Virtual Gourmet

  September  2,  2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Carole Lombard (1940)


There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet next weekend because Mariani will be visiting and dining around St. Louis, Missouri, on behalf of his readers.


By John A. Curtas

By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By Andrew Chalk 


309 Middle St, Washington, VA

By John A. Curtas

    I am not a patient man. In my world, immediate gratification takes too long. Yet it took me forty years to get to The Inn at Little Washington. Forty years of reading about it, contemplating its fabulousness and kicking myself for not taking the time to journey an hour west of Washington, D.C., to sample the cuisine of Patrick O'Connell (right).  To be accurate, with D.C. traffic being what it is, the drive can easily take two hours. Perhaps that has had something to do with it.

    Accolades have been never-ending over that time—Five Diamonds from the AAA; five stars from Mobil (now Forbes); two Michelin stars, more Wine Spectator awards than you can count; best restaurant in the Washington D.C. area seemingly forever; cooking for Queen Elizabeth—you know, the usual for a small country caterer who made good in a town of 158 people.

    Sometimes a whole decade would pass off my radar, then I'd pick up some food or travel magazine and there it would be, accepting medals and beckoning again—one man's very particular vision of luxury; a chef's fantasy come to life of what the ultimate in American fine dining could be.

    What O'Connell started in 1978 began rather modestly, at a time when Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower were taking the West Coast by storm with their farm-to-table renaissance, and New York’s Le Cirque was defining the ne plus ultra of big city dining.  Operating out of a converted gas station O'Connell and his then partner, Reinhardt Lynch, decided to convert their catering business into a country inn. They were definite Francophiles in the Tower/Waters mold, but where Chez Panisse was a bunch of hippies cooking great food in a college town, theirs was a more proper sensibility. The linens were starched and the place settings were just so. Thus it remains to this day, and the attention to detail makes the place as different from Chez Panisse as Judy Dench is from Joan Baez. But that starchiness fades as soon as you approach the doorway. The formality of the premises may be set to impress, but the welcome is as warm and sweet as shoo fly pie.

    The design might be called Downton Abbey meets Colonial Williamsburg, with more than a touch of English flamboyance, which makes sense when you learn it was done by a British stage set designer. Chintz, portraiture and floral prints are everywhere, so much so that you'll want to break out your hunting jacket and jodhpurs.  

    Everyone is all smiles as you approach and every guest, even the regulars, seems to soak up and bask in the special-ness of the place. The decor may be over-the-top Anglophile but the cuisine is resolutely French, and what is so astonishing is how O'Connell—a chef with no formal training—has been able to evolve with the times and present a menu that is both classic and modern.

    Perfect, warm bread is served as soon as you order. The butter is the right temperature and just soft enough, barely resistant to your knife, an immediate indication that someone in the kitchen is paying attention to the smallest details. Amuse bouches are offered, and whatever shows up will take your breath away. Does a gougère get more spherical or precise? Can a cold artichoke soup be anymore intense? Oysters come with a quartet of frozen fruit "slushie" scoops -- each one a sweet and acidic counterpoint to the briny mollusk beside it.

     No matter what menu you order from—“Enduring Classics," "Gastronauts," or "The Good Earth”—you can be assured of four exquisite courses for a set price of $228 per person ($238 on Saturday) and $15 for wine pairings, but it’s really more like six to eight dishes once all the amuses and various edible doodads are thrown in. Besides those Wellfleet oysters, each as plump and briny as this shellfish can get, the Classics menu brings forth a carpaccio of herb-crusted Elysian Fields lamb loin—nine medallions of magenta-colored raw lamb upon which sit three scoops of "Caesar Salad Ice Cream" (below). The ice cream is flavored with garlic and Parmesan, and once you get past the surprise, you realize it is simply a cheese-infused aïoli in a frozen, emulsified guise. This is O'Connell playing with his food (and keeping up with the times), but he does so without affectation and with a firm sense of flavor.

    More classically rooted is the duet of bread-crusted rabbit loin with braised chestnuts, apples, and prunes, highlighted by the sort of dense, rich reduction sauce that makes you wish they served it by the spoonful. Following on the Classics menu was Pekin Duck Three Ways—pan-seared breast, sausage and confit—served on sparkling sauerkraut that would do an Alsatian proud.

    On the "Gastronauts" side, things lighten up a bit, featuring the season's first white asparagus poached in cream, and presented with a dollop of Royal Osetra caviar, followed by foie gras with port-soaked raisins atop a rich, savory Catalan custard, and then a simple rectangle of grilled marlin decorated with peeled grapes and a curried hollandaise.

     This is not cartwheels-in-the-kitchen cooking, but the rendition of each dish was as on point as French food can be. Of all the main dishes though, the one that got our attention was a simple parsley-topped, very rare lamb loin, served with a crêpinette of lamb merguez sausage (below), presented like a lollipop at the end of a rib bone. It was elegant yet simple, minimalist and precise and gave the slightest of nods to modernist cuisine without giving in to the absurdity of so much of it.

    A single meal, forty years into a restaurant's run, hardly gives one the depth of  knowledge needed to summarize a chef's cooking. But my evidence told me O'Connell takes great pride in his proteins and that he has almost perfect pitch when it comes to letting ingredients express themselves. As with all accomplished French chefs, it is the marriage of great food and wine that informs his dishes.

    And, as with the great, long-lived restaurants of France, a broad, carefully collected wine cellar is at your disposal. Choosing those wines will take some time though, since the 81-page list is a trove of name brand bottles and obscure offerings. High rollers will enjoy all the big hitter verticals of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Napa at the usual choke-a-horse prices, while mere mortals will have a field day matching this wine-friendly food with plenty of selections under $100. If you're willing to venture into the world of Rieslings and Italian whites, there are bargains aplenty.

    Markups for non-trophy reds run in the range of 100-200% over retail, which is modest by destination dining standards. Corkage is charged at $50 for your first bottle and $75 for the second, but they happily waive the charge if you purchase at least one bottle (at any price) from their list.

    Much is made of the cheese cart and the attendant puns like,” You won't Brie-lieve our selection." "Havarti had that one?" But the array is impressive and all cheeses are served at peak ripeness. The fact that they’re  presented on a rolling ceramic cow cart that even moos only adds to the cheesiness of the presentation. It all might be a bit much for the over-serious epicure, but I was rather fondue of it.

    Desserts are more soothing than surprising. There's no faulting the warm Granny Smith apple tart with buttermilk ice cream, or the lemon tartlet. The one curiosity, “Apparently A Pear," disguises a bracing blackberry sorbet beneath a golden meringue crust, the whole ornament bathed with a warm, melting sabayon that dissolves the crunchy exterior and any remaining resistance you have to the old-fashioned charms of the place.

    Along with great food and wine, it is that charm and comfort that The Inn at Little Washington has been selling since January 28, 1978. There is a soothing quality to a meal here that very few, if any, restaurants in America try to duplicate. You are cosseted from the moment you approach the front door until you bid adieu three hours later. In this era of bare tables, pin lights, interminable tasting menus, Instagrammable dishes and media-strutting chefs, it is a throwback in all the best ways. And it seems the qualities it brings to the table are now captivating a third generation of diners.

    On the weeknight we ate there, Gen-Xers and Millennials outnumbered the aging Baby Boomers in the very full dining rooms.  Hospitality like this never goes out of style, and it won't be another forty years before this aging Boomer experiences it again.

The Inn at Little Washington's guest accommodations, is open every evening except Tuesdays.


By John Mariani

James Villas at La Caravelle, NYC (circa 1985)

    I am very sad to hear that my friend and colleague James Villas has passed away at his East Hampton, N.Y., home at the age of 80. Erudite, whip smart, hilarious and doggedly Southern, he was one of the finest food and travel writers in America for six decades. His staunch standards, though open to debate, were all his own and he did not suffer fools lightly. To know Jim was to know a unique personality in a food world filled with so many minor talents who only wish they had Jim's experience and style.

    Proudly a son of the South, Jim was born in Charlotte, N.C., where his grandfather ran a diner and his mother had a reputation as one of the best cooks in the area. He traveled and dined widely with his parents, falling in love with Transatlantic ship crossings—for a long while he made annual trips on one of the Cunard liners—and eventually authored 12  cookbooks, many award winning, three with his mother.

Jim’s original intention, after earning a PhD., was to teach French literature, which he did at the University of Missouri and Rutgers, but the acceptance by Esquire magazine of an article he wrote catapulted him into becoming a gourmand and food writer, when such journalism was off-handed and stultified. “When a certain moment arrived in life that demanded making a career choice,” he wrote, “I opted for Lucullus over Flaubert.”

    Esquire hired him as an assistant editor and he then gained a sinecure at Town & Country that lasted until 1999, during a period when magazines were flush with money and their writers had flagrantly generous expense accounts. Yet, despite his love for haute cuisine, Parisian temples of gastronomy and Edwardian tables in London, Jim’s enduring love and crusade was for Southern food, of which he said,  “Our style of cooking has served not only as a focus of our lives but as a veritable symbol of survival.”

    He became a standard-bearer for both haute cuisine and regional America fare simultaneously, which by the 1990s made him into something of a curmudgeon.  “I much prefer the company of an expert pig breeder or hungry whiskey distiller to that of a fatuous foodie waxing ecstatically about Peruvian peppers or some young hot-shot chef’s latest fusion concoctions.” As a good Southerner, he once said, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” Yet, as a stylist, few had his swagger and fewer still his experience. 

    Indeed, his loathing for the so-called New American Cuisine eventually became bombast, dismissing its cooks as “children playing in the sandbox.” Jim’s refusal to shy away from that belief ultimately made him seem passé in the eyes of a new generation of chefs and food writers who were turning their backs on everything Jim stood for. It took a decade for them to catch up and embrace what Jim had been one of the first to champion—Southern cooking.

    I first met Jim back in the 1970s at one of his favorite restaurants in New York, Larry Forgione’s An American Place, and my first reaction was that this couldn’t be Jim Villas, whose writing in Esquire suggested he’d been a corpulent bon vivant for half a century.  Yet here was this handsome, very blond, impeccably dressed fellow in his thirties, who turned out to be anything but the old fogy I’d expected.

    Jim and I dined out together now and then, and, with my wife Galina at the table (he put us as a couple in his novel Dancing in the Low Country), we would talk endlessly about food and culture, kibitz and gossip, drink good wines and laugh throughout the evening. When no smoking laws went into effect, Jim actually refused to dine out for a good while, though he later told me, “John, do everything you can to keep your children from smoking.”

    No one was a better raconteur and he used his deep Southern drawl as a crooner would singing a ballad. After his retirement from magazine writing, Jim confessed disillusionment with what was going on in food journalism and trendiness in food generally.  He suffered a stroke about ten years ago, which slowed him down physically but certainly not mentally. He was as sharp witted as ever and as passionately committed to his belief that “common sense” must guide cooking. 

  “Some labels I gladly take on,” he said. “Elitist, proudly. Hedonist, assuredly. Both describe not only my wanton, unbridled approach to gastronomy in general but the way I’ve cultivated lasting relationships only with those whom I consider to be extraordinary people.”

    It’s funny, but I never recall Jim frowning. He was too busy being elated, acting the Southern gentleman, always eager for a good-natured argument, and, as they say in the South, “Grinnin’ like a possum eatin’ a sweet potato.”

    He was an extraordinary person.


By John Mariani

"The Original"
230 Park Avenue (at 46th Street)



    It is absurd for the food media to assert that all steakhouses have pretty much the same menu and therefore do not deserve attention.  Fact is, the menus at the majority of restaurants of any stripe have more or less the same menus. There will always be burrata and tomatoes on the Italian, onion soup gratinée on the French, pad thai noodles on the Thai, chicken quesadillas on the Mexican, and lamb vindaloo on the Indian.  The only real question is: who makes those standards best and what variations and specials might there be?

    Bobby Van’s seems to be doing what it does with an unwavering consistency that has kept its business thriving for 49 years. It all began when a fellow named Bobby Van opened a restaurant in Bridgehampton on Long Island. Two decades later Van sold that restaurant to Rick Passarelli, who opened a second Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, tucked into a corner of Park Avenue and 46th Street, just north of Grand Central Terminal. In 1996 restaurateur and chef Robert Dickert, a great-nephew of Peter Luger, joined Bobby Van’s team and helped expand from the Park Avenue “original” to five steakhouses in Manhattan, one at JFK airport and two in Washington, DC.

    Under Executive Chef Craig Jermin, the USDA Prime beef is aged in a specially designed, humidity-controlled room for up to 28 days. For seafood Bobby Van’s has a fleet of 30 fishing boats providing the freshest fish and shellfish daily.

    All that history gives Bobby Van’s enormous purchasing clout, and it shows in the quality of the ingredients and in the way they are cooked.  For no good reason, I had never actually eaten at “the original,” though I’ve enjoyed others in the chain, so I made up for that lapse recently and enjoyed myself from the moment I was greeted to the last mouthful of cheesecake.

    The various locations share a certain décor, and though oddly configured as a room, the Park Avenue restaurant is very handsome via an expansive use of mahogany wood, polished floors, very sturdy, comfortable wooden chairs, warm lighting, tablecloths you don’t even notice because you expect them in a good steakhouse, and, even when full, a space in which you can easily have a conversation.  No music blares in the background. A bottle of pretty good house steak sauce is on every table.

    A word about the service staff: As in many other New York steakhouses, there’s a good possibility that the waiters will have come from eastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavian republics.  Overall, I’ve found that those at the Bobby Van’s restaurants  have a jaunty demeanor, happy to speak with you about any subject under the sun. Ours, long ago from Montenegro, was named Sam Pejcinovic, and I wish he could be cloned at every branch. Affable, jovial and very knowledgeable, he took every request seriously and had the pacing of the meal down to a science. If he asks if everything is to your liking, he does it in a tone that suggests he’ll fix any little thing that’s wrong in a New York minute.

    You begin with four different types of good bread and a large ramekin of spreadable butter. Cocktails are made as requested.

    The massive two-inch thick sirloin ($63) I ordered “black and blue” did indeed come rare and cool inside and had plenty of aged beef flavor. A double veal chop ($52) was of superb tenderness and had rich taste, well seared on the outside and bone. Other cuts include filet mignon ($48 and $58) and the porterhouse for two or more goes for  $59.50 per person. I should note that these prices are higher than at most of BV's competitors.

    If a sushi restaurant should be defined by its impeccable seafood, so, too, should a steakhouse serving oysters, crab, clams, lobsters and fish. In that regard, a crabcake is always a good measure of a steakhouse’s commitment. Bobby Van’s is a good-sized patty with minimal filler,  just enough mayonnaise to bind it, and plenty of sweet crabmeat, though it would have been even better, especially at $24, had it been jumbo lump meat.  Lemon pepper shrimp ($24.50) were, on the other hand, pretty big creatures with plenty of meatiness.

    There was no arguing about the quality and preparation of the thee-pound lobster (MP), however. It was steamed to perfection—I can’t remember a better  lobster anywhere in New York—its shell cracked by Sam, the meat then removed from the shell at the table, assuring it would not get cold on the platter. The amount of that meat in the tail and claws was impressive, and the amount of melted clarified butter was enough to drown a gallon of mashed potatoes. There was a good briny flavor to the crustacean, and its texture was not chewy in the least.

    I’ve long been a sucker for a classic American wedge salad, and Bobby Van’s is nonpareil ($17.50)—the lettuce very crisp, the bacon, blue cheese and dressing tangy and salty, with a crusty lagniappe of fried onions on top, all of it presented in a portion that two or three diners could share. Just as good was a side of creamed spinach in which the vegetable was not overwhelmed by the cream or seasoning.  Sam recommended the hash browns over other options and he was right. Very buttery and clearly prepared not long in advance, they were the perfect accompaniment to the meat and lobster.

    Despite the satisfaction of such a meal thus far, desserts like New York cheesecake, chocolate cake and a tall tiramisù hit the spot.

   Bobby Van’s wine list has enough trophies among its mainly French and Italian bottlings, and prices are as steakhouse high as everywhere else.

    I was, therefore, happy to get to “the original” Bobby Van’s, not only to add it to my files but to remind me that, as at the other branches, I could be blindfolded and served the same meal and enjoy it  every bit as much.  Of course, I might miss Sam Pejcinovic to kibitz with, but there’s probably others him like him throughout the Bobby Van’s empire. 


Open Mon.-Fri. for lunch and dinner, Sat. for dinner. Closed Sunday.





By Andrew Chalk

    Robert Mondavi Winery’s tête de cuvée is its Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, first appearing 47 years ago, whose vinous backbone comes from grapes from the remarkable To Kalon Vineyard (Greek for ‘the beautiful’). That Oakville vineyard was first planted in the 1860s by Hamilton Crabb, and Napa legend Louis Martini, upon hearing Mondavi’s desire to create a world class Cabernet Sauvignon, told him,  “Bob, you really should take a look at To Kalon.”  The rest is history, and To Kalon not only put Robert Mondavi on the map but also the Oakville appellation of Napa Valley.

    To celebrate and give context to the Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery put together one of the most elaborate and comprehensive tastings of a wine that I have ever attended. For an audience made up of the cream of sommeliers and retail partners in Napa the winery orchestrated a four-stage event, punctuated by Krug Champagne and To Kalon Fumé Blanc interludes. To interest and intrigue the tastings were blind.

    First was a flight of eight glasses, each filled with a taste of a deep red wine. As the dozens of assembled tasters worked through them there were perplexed expressions and delight, the  former from the heterogeneous flavors, tastes and characters of the wines, the latter from the joy of being on this journey of discovery. Everyone felt the flight had been an education when Mark de Vere, Director and Master of Wine at Constellation Academy of Wine, revealed them to be a global flight of Cabernet Sauvignon wines:


• 2015 Château d’Issan, Margaux, 3ème Cru Classé, Bordeaux.


• 2015 Mollydooker Gigglepot Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, South Australia


• 2015 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley


• 2014 Justin Isosceles, Paso Robles


• 2014 Col Solare Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington State


• 2014 Mount Veeder Winery Reserve, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley


• 2014 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa Valley


• 2013 Inherit the Sheep Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville, Napa Valley


    The flight was split by rows with the 2015s tasted together, then the earlier flight. De Vere explained to me that the design of the flight was to contrast the styles of the grape. My personal impressions were that it was easy picking out the Bordeaux (the cedar signature) and the Napa wines, but I needed to work on the rest.

    After a few sips of Krug Grand Cuvée Brut we tasted a second flight designed to show the distinctive style of To Kalon vineyard.


• 2012 Château Margaux, Margaux, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux.


• 2015 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia


• 2013 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley


• 2014 Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley


• 2013 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley


    The Robert Mondavi Reserve exhibited a nose of sawdust and cigar box, with chewy tannins in the mouth and flavors of raspberry. It had the most grip out of this flight, portending a long life.

During our afternoon break we had a presentation on the history of To Kalon while we sipped on 2015 Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Fumé Blanc, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley.

Finally, no Cabernet Sauvignon can claim to be world class if it does not age. The last flight soundly knocked that home.


• 2005 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley


• 1996 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa Valley


• 1980 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa Valley


• 1975 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa Valley


• 2015 Robert Mondavi Winery, The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley


    Even the 40-plus year-old 1975 was thoroughly enjoyable to drink now. Soft and resolved, with tastes of roasted meats. Not even the brown rim detracted from this fundamentally different animal from the young To Kalons. I wonder, in a world of irrigation and replanting with different clones post-phylloxera, whether the 2015 will be the same in 2055 as the 1975 is now? I suspect not, so hunt the auctions today for 1975, 1980 and 1996. 




The makers of Nutella are hiring 60 "sensory testers" to work in Italy, no experience necessary.  The tasters will begin on September 30 with a three-month course in honing their senses, with 40 of the group chosen to work two days a week on tasting panels.


“While I wasn’t watching, mayo’s day had come and gone… Good ol’ mayo has become the Taylor Swift of condiments.”--Sandy Hingston, “The White Stuff,” Philadelphia Magazine.




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