Founded in 1996
IN THIS ISSUE
EATING AROUND BRUGES
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
CASTELLO BANFI BROUGHT SENSE TO TUSCANY,
THEN INNOVATION OF ITS OWN
By John Mariani
EATING AROUND BRUGES
By John Mariani
0ne might be quite content eating out in a charming small city like Bruges, in northwest Belgium, by hopping from one local eatery to another for Belgian waffles, frites and mussels, visit some brew pubs or even the Michelin-starred restaurants (whose food is mostly French). But there are a number of places that have struck a balance of tradition and modernity on their menus. Others have adapted a more global approach of a kind you’ll find throughout Europe right now. Here are some of those I enjoyed most on a trip this spring.
DE VISTRO BY DE VISSCHERIE
is a Belgian play on the word “bistro” and the
refers to its location right across from the city’s
Fish Market, so you can be absolutely sure of the
freshness of what is served each night, which is
actually only four days a week. This has
been a favorite of locals for 40 years now, under the
ownership of Tillo Declercq.
Open for lunch and dinner Thurs.-Sun.
One of Christophe’s two dining
rooms’ walls is hung with a curious, garishly
colored photo of two people, their backs to one
another, who may or may not have just had sex, while
across from it in the next room is a photo of
Picasso looking shocked, a winking quirkiness that
sets the tone at Christophe, a very popular spot for
a cross-section of young Brugeians and travelers who
come for first-rate, updated Belgian fare.
Open for dinner Thurs.-Mon.
For a place with such a
Millennials’ look, De Republiek actually serves some
serious Belgian food, along with global everything,
within a very casual atmosphere. Actually it’s also
a very old restaurant that’s been restored to its
current bistro-style modernity. On a side
street off the Grand Market, the huge space is
within what was built as a butter
house in 1580 and was transformed over the centuries
into a concert hall in 1830, and in the 20th century
a movie theater. Today the structure houses not only
the restaurant but sections devoted to film, art and
public debates on culture.
Open daily for lunch and dinner.
I stayed at a uniquely lovely new hotel built on solid old bones. Opened only last year and owned and run with grace by Dimitri Thirion and Betty Devos, Hotel Jan Brito (Freren Fenteinstraat 1; 32-50-33-0601) was once a 16th century manor house now composed of 37 individual guest rooms with very fine bathrooms and a staff that could not possibly be more friendly or knowledgeable. It’s a very romantic spot centered around a garden, with a sunny breakfast room, elegant reading room, and its location just right around the corner from the Fish Market and a few more steps to the Church of Our Lady and Grand Market makes it an ideal spot that is remarkably quiet for being so much in the center of things.
NEW YORK CORNERClay
By John Mariani
Photos by Jason Greenspan
(at 123rd Street)
gastronomic progress in Harlem has little of the
fevered pitch of
Brooklyn, and it’s all the better for
that. Harlem’s best new restaurants continue to
serve their neighborhood, rather than cater to
those who would never set foot on the A train
unless propelled to do so by the food media.
Open for dinner Tues.-Thurs.; Sunday for brunch.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
By John Mariani
CASTELLO BANFI BROUGHT
HEALTHY VINES TO TUSCANY,
THEN INNOVATION OF ITS OWN
Back in the mid-1970s, when I started to write about wine, more than a few angry readers asked how I could be objective when I was the head of my own winery. And for more than forty years since I continue to be asked if I am related to John F. Mariani, proprietor and now chairman emeritus of the wine import firm Banfi Vintners. I shake my head and answer no, then add that I’ve known the Mariani family (whose ancestors came from Umbria, mine from Abruzzo) for many years professionally and am happy to have them as an advertiser in this newsletter (see below).
So I’ve gotten to know their wines quite well, especially those from Tuscany, where Banfi began developing vineyards back in the late 1970s and where they invested in extensive ampelographic research over a ten-year period to come up with the 15 best, healthiest clones out of 650 of Sangiovese grapes, information they shared freely with their competitors. Before that, long-time producers didn’t really know much about their vineyards’ constitution or their vines’ ancestry.
That was also at a time when the region’s Brunello di Montalcino began gathering renown as one of Italy’s finest red wines, then being produced by a handful of estates like Biondi Santi and Fattoria dei Barbi to be long-lived wines that could take decades to fully mature. Back in 1975 only 800,000 bottles of Brunello were produced by 25 estates; by 1995 more than 3.5 million bottles were made by 120 estates; three years later there were 180, producing 7 million bottles annually, with 60 percent exported, and 25 percent of total production going to the U.S. market; Only about 20 percent is consumed locally around Montalcino and in Tuscany. Banfi is by far the largest investor, where its estate is called Castello Banfi.
The current vintage of Banfi’s Brunello di Montalcino ($80) was from a cool, rainy year, so the wine, while unfiltered, is lighter in body (alcohol is 13.5%) and therefore easier to drink earlier. A couple more years in bottle will surely add to its allure, but for now this is a solidly knit, velvety Brunello at a very reasonable price, with several in the same or lesser league going for $15-$20 more.
Rosso di Montalcino shares the Sangiovese grape, but is a wine made for easy drinking while still retaining the varietal character. Banfi’s 2016 vintage ($27) spent only 10-12 months in oak, and I find it a remarkably refined example in the face of so many of what I call overpriced “restaurant rosso di Montalcinos” with little or no nuances of fruit layers.
Castello Banfi makes a few wines unique to the estate, with Cum Laude 2014 ($40)—the name, as in graduating honors, means “with praise”—being an I.G.T. appellation, meaning it is typical of the region but made accordingly to the estate’s own blend. In this case, at 14.4% alcohol, Sangiovese makes up only a component of a wine whose principal grape is Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Merlot and Syrah, a unusual blend for Tuscany that results in a very fruity, very velvety wine adaptable to an array of foods, including pastas with tomato sauce or mushrooms.
SummuS 2014 ($80) is made from grapes in the southern part of Montalcino, where stony, calcium-rich soil gives the wine its abundant mineral qualities. Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Syrah (25%) and Sangiovese (405%)--the blend differs in percentage each year--are first vinified separately, then transferred to French oak barriques, also separately, for 12-14 months. Only then are they blended and stored away for another 10-12 months and, finally, six months of bottle age. The result is a wine that explains its name—“the greatest”—within the Banfi constellation, for it is indeed a very complex wine. This one I really do want to keep in my cellar for another two or three years before it reveals all of its finesse, its tannins soften and the fruit and acid come into ideal balance.
Banfi has since the 2012 vintage made a wine named Aska, with the current vintage 2015, which is made in the Bolgheri D.O.C. region noted for its so-called “Super Tuscans.” At $34, this is a bottle whose label reads only “red wine” and whose name is Etruscan for a “container” used not only to store wine and perfume but “to protect hopes, dreams, happiness and joy, entrusted to Etruscan gods Cuatha and Sernia (Sun and Moon),” pictured on the label. There is not a drop of Sangiovese in this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Cabernet Franc drawn from soils rich in limestone and clay—the latter not always ideal for Sangiovese.
At 14% alcohol it is a medium-bodied wine aged for only ten months, so it has a pretty freshness in the bouquet and acid that gives it brightness. It’s a good summer red for chicken on the grill, veal chops and cheese like pecorino, Parmigiano and robiola.
DINNER CONVERSATIONS WE
REALLY DON'T CARE TO JOIN
"There’s no such thing as queer food — but once you start looking, it’s everywhere. There’s nothing explicitly queer about the dinner series hosted by French chef Laurent Quenioux on a sleepy side street in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. . . . And yet, as a gay man-ish person, I have always found these dinners to be an undeniably queer space, even if I couldn’t offer the exact reason why. Is it the fact that Quenioux is gay? That’s an important starting point, but plenty of events and restaurants run by gay chefs are not necessarily queer. Is it the decadent plates, each served by the chef with a pinch of backstory or a dirty little joke? Or the fact that you know you’re in when Quenioux sits down to sip a glass of wine, and whispers which cheese he smuggled over from Langres, the taste of which reminds him of an old lover? Or is it Quenioux’s expert social engineering? If the guest list is too heavy on newcomers and polite acquaintances, he will invite flamboyant close friends and previous attendees to shake things up. It’s not any one of these things, but it is all of them, a merging of ambition, sensuality, and social enchantment which is undeniably, ineffably queer."--Kyle Ftizpatrick, "Queer Food Is Hiding in Plain Sight," Eater.com (6/28)
THE ROYAL STIFF UPPER LIP STAYED SHUT
On the Australian version of MasterChef Prince
Charles awkwardly didn’t eat a bite that was served to
his guest appearance, where the contestants were
asked to use local Australian ingredients, which
included wallaby tartare topped
with green ants, and goat's cheese mousse with
bush spices. His wife Camilla added,
hate to say this, but no garlic. Garlic is a no-no,”
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.
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 hillsidein 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 amazon.com.
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.
WATCH THE VIDEO!
“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.
❖❖❖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, ForbesTraveler.com 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
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
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