltown Cacao.
    Miami native Nasajon’s parents were from Uruguay, which applaudably affects his cooking, and a stint at SushiSamba on Miami Beach gave him his education in handling seafood and Asian seasonings.  At Beaker & Gray some of the best items are “Bites,” like the cheeseburger croquettes made with wagyu beef, aji Amarillo chili, and bacon ($14); an old tiki bar dish made new—and right—Rangoon crab with cream cheese and shiso ($18); and one of the few bagels I’ve had in Miami since the closing of Wolfie’s Rascal House that I really liked, here with “everything” on it (left), Nova lox, sour cream, onion and dill ($12). Sometimes more really is more.
    Among the hot dishes, the best I sampled was a platter of short ribs with pearl onions, tomato mustard and a delightful scallion churro ($18). A yellow curry rice noodle with blue crab and Chinese sausage was a creditable rendering ($18), but pumpkin gnocchi with pork rind, manchego cheese and red shiso was a bit of a mash up of flavors that didn’t quite click. ($16).
    What’s not to love about a warm plate of cookies—or better, chocolate chip cookie doughnuts with a shooter of rich, creamy vanilla milkshake ($12)? There’s also a guava cookie with brown sugar, guayaba paste and cortadito coffee ice cream ($11). But the smash hit is luscious liquid dulce de leche poured over buttery crumbs with a sugar churro and sweet cream ice cream ($14).  You should share it; but you may not want to.
    Beaker & Gray, along with MC Kitchen and Michael’s Genuine, pretty much sums up the current restaurant scene in the Design District, though there are a lot of upscale chains said to be opening, like Joël Robuchon’s Atelier and Jean-Georges Voncerichten’s ABC Kitchen.  For me Beaker & Gray, MC and Michael’s are enough to keep me well fed and entertained among gallery visits. Each has that important and credible stamp of individual personalities and you don’t get that from chains.

Open for lunch  Mon.-Fri.; dinner nightly; brunch Sat. & Sun.



Ella Brennan, Empress of New Orleans’
Restaurant Scene, Dies at 92

By John Mariani


    The death of Ella Brennan—usually referred to as “Miss Ella”—on Thursday, at the age of 92, will probably be celebrated in New Orleans with a rousing parade. In the Crescent City the sadness over someone’s passing away is always played away by memories of all the joy a person brought to those who knew her or knew of her.

    Had she never existed New Orleans would have been a very different place over the last century, not just gastronomically but in spirit, for she was not only the proverbial life of the party but the materfamilias of New Orleans hospitality.  Just by introducing the Jazz Brunch (left) with her brother Dick—she said in her 2016 memoir, “I don’t want a restaurant where a jazz band can’t come marching through”—she provided a new spark to somnolent Sundays. And by urging her chefs—she was never one herself—to create and refine the regional Creole and Cajun cuisine, she was in the vanguard of a movement that garnered her chefs at Commander’s Palace like Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, Jamie Shannon and Tory McPhail national reputations.

    She came, of course, from a famous restaurant family: Owen Patrick (1886-1958 ) was born in New Orleans’ “Irish Channel” neighborhood  where his wife Nellie gave birth to  Owen Edward, Adelaide, John, Ella, Dick  and Dottie. The younger Owen early on became primary support of the family, working as a liquor salesman and restaurant manager. In 1943 he bought the Old Absinthe House  on Bourbon Street, then three years later opened Owen Brennan's Vieux Carré. With his siblings Adelaide as bookkeeper and Ella as kitchen supervisor, Owen worked to make the restaurant one of the most successful in the French Quarter, and it was said of him that he could hit someone over the head with his personality—“a blow from which few tourists, writers, movie celebrities or presidents ever completely recovered.” 

    The Brennans moved the restaurant to 417 Royal Street, where it was to be called, simply, Brennan’s, though Owen died, at the age of 45, in November 1955,  shy of the opening of the new restaurant the following spring.  Owing to various financial considerations, the restaurant’s interests were split among Owen’s siblings and his three sons, Owen, Jr., called “Pip,” Jimmy and Ted.  Under Ella’s urging, the Brennan’s name was expanded to restaurants in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Dallas, and in 1969 the family purchased the old Commander’s Palace (opened by Émile Commander in 1880) in New Orleans’ Garden District. 

    Difficulties in managing such an empire and squabbles about how to run the core restaurants caused a bitter battle among the Brennans;  after months of negotiation the dispute was settled in November 1973, with Owen’s widow Maude, Pip, Jimmy and Ted assuming complete control of the flagship Brennan’s, while Ella, Adelaide, Dick, John, and Dottie took over Commander’s Palace (above) and the other Brennan’s restaurants.

    At Commander’s Palace, Ella and Adelaide were joined by Ella’s daughter Ti  and Lally, daughter of John Brennan, whose other daughter, Cindy and son Ralph  ran restaurants of their own.

    At Commander’s Palace the Brennans began to develop a style of modern “haute Creole” cooking along the lines of France’s la nouvelle cuisine, so that a traditional French or American dish at Commander’s was said to be “Creolized.”  As explained by Ella and Dick in their book The Commander’s Palace New Orleans Cookbook (1984), “In Old Creole style, everything was cooked for hours—vegetables and meats were cooked to death.  Now everything is being cooked to order, à la minute, because we have better ingredients. . . . Perhaps the most important innovation is in the reduction of stocks to intensify the flavor of our sauces. . . . We are also inspired by the burgeoning of small local producers to take advantage of our local Louisiana resources.”

Miss Ella with Chef Emeril Lagasse

    The Brennans also lifted standards of service and hospitality to replace the entrenched, staid attitudes of restaurant workers in the past, when regular customers were overwhelmingly favored and newcomers often snubbed.

    Ella did intense research on the history of Creole and French cuisine, butchering, wine, cocktail making, and service, buoyed by extensive travel around the U.S. and Europe that gave her a sense of how the world’s best restaurants were run, an endeavor she called “restaurant chasing,” often with her children and siblings in tow. When Ella visited Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café in NYC, he remarked, "She was as close as I had seen to an American version of Queen Elizabeth walking into a restaurant. She stood proudly and looked around. And there was just something about her presence that made me stand at attention with deep respect."

    In 2005 Hurricane Katrina severely damaged Commander’s Palace and Brennan’s,  but both re-opened.  Of Ella Brennan’s contributions, the on-line site for the Times-Picayune wrote, “She used her kitchen at Commander's Palace as a kind of de facto New Orleans culinary academy, turning out dozens of the city's finest chefs and thereby enlivening the local food scene beyond measure.”

    I’m proud to say I knew Ella pretty well, going back to my first visit to Commander’s in the late 1970s.  Physically she never seemed to change, maybe a bit more slumped in recent years but always possessed of a winking bonhomie. She knew how to flatter and she knew how to cajole, and she knew how to let the good times roll, day after day, night after night.

                                                                                Lally, Ti and Dottie, with Miss Ella.

    I last saw her at her home about three years ago, and first thing out of her mouth was, “Y’all want to cocktail?”  It was eleven in the morning.

    When people say, “You’ll never see her likes again,” they’re dead wrong. Various members of the Brennan clan have carried on her style and her unique kind of N’awlins exuberance.  In a cocktail party scene in the movie All About Eve,  Bette Davis barked, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” That was Ella, and when she was around, you enjoyed every bump.






By John Mariani
Photos by Paul Johnson

771 Seventh Avenue (near West 56th Street)

    For more than 20 years now Molyvos, named for a town on Lesbos, has been one of New York’s most gregarious and best Greek restaurants, not least because its rustic décor of warm colors, photos of the Greek islands and spacious well-set tables, with a bar (below) that is as much about eating as drinking. It is all exceptionally welcoming, but its longevity is owed to its consistency of Greek cuisine based on high quality.
    Add to these virtues what is probably the best Greek wine list in America and a location one block from Carnegie Hall and the Theater District, and you have something quite special, thanks to the Livanos family and partner Paul McLaughlan, who have kept alive the ideals of Greek hospitality.
    Executive Chef Carlos Carreto has been there from the beginning in 1997, learning Greek cuisine from his predecessor, Jim Botsacos. The menu over two decades has remained pretty much intact, while the daily whole fish changes with what is seasonally best in the market, from black sea bass ($36 per pound) caught off Montauk, Long Island, to wild lavraki ($36 per pound) from Greek waters.  These are impeccably grilled over charcoal with a fine searing and interior succulence, dressed simply with lemon and olive oil.
      Of course, you’ll want to begin with the Greek mezes spreads ($10 each, or three for $27), from a traditional tzatziki to a more American avocado-sesame thick with chickpeas, crunchy pomegranate and Manouri cheese.  There are also eight cheeses available ($8 each, three for $21). The small plate not to miss is the ikaria wild greens pie, full of chard, spinach and minted butternut squash wrapped in crisp pastry ($10). Roasted beet salad of baby arugula, grapefruit, yogurt cheese, glazed walnuts and a tangy blood orange vinaigrette ($18) is a refreshing starter, and the grilled octopus with marinated chickpeas, baby artichokes, tomato, red onions, celery leaves and Cretan olive oil dashed with citrus ($24) goes way beyond the usual platter of naked grilled octopus.
    The Classics section of the menu includes a deliciously sloppy stuffed red pepper with fragrant basmati rice, eggplant, tomato and Manouri cheese ($25) and a luscious version of that Greek lasagna moussaka (below), lavishly layered with eggplant ($30).  For its entire run Molyvos has served its marvelous, very tender lamb shank youvetsi with orzo pasta, sweet tomatoes and Kefalotyri cheese ($30), and they dare not remove it or change it. It is indeed a classic rendering.
    The only disappointment of the evening were the lemon-garlic laced potatoes that were roasted too long so as to become mushy ($12).
    The baklava sampler ($12) is the wisest option for dessert, offering you chocolate-almond-prunes, hazelnut, or white chocolate tres leches. But an option is the chocolatina ($12), a rich mousse cake with orange flavorings and melting vanilla ice cream.  I was surprised, then, that the Greek coffee I ordered was thin and watery, when it should have been thick and syrupy.
    As noted, the wine list is a marvel—page after page of modern Greek wines from Santorini, Thessaly, Macedonia and more. The rosés are of particular interest for the summer.
    It would be nice to see Molyvos add more new dishes of a kind one now finds at a more modern Greek restaurant like Nerai on the East Side, but what you enjoyed at Molyvos in the past will be every bit as delicious the next time you go, and once experienced, you’ll find it difficult not to return to this joyful restaurant for what will become your personal favorites.

Lunch and dinner daily.




By John Mariani


    Twenty years ago if you heard at all about Prosecco, the white sparkling wine from Italy’s Veneto region, it was probably as a component with white peach juice of the bellini cocktail, invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice.  The popularity of that easy-to-drink apéritif helped Prosecco get a foothold in the U.K., German and U.S. markets as a good mixer as well as a cheap alternative to Champagne.
     Unfortunately, Prosecco’s increasing popularity led to the export of enormous amounts of very poor, very cheap, very watery Prosecco, with only a few labels like Bisson, Valdo, Bortolin, Ruggeri and Mionetto producing high quality examples, whose prices were modestly higher than poor examples and a lot lower than Champagne.
    Since the 19th century Prosecco, largely from the grape of the same name (though in 2009 the grape was re-designated as Glera, left), has been made according to the French Charmat method (called “martinotti” in Italy), by which the second fermentation takes place in a pressure tank. This is faster and much cheaper than the complex méthode champenoise by which the second fermentation, after the addition of a sugar liquid called the dosage, is done in the bottle.
    But, despite Prosecco sales soaring over the past decade and expected to increase by 36% in the next five years with a 9.2% share of the global wine market and accounting for 20% of all sparkling wine sales, the wine has remained in the shadow of the more illustrious name of Champagne, which makes Enola Ceola, CEO-Managing Director of Mionetto USA, shrug.
    Over dinner near his office in White Plains, N.Y., I asked him about raising the image of Prosecco vis-à-vis Champagne.
    “We raise the image of Prosecco by saying it is not Champagne,” he said, pouring the company’s flagship DOC Treviso Brut ($14) with its orange label (which does resemble Veuve Clicquot’s). “For a lot of people Champagne is intimidating and a special occasion wine. We market Prosecco as an everyday indulgence.”
    Clearly the price of Prosecco is a powerful factor in promoting Ceola’s point of view. Many Proseccos sell in the U.S. for under $10, and bars and restaurants sell them for $10-$12 a glass—-far below any entry level Champagne. Boston’s Lincoln Tavern sells 1,000 cases a year and New York’s Grand Tier at the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center pours all-you-can drink Mionetto as part of its Sunday brunch.
    Being cheap, however, has kept Prosecco’s image low, which is what Ceola is committed to changing. “There is, sadly, a lot of poor Prosecco in the market,” he said. “They suffer from too high a yield and overproduction. That’s why many have a bitter aftertaste. You can make a bellini with them but you wouldn’t want to sip it as an apéritif or throughout a meal.”
    Mionetto’s prices in U.S. wine stores range from about $10 up to $35, and while there is no fear that it will run dry, the company has diversified its labels while staying true to a style that aims for a balance of alcohol, acidity, fruit and yeast, with very fine bubbles. “We are very thoughtful about how much dosage our wines contain,” said Ceola. “We make some of our wines without any at all,” referring to its limited edition Millisimato label.
    Under Italian wine laws
Prosecco’s sweetness varies based on the sugar levels remaining after fermentation: Extra Brut contains under 6 grams of sugar per liter; Brut 6-15 grams; Extra Dry 12-20 grams; Sec or Dry 9-35 grams.
    Mionetto was founded in 1887 (since 2008 owned by Germany’s Henkell & Co.) in the Valdobbiedene region north of Venice, and up until a month ago the company bought all its grapes from growers with whom it has developed long-term relationships (“mostly on handshakes,” says Ceola). The company recently bought its first vineyard land, 200 acres, which in the best sections of the DOCG region is going for more than 1 million euros ($1.17 million) an acre.  Ceola noted that “Growing Prosecco grapes used to be a second job for a lot of people in the region, who just did it on weekends and made a little money.  Now those farms are worth a fortune, and the growers are going more full-time.”
    Proving that Prosecco is actually very appealing throughout a meal, I tasted several Mionetto sparklers with dishes as varied as yellowfin tuna crudo, pizza with Italian sausage, gnocchi with a mushroom cream sauce, salmon with quinoa, and Parmesan-crusted halibut.
    To celebrate its history Mionetto did a limited release
Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Millesimato Brut Nature ‘Cuvée Anniversario’  ($25)–-quite a mouthful, literally and figuratively—from selected, hand-harvested grapes, a prolonged rest on the lees, and no dosage that is indeed beautifully balanced and has far more fruit flavor than comparable bubblies with no dosage.
    The company’s most prestigious—and at $35 its most expensive—is the elegant Cartizze DOCG Dry, whose grapes come from the most renowned vineyards in Veneto, picked in the second half of September, and bottled at 11% alcohol and 24-26 grams of sugar per liter. This is a creamy, luscious Prosecco whose faint sweetness makes it perfect with something like prosciutto and melon, sole in lemon butter and Italian cheeses like Parmigiano, Robiola, even Gorgonzola.
mentioned to Ceola that some prestigious Champagne houses are now promoting their lower-priced sparklers to be poured over ice cubes in summer. Ceola laughed and said, “We’ve already done that with our Il Collezione line. See, Champagne is now trying to compete with Prosecco!”




"In case you're one of the few who haven't heard: Florida is one popular place for visitors."--Michael Candelaria, "An Ideal Climate," Delta Sky (May 2018).


Swedish brewery Nya Carnegiebryggeriet, Carlsberg, and the Swedish Environmental (IVL) have launched a new pilsner  brewed with recycled wastewater, called PU:REST, in an effort to raise awareness for sustainable, safe drinking water. As brewmaster Chris Thurgeson (right) said, “We share the view that both producers and consumers must dare to think differently if we are to successfully take care of Earth’s resources."




Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners


   Wine is a joy year-round but in cooler weather one grape varietal has really taken center stage in my daily activities – that most Italian of grapes, Sangiovese, and its ultimate expression – Brunello di Montalcino.
    From mid-September through mid-October, the Sangiovese grown for our various styles of red wines are be harvested, culminating with the top selection for Brunello di Montalcino.
    Second, 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.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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© copyright John Mariani 2017