"Still Life with Ham" by Philippe Rousseau (c. 1870)
IN THIS ISSUE
PRESTIGE. LUXURY, GLAMOUR. GRANDEUR
THIS IS MONTE CARLO
By Misha Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
DONELAN FAMILY WINES
By John Mariani
Luxury. Glamour. Grandeur.
On my recent trip scouring
the Riviera, where I began in Italy and drove the
coast into France, I had the luxury of spending
two glamorous nights in Monte Carlo, a ward in the
principality of Monaco, whose history wasn’t
always as glamorous it is today. In the 19th
century, after troubled times, the principality of
Monaco lost control of two nearby towns, Menton
which were the main providers of revenue through citrus and olive
crops. On the verge of bankruptcy, they turned to
developing casinos, which at the time were showing
great returns in small towns in Germany.
This, coupled with a new railway providing direct
access from France and the rest of Europe began to
turn around the solvency of Monaco. Quickly after,
Monte Carlo became a haven for the wealthy,
powerful, influential and celebrities.
Hôtel Metropole also teamed up with the German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, currently the creative director for Chanel and Fendi. Lagerfeld was responsible for the design of their outdoor pool area and for the restaurant Odyssey located within (below). The star lineup continues with interior designer Didier Gomez in charge of designing Robouchon’s Japanese restaurant Yoshi, as well as the design of the newly opened spa facility in collaboration with House of Givenchy.
On our first night’s stay, my wife and I had the privilege of dining at Restaurant Joël Robouchon (below), one of four restaurants on property. Throughout, the dining room is done in the same polished modern baroque style of Jacques Garcia with slightly softer tones, using dove grays, creams, light beiges, soft ceiling-to-floor drapes, rounded pillars and open airiness that exude an embracing welcome. In addition to the dining room, as is a hallmark with Robouchon, there is his chef’s counter, designed in his trademark black and red modern motif.
We wet our lips with a glass of Champagne while settling into our table outside on the patio, taking in the sea air kissed by the setting sun and listening to the purr of sports cars as they took the same Mirabeau corner as those Formula 1 race cars do every year at the Grand Prix. Before moving into our meal, we were giddily impressed by their bread guéridon (below), showcasing more than a dozen breads to choose from all baked on premises in their boulangerie. After anxiously making our menu decision, we watched the gentleman manning the guéridon work a quenelle of butter to lather on some of the best bread I’ve ever had.
We started our meal with their le tourteau releve de fines herbes e l'avocat et tomate confit, a roulade of sweet crab meat enhanced with confit of tomato, wrapped with creamy avocado and accented with a touch of fresh fine herbs (below). My wife enjoyed a warm salad of artichokes accented with a touch of spice of the chorizo, squid, and cooked and served in a tagine, a dish with definite North African influence but done with classical French technique. This was followed by a dish of suckling pig, served simply with pork jus and Robuchon’s famous butter-drenched pommes purée. Perfectly cooked filet of sole à la meunière came with a puree of herbs, tomato confit and pine nuts to add additional richness and texture. To finish off our evening, similar to the bread guéridon, a pastry cart was wheeled before our eyes. We selected the Baba au Rhum and the classic réligieuse, created by Carême in the 18th century, filled with a café pastry cream and lavished with a chocolate ganache.
It was eleven o’clock and by then we were both ready to head back to our hotel room, although a night in Monte Carlo was waiting for us to explore.
Although year-around shopping, restaurants, hitting the casino or just relaxing at Hôtel Metropole are the main attractions everywhere in Monte Carlo, the city is constantly putting on seasonal entertaining events, whether it’s the Grand Prix, Equestrian Games, kickboxing competitions or a free citywide musical festival that happened to be going on while we were there. Monte Carlo is nothing short of excessive and lavish in the most glamorous way. So if you feel like pampering yourself and experience a stay of the likes of James Bond, arrive in Monaco and stay at Hôtel Metropole.
NEW YORK CORNERMAJORELLE
By John Mariani
28 East 63rd Street (near Park Avenue)
I’m happy to find that my consistent contention that fine dining is thriving in NYC is borne out by the arrival of Majorelle, not just one of the most elegant new dining rooms but one whose French cuisine is as classic and contemporary as you will find in Paris. Not that it should come as a surprise when you learn who’s overseeing and cooking at Majorelle. Foremost in setting the style is Charles Masson, Jr. (left), whose long tenure as partner and host of La Grénouille maintained that illustrious 55-year-old restaurant as a bastion of good taste, even if the menu was ever unadventurous.
(Let me not waste much space on how Charles and his brother, Philippe, parted ways in 2014, after their mother retired to Brittany. Whatever the reasons for the break-up, they have affected neither La Grénouille’s business under Philippe’s continuance nor the flourishing of Majorelle, which opened in May.)
Charles Masson, who had a brief stint as general manager of the defunct Chevalier, has settled in at Majorelle as owner and he is always on premises to greet old friends and new, for it was he who helped loosen the entrenched snobbery that once ruled NYC’s French restaurants. He is a very gracious host, often performing tableside duties, and he has been smart to hire many veterans of the city’s fine dining segment, including maître d’ Jacques Le Magueresse, formerly of Le Bernardin, along with some young staff who are learning the ropes of service at this level.
bisected dining room is a couple of steps
down from the handsome lounge named
and enters onto a small outdoor dining
area. All of it is suffused with light,
both day and evening, and the requisite
vases of roses for a French restaurant are
here on every table, together with cobalt
blue water glasses and first quality
When Masson mentioned the evening’s special was gazpacho, I winced, but he said, “I promise you this will be a very different gazpacho than what you’re used to.” And it certainly was—a rich, dark red with far more depth, reduction and seasoning than this cold soup usually shows. A good slice of fresh foie gras (left) was carefully sautéed with the sweetness of Sauternes buoying the richness of the dish. Brower’s saffron and lobster risotto showed he knows how to make a risotto with perfect texture, though it was light on lobster flavor except for some morsels on top.
Of the main courses there was a
fall-from-the-bone oxtail braised in red
Burgundy with shallots. A red snapper was
cooked Moroccan-style and served in a
with the removal of the pointed lid
releasing the aromas of lemon, fennel and
olives into the air, and the flesh of the
fish was still succulent and suffused with
spices. Lamb chops were nicely grilled and
scented with rosemary with a
good rice pilaf studded with almonds.
Masson also persuaded me to try the
caneton à l’orange, a dish rendered so
mundane over decades of rote that I was
reluctant to do so, but it was a
revelation of just how delicious this
classic can, and should, be; served with
nutty brown rice scented with orange
blossom water, it ranks with the best duck
dishes in town.
I’ve always been in thrall to ouefs à la neige, with egg-shaped whipped meringues floating in crème anglaise; at Majorelle it is a singular oeuf as big and round as a tennis ball, snowy white and tender, napped with that light vanilla-rich sauce.
Majorelle seems closer in spirit and sophistication to contemporary Paris restaurants than to NYC’s, and in dashing the stuffiness that once
characterized the “La” and “Le” dining salons of the past, it is not only to be commended but signals what elegant dining can and should be in 2017.
Photos by Nico Schinco
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
DONELAN FAMILY WINES
By John Mariani
don’t think I’ve ever done an interview with a
California wine company executive—owner, wine
maker, marketing director—who didn’t say pretty
much the same exact things about their wines:
"We only buy the best grapes; We care deeply
about terroir; We work with and respect Mother
Nature; We have no desire to be a commercial
winery; And, our wines are expressions of
So it was an evening of refreshing conversation over dinner in New York with Cushing Donelan, Director of Marketing for Donelan Family Wines, who is as candid as he is possibly because he lives not in Sonoma but in Los Angeles. For, although he is intimately involved in the family winery, he is also an executive at actor Matthew McConaughey’s production company, j.k. livin, for which Donelan assists in everything from its clothing line and its music label to its charitable foundation, in addition to the development of the company’s television and film projects. So he talks more like a Hollywood guy than a Northern California winemaker, saying things like, “Conditions in the vineyards were so good in 2007 even an untrained monkey could have made a great wine.”
Born in Connecticut, Cushing learned about wine when his father, Joe, a paper industry broker, co-founded, with Pax Mahle, PAX Wine Cellars, known for its high-end Rhône varietals. Cushing Donelan attended Amherst as a fine arts major, which led him to Southern California and into the film production industry. But his involvement with his family’s wine interests has always been intense. He joined the business in 2012, three years after the founding of Donelan Family Wines, which has sourced its grapes on long leases from cooler vineyard sites like Kobler, Richards, and DeVoto; in 2015 the family acquired Obsidian Vineyard in Knights Valley.
“It’s like real estate,” says Joe. “If you have a great location, then you should be in good shape. We believe that the best wines are not made, they are discovered. Site really trumps all variables.” Another son, Tripp, oversees all sales for the winery.
The choice to join the so-called Rhône Rangers, who make Syrah (in addition to Pinot Noir, Roussane and Viognier) was, according to Cushing, based on the belief that, “Syrah (left) has had a couple of false starts in California. Napa is too hot, but
Sonoma is not as affected as Napa by heat. From the Obsidian site there’s little topsoil, and we get smaller clusters and therefore intensity in the fruit. We take Robert Frost’s ‘the road less traveled’ (which is also the name of their 75-minute
Tasting Tour at the winery). We don’t make those overripe Australian-style Syrahs. And we don’t make Pinot Noirs that are massive and have too much alcohol. I always say, if I can’t see through a Pinot Noir in the glass, I don’t want
to drink it.”
Cushing is frank about his competitors, and, while not naming labels, insists many of them adulterate their wines to give them body, adding juice from grapes not listed on the labels. Cite some of the biggest names in Napa, and he says flat
out, “They once made excellent wines, now they are getting more and more commercial.” And he waves away notions that outrageously priced cult wines supposedly on allocation ever actually sell every bottle they say they do.
Eighty percent of Donelan’s wines are sold through direct mailing lists and at the winery.
“Whether a customer buys a bottle or several cases, he or she can count on receiving a handwritten note from my dad after each purchase,” said Cushing. “My father was always a commission guy when he sold paper, so we get a bigger cut of the sales by not going through distributors, although we do sell 20 percent at retail or in restaurants. Our business lives and dies by word-of- mouth.”
I had a chance to taste several of Donelan’s wines over a dinner of steak and lamb chops at Sparks Steak House, starting with seafood and a bottle of Nancie Chardonnay ($48), named after Joe’s mother, which showed body and fruit but had enough acid to make it ideal for lump crabmeat and shrimp in garlic sauce.
I did not love the Two Brothers Pinot Noir ($55), which, while I could see through it, I thought lacked varietal character. The Syrahs, however, were some of the best I’ve sampled from California, and the best will never be cheap. The La Cuvée Christine 2012 ($48) is Donelan’s “front line, the most value-driven wine we produce,” a blend of wines from different sources.
It is indeed a good introduction to the winery’s talent for making fine Syrah without the cloying style of so many others. Walker Vine Hill Vineyard 2013 ($75) had a much richer body, very fruit-driven but multi-layered, a delicious example of what the terroir of California soil does for the grape.
I also tasted the Obsidian Vineyard 2014 ($105), which is still tight, its tannins unyielding, so I withhold judgment until I have a chance to taste it two or even five years down the road. Right now it’s not all that it will be.
THAT'LL BE THE DAY!
The president of Brooklyn police labor union Detectives’ Endowment Association, Michael Palladino, called for a boycott of the Dunkin Donuts chain after two plainclothes NYPD officers with visible badges claimed they were denied service at a shop by an employee who told them he doesn’t serve cops. The store manager disputed the incident but Corporate Dunkin also issued a statement saying that the franchise owner has personally apologized to the officers. “Our franchisees are committed to serving each and every guest with respect and courtesy,” the statement said.
WRITING 101: AVOID REALLY DUMB POP CULTURE
WRITING 101: AVOID REALLY DUMB POP CULTURE
“Unlike SCR’s sweet-barbecue-bacon and pico-guacamole toppings — which have become fairly commonplace on burgers — the sriracha-and-kale combo smacks of desperation. It reeks of a corporate attempt to capitalize on two of the biggest food trends of the past decade (although far after each has peaked). It’s the fast-food equivalent of watching your Dad sport rompers and pledge his undying love for Drake.”—Tim Carman, McDonald’s new sriracha-and-kale burger is an aging hipster’s cry for help,” Washington Post (8/2/17).
Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners
Wine is a joy year-round but in this month in particular, 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.
First, we are approaching the days when the first Sangiovese grapes will be harvested. From mid-September through mid-October, the Sangiovese grown for our various styles of red wines will 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, benefited 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.
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.
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: WHITE SANDS, NM
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
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.nickonwine.com.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET
NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John
Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
Robert Mariani, Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Geoff Kalish, Mort
Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina
Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
To un-subscribe from this newsletter,click here.
© copyright John Mariani 2017