Virtual Gourmet

  August 7, 2022                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Norma Shearer. Photo by George Herrell (1934)




By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani


On this week's episode of my WVOX Radio Show "Almost Golden," on Wed. August 10 at 11AM EDT,I'll be talking about college bars of the 1960s. Go to: The episode will also be archived at: almostgolden.




Sean Connery as James Bond enjoying a mint julep at Auric Goldfinger's stud farm in Kentucky

By John Mariani


      By the time Ian Fleming wrote Goldfinger, his seventh James Bond novel, 007 had dependably developed into quite the gourmet, and the books increased the number of references Fleming put in regarding food and drink—as well as cars, guns, clothes and gadgets—as part of his character, and that of his enemies. There are a lot of meals and drinks in Goldfinger and some of the most hilarious ways Bond makes use of his culinary taste is in the Sean Connery film, third in the franchise and one of the very best, despite a rather far-fetched plot line that involves SMERSH gangster Goldfinger attempting to extort money from the U.S. Treasury by threatening to set off an atomic bomb in Fort Knox, which would contaminate the gold inside for thousands of years.
     The novel begins with Bond investigating a smuggler’s warehouse in Mexico City, where he kills a gangster, after which he flies to Miami, intending to get drunk, “stinking drunk so that he would have to be carried to bed by whatever tart he picked up. He hadn’t been drunk in years. It was high time.” There he meets an American named DuPont  (who had been at the baccarat table in Casino Royale), and they go off to have martinis, stone crabs and Pommery Rosé Champagne 1950 at Bill’s on the Beach, obviously based on Joe’s Stone Crab on Miami Beach, which Bond afterwards pronounces “the most delicious meal he’d ever had in his life.”
     Bond checks into the Cabana Club resort, where he meets Auric Goldfinger, five feet tall, fat and “red as a lobster,” with whom he plays cards. Lunch with DuPont is at the Floridian Hotel in Homestead—shrimp cocktail, snapper and roast beef. Back at the Cabana Club Bond meets a beautiful woman working for Goldfinger, named Jill Masterton, whom he seduces and with whom he and Goldfinger return to New York on the Silver Meteor, where they dine on caviar sandwiches and Champagne. He checks into the Ramsgate Hotel before flying back to London, where his superior, M, wants 007 to investigate Goldfinger’s gold smuggling and possible connection to SMERSH.
         Bond goes to Goldfinger’s English mansion, filmed at Stoke Park House (right) in Reculver on the coast east of London, plays golf and meets the fearsome Oddjob bodyguard. Afterwards, it’s drinks at a pub and dinner at Goldfinger’s that consists of shrimp curry, roast duck and cheese soufflé with Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling and Château Mouton-Rothschild 1947. Goldfinger is himself a teetotaler for health reasons, and Bond remarks that’s one of the reasons he had recently “taken to vodka,” saying that it being charcoal filtered removes its impurities.

    Afterwards, in a gadget-equipped Aston Martin DB Mark III (above) given to him by MI6, 007 trails Goldfinger in his 1909 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost (right)—actually made with solid white gold—to France and Switzerland. Along the way Bond, though preferring the Auberge de la Montespan, stops at the serviceable Hôtel de la Gare in the Orleans RR station, where at the buffet he eats eggs en cocotte (below), sole meunière and Camembert and drinks Rosé d’Anjou and a nightcap of Hennessy 3-star Cognac.
       On the road, Bond foils an assassination attempt on Goldfinger by Tilly Masterton, whose sister Jill had been murdered by Goldfinger by painting her body gold. Bond and Tilly picnic on sausages and bread at Lyon, then have dinner at Bavaria Brasserie (below, left) and enjoy enzian (gentian schnaaps) washed down with Löwenbrau, choucroute garnie and Gruyère with a carafe of Swiss Fendant du Valais. They then check into the Bouches du Rhône in Les Baux.
       Oddjob captures Bond and brings him to a warehouse where a table is set with caviar and foie gras and where he meets another of Goldfinger’s molls, a lesbian named Pussy Galore. Oddjob knocks 007 unconscious. When Bond comes to, Oddjob threatens to cut him in half with a buzz saw unless he agrees to join Goldfinger in Operation Grand Slam at Fort Knox, which Bond says he will. Tilly is killed by Oddjob.
       The Fort Knox operation is foiled, and, on a flight back to England, Bond fights with Goldfinger aboard a hijacked BOAC jet. Bond beats Goldfinger to death, and then takes up with Pussy, who submits to his “tender loving care.”

In the movie some liberties were taken with the book’s plot, allowing Bond to travel more. In Miami he stays at the Fontainebleau Hotel and orders a 1953 Champagne that arrives too warm. Sporting a hideous baby blue sunsuit, he meets Jill Masterson, has dinner in his suite but is knocked unconscious, awakening to find her body covered with gold paint that suffocated her.
     Back in London, he dines with M and members of the Bank of England, where Bond makes one of his most remarkable shows of connoisseurship. When M asks 007 if there’s something wrong with the Cognac, Bond sniffs and says, “Well, sir. It seems to be a 30-year-old fine, indifferently blended, with an overdose of . . . Bon Bois.”
      I have asked people in the Cognac industry if anyone could really figure out such components to such an arcane degree and was told that it would be nearly impossible. But what Bond said was actually based on the facts of Cognac blending: A “fine” is an industry term for brandy, and the overdose of Bon Bois refers to a region in Cognac whose grapes are used in the blend but are considered inferior to the others in the mix from the other regions. 
As in the book, Bond follows Goldfinger into France and Switzerland, this time driving an Aston Martin DB5, while Oddjob chauffeurs a Rolls Royce Phantom III and Tilly Masterson drives a ’64 Mustang convertible, whose tires Bond destroys with a cutting wheel on his rims. Tilly is killed by Oddjob, who captures 007 and uses a laser beam between Bond’s legs to make him talk, but 007 makes Goldfinger think he knows all about Operation Grand Slam and Goldfinger stops the laser.
      After crashing his car in a chase, Bond is knocked out and awakens to find himself on his enemy’s private jet, which  lands in Kentucky (the airport used in the filming was actually at RAF base at Nortolt in Ruislip, England), where he meets Pussy Galore. They land at
Goldfinger's thoroughbred stud farm, where, on  the verandah, Bond enjoys a mint julep after asking it to be made with sour mash whiskey and branch water. And, even for Bond, that is getting way too fussy, insofar as branch water comes from clear springs not likely to be running through Goldfinger's ranch.  And, in fact, most bourbons have always been made with sour mash, a process of  allowing the residue of the spent “beer” to sour overnight, then added to a new batch.
      The FBI alerted, Operation Grand Slam fails but Bond is locked inside Fort Knox with Oddjob, whom he manages to electrocute just in time to turn off the bomb’s ticking timer as the digital numbers strike “007.”
       Bond gets on a plane with Pussy, who now sides with him, but finds Goldfinger has hijacked the jet. After a fight, the villain is sucked out of the window. Bond lands both the plane and Pussy.




2  City Island Avenue, NY

By John Mariani

         Although not exactly a secret, City Island is unfamiliar to most New Yorkers, and certainly not high among tourist destinations, even in the Bronx. Which is just fine with those who live on this mile-long finger of land that stretches into Long Island Sound within view of Manhattan skyscrapers. For this maritime community—which the local Indian tribe called Minnewits—is as quiet and charming as any in New York, with tackle shops and antique stores to rival any in New England. The 19th century wooden houses were once the homes of sea captains and yachtsmen; indeed, from 1935 to 1980 a dozen America’s Cup yachts were built on the island and the main street is still flanked by dry docks. Dozens of movies have filmed scenes on location here, including Raging Bull (1980), A Bronx Tale (1993) and City Island (2009).
          City Island has always gotten a good local crowd that comes for the Italian and seafood restaurants, many dating back before World War II, and for most of that time Johnny’s Reef has been an open-air seafood cafeteria of a kind that you expect to find up and down the Atlantic Coast, but with a good amount of Bronx swagger and the sounds of so many of the borough’s various Black, Latino, Caribbean and Asian communities.
         Open seasonally from March through November, Johnny’s, with its new outdoor covered but wind-swept eating area, is more popular than ever. The Covid closure allowed renovations and improvements to be made throughout.
         You enter from an ample parking lot and get on line to order from three counters, one for drinks and ice cream, one for food and one for alcoholic beverages. You put in your order, the Latino staff member yells out “Dos camarones, uno pollo!” and within moments your food is ready. Then you get your drinks and stay inside or go outside, where you sit at large blue picnic tables and look out over a panorama of the choppy sound, Long Island’s North Coast—where F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby had his mansion—and within sight of the majestic Throgs Neck Bridge. You also get a big gulp of salty air that makes everything taste even better.
         Johnny’s menu is long but focused: All the seafood may be ordered fried or steamed, from crisp, golden shrimp ($17) and scallops ($23) to fillet of sole ($17), porgy ($17), snapper ($22), whiting ($17), frogs legs ($11) and softshell crabs ($29). There also are Littleneck clams ($13 for a dozen), Cherrystones ($13), linguine with clams ($13) and a first-rate lobster roll ($18). There are also chicken wings ($13) and fried chicken ($11).
    The absolute freshness of the seafood (although the lobster tails come in frozen; $36) is assured by the enormous turn-over of customers. That also means the oil is fresh and replenished often.  All the seafood comes atop a mess of French fries (this year crispier than they used to be) and coleslaw, with lemon wedges.  Soda, beer and cocktails are available, and they have desserts, too.
         If I sound exultant, it’s for several reasons. First, the atmosphere is radiant and the mix of people from all over the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Westchester and Connecticut makes it a far more egalitarian spot than most restaurants. Second, I grew up two miles south of City Island, and some of my earliest memories of going out to dinner with my family and friends were the restaurants there, with names like Thwaite’s, the Lobster Box, the old-fashioned City Island Diner, the original Crab Shanty, the Sea Shore (opened in the 1920s) and others.  We had a doctor friend we kids called Uncle Mattie, who had no business piloting a 50-foot Cabin Cruiser around the Sound, but somehow we always puttered up to a slip on City Island, starving for a good meal, and lingered well into the star-lighted night.
         Frankly, a lot of the newer Italian restaurants on the island that have had successive owners are pretty run-of-the-mill, but Johnny’s, wholly lacking in frills but now prettier than it used to be, is as evocative as any lobster shack in Maine or crab shack on the Chesapeake or fish camp in South Carolina. That, and the fact the island is an extension of Pelham Bay Park (which is three times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park) and just south of the pure white sand of Orchard Beach with its 1930s art deco architecture, makes a trip to Johnny’s requisite for anyone unaware of the extensive bucolic nature of the North Bronx.       


Johnny’s Reef Restaurant is located at 2 City Island Avenue, Bronx NY. 718-885-2086. Open daily.  


By John Mariani

Georges Briguet, one of NYC's grandest restaurateurs, has died from a heart attack at the age of 85. Among all the old-line French owners (though he was Swiss), including Henri Soulé, Charles Masson, Albert Spalter, Miller Lucien and Robert Meyzen, only Sirio Maccioni matched the savoir-faire and congeniality of Briguet, who as owner of Le Périgord for 53 years, always looked as if he were welcoming his first guest on his first day at his beautiful restaurant near the UN.
Georges, whom I knew well, was a true bon vivant, ever fretful of every detail but always seeming thrilled to have you as a guest. He knew 99% of his clientele, which was rich with celebrities and the ambassadorial crowd, and could be as discreet as he was interested in their lives. Always dressed in one of his many tuxedos (as were his captains), he oversaw a jewel of a dining room whose décor changed only once, full of soft linens, perfect lighting and vases of flowers. The appetizer buffet as you entered glistened with possibilities. The wine list was richest in Burgundies at remarkably fair prices. His chefs were classically trained but allowed for innovation.
Born in Switzerland, Briguet attended the École Tamey and worked at the Baur au Lac in Zurich, before emigrating to New York in 1960, where he did stints as maître d’hôtel at La Grenouille. Mr. Briguet married Marie-Thérèse Couteller (right). She and his son Christopher were often at his father's side at the restaurant.
At one time, from 1969-1985, he co-owned Le Périgord Park with Willy Krause and, with Jean-Louis Missud, La Réserve at Rockefeller Center in 1983; it closed in 2000.
  Georges's knowledge of fine dining, restaurant history and NY society was fathomless, and if you asked an idle question about anything he would begin, "May I tell you something?" then go on to give you a delightful story that never betrayed a confidence.
He had his problems with the unions and he knew he could not keep Le Périgord open forever, so he retired to his home in Montauk, LI, where he would go after Saturday service and return on Monday, always looking refreshed and giddy to open the door to his friends.
There was no restaurateur quite like him, and those who did not learn from him are at a deficit at a time when upscale dining now means loud, boisterous and fly-by-night. Le Périgord seemed like it would always be there in its cul-de-sac on East 52nd Street, the light from the dining room a beacon and Georges Briguet's greeting warm and heartfelt in the way that Samuel Johnson said, "There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn. As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience an oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude : when I am seated, I find the master courteous, and the servants obsequious to my call; anxious to know and ready to supply my wants : wine there exhilarates my spirits, and prompts me to free conversation and an interchange of discourse with those whom I most love." No one fulfilled that promise more graciously than Georges Briguet.



By John Mariani

To read previous chapters of ANOTHER VERMEER, go to the archive



         There was a beep coming from the fax, followed by an output of continuous paper, six sheets, all headed INTERPOL. They were translations of stories about Stepanossky in The Moscow Times and Novi list. David tore them from the machine and brought them to his desk, then called Katie to get together ASAP.
         He arrived an hour later at Katie’s apartment and showed her the faxes. Katie read one, David the other, both struggling with translations dashed off rather than verbatim.
         David said, “From what I can make out here, it’s pretty much like the European reports, but it makes some digs at Stepanossky, saying that he had recently been at odds with the current administration and that he had told colleagues he would be in Croatia for an extended period of time. Says he was sick of politics and was only interested in running his business and managing his art collection. It says he is expected to make a full recovery after a long convalescence.
       “What’s yours say?”
         “Apparently the editors of Novi list are none too biased when it comes to Stepanossky. At first they just give the straight facts everybody did, but then they kind of rip into him as having once been one of the worst of the K.G.B. officers and that he was responsible for the deaths of a lot of Croatians during the war and a lot of destruction.  Then, it says, he has lately been in conflict with another former K.G.B. officer named Vladimir Putin.”
         “Putin?” David asked. “Kiley mentioned him as an up-and-coming bureaucrat in the government. Even said he was at serious odds with Stepanossky.  Anything else?”
         “It kind of reads like they wish Stepanossky good riddance and that now maybe he will stay out of Croatia in the future. Sounds as if they’re hinting that someone in Croatia may have rigged the land mine.”
         “Anything in there about the type of explosive?”
         “No, just says a land mine.”
         David was twisting his neck as if to work out a kink. 
“This all gets more exasperating every minute.”
         “Curiouser and curiouser,” said Katie. 
         “So, what we have is a case of Stepanossky either driving over an old land mine—maybe one planted years ago by the Croatians seeking to blow up Russian tanks—or this Putin guy set up a boobytrap for his opponent. Or a Croatian partisan.”
         “Or it was attempted murder by someone who wanted him out of the bidding.”
         “The Chinese?”
         “I don’t know why the Chinese would want him out of the bidding.  I’m sure they’d love to get hold of Stepanossky’s $100 million in Russian gold.”
         “What if Putin was thinking of bidding on the Vermeer?” asked David. “He could really wave that in Stepanossky’s face, in the event he hadn’t been blown to smithereens?”
         “Does Putin have that kind of money?” asked Katie, pouring more wine.
         David recalled that Kiley had described Putin as a rising star in the Soviet bureaucracy but not yet made filthy rich by it.
“He’s probably on his way, that is, if somebody doesn’t knock him off.  Everyone watches his back in Moscow. I’ll talk to Kiley about all this. Gotta really thank him for sharing this info, and see what he thinks. He couldn’t give us any of this info if this were a real criminal investigation.  Knowing him, he’s going to say, bring me someone’s head on a platter, which I’m far from being able to do.”
         “Well, you’ve already brought him Saito’s heart, Lauden’s arm and now Stepanossky’s foot,” said Katie.
         “Why, Katie Cavuto, that’s pretty raw of you.”
         “I’ve been hanging around big tough guys too long,” she said, then, two glasses of wine to the good, “Hey, David, you know what just occurred to me?”
         “What just occurred to you, Katie Cavuto?”
         “All these nefarious deeds are textbook examples of the preferred ways to knock someone off in each particular country. Let’s see, we’ve got Japanese arsenic, Brazilian kidnapping, a Chinese hit man and a Croatian land mine.  And maybe we’re not done yet.  How do the Dutch like to get rid of people?”
         “Maybe lock them in a room with a Dutch stand-up comedian?”
         Katie laughed and patted David on the shoulder. “Good one, Greco!  And what about Shui?”
         “Hmm, Chinese water torture?”
         The two of them were having a good time, the jokes taking the edge off the work, and David hoped Katie might ask him if he wanted to stay overnight in the extra bedroom, as he’d once done during the Capone case, rather than drive an hour home after drinking the wine. 
“Jeez,” he said, “I better get going.  The drive, the wine . . .”
         “You can certainly stay here, if you want. I can make some pasta or whip something up.”
         “As long as you’re inviting me for dinner,” said David, “allow me to make the pasta. What’s in your ‘fridge?”
         “Enough,” Kati said, “And now we can finish the wine without guilt.”



                                            *                *                *


         “Any news on the Chinese delegate, Mr. Chin?” David asked Kiley over the phone.
         “Well, his full name is Wei Chin,” said Kiley, “Been attached to the embassy for five years. It’s way over on Twelfth Avenue, right on the Hudson (left). Chin works in the General Affairs Office, purely administrative bullshit. He’s pretty low on the totem pole.”
         “Any progress on getting him out of there?”
         “Nope. The Chinese have refused all comment on Chin, saying he has diplomatic immunity. Of course, they also don’t say he was involved in the ‘accident.’ At some point they’ll probably just send him back to Beijing, or assign him to some backwater bureau in Lhasa (below).”
         “Where’s Lhasa?” asked David.
         “About as far away from Beijing as you can get in China. The boonies.”
         David said, “Christ, all roads in this story”—he was careful not to say ‘case’ this time—“seem to lead to backwaters: the Amazon, Croatia, Lhasa.”
         “Well, Chin is still here. If the F.B.I. can keep the pressure on, maybe the Chinese will back down and toss him over,but I doubt it.”
         “Anything new about Stepanossky?” asked David.
         “One of our sources over there says the smart money believes it was a hit, but no one knows for sure who might have done it.  The Croatians would probably love to claim it, but that would stir up too much political shit for them.  If it was an enemy of Stepanossky in Russia, we’re not likely to hear anything about it.”
         “What about that guy Putin?”
         “His name’s been floated but with nothing more than supposition to go on.  Since Stepanossky is technically out of the government—although these guys never really are—Putin might have no reason to blow him sky high.  In any case, it’s not our problem.”
         “Unless it has something to do with the Vermeer auction.”
         “I just don’t know, David.  There’s still no smoking gun in this whole damn thing.”
         “No, just a couple of lost limbs so far.”



John Mariani, 2016



                    Why Do So Many Wines
                    Taste So Different and Why
                     Do So Many Taste The Same?


By John Mariani



                                                                                                    "Bacchus" by Guido Reni (1623)


         You hear reports now and then about how many people can’t tell the difference between a red wine and a white wine if tasted blind, much less one red or white wine from another. This is no cause for being smug for the simple reason that all wines are nothing but fermented grape juice, and a great number of white wines are made from red grapes, including Blanc de Noirs Champagne.
         The fact is that wine experts make mistakes all the time about what they’re tasting, including Harry Waugh, a legendary British connoisseur who, when asked when was the last time he’d mistaken a Bordeaux for a Burgundy, responded, “What time was lunch?” Which is one of the reasons American wine critic Robert Parker refused ever to taste wines blind. The prospects of committing a whopper of  an error are huge.
      Still, those who labor intensely, sometimes for years, and often fail exams as often as would-be lawyers to become an officially designated Master of Wine (there are only 418 in the world) have developed exceptional ability to distinguish one wine from another, one region from another, even one vintage from another. If you think that is a worthwhile pursuit—those who do so go to work in the wine trade—prepare to spend most of your free time and a great deal of your money on achieving that prestigious title. 
For the rest of us, distinguishing one wine from another is helpful in choosing which bottle goes with whatever it is you’re eating, or to have a little fun: Once, when a sommelier challenged me to try to identify a wine he poured (with the bottle far removed from my sight), I played along. When he went to another part of the room, I called over a busboy, gave him five bucks and asked him to tell me what the wine label read. When the sommelier returned, I hemmed and hawed and mumbled remarks like, “It seems to be from a higher elevation, but definitely not California.” I then shrugged and told the sommelier exactly what wine it was, including the vintage. His astonishment was palpable.

       Let’s get basic here: Wines taste different for two reasons. First, the wine grape itself, of which there are 10,000, and second, where the grapes are grown. There’s little question that most people with just the slightest familiarity with wine can tell the difference between, say, a Chardonnay and a Gewürztraminer or a Riesling, because they have very different flavor profiles. So, too, Cabernet Sauvignon tastes quite different from a Syrah or a Zinfandel.

      The onion gets sliced more thinly when it comes to differentiating between a Chardonnay and a Pinot Blanc or a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc.  And it would be something of a feat for most serious wine drinkers to bet their souls on telling the difference between a Barolo and a Barbaresco, both made in Italy’s Piedmont from the Nebbiolo grape. All these grapes are in the so-called vinifera family; grapes like the Native America labrusca variety taste very different. 
Where the grapes are grown and how the wines are made are obviously going to provide nuances to the varietal, simply because the climate and soils, as well as the altitude, will affect the grapes’ growth, ripeness and maturation. A varietal grown in very hot climates like Sicily (right) will make for a bigger, bolder, tannic red wine with higher alcohol, as contrasted with one grown in cool climates like Bordeaux and Burgundy, where, for centuries, through a process called chaptalization, wines from the south of Europe, even Morocco and Algeria, were added to bolster the wines’ taste and alcohol. In much of Europe artificial irrigation is prohibited by law; in California it is not.
       Much is made of the components of the soil, including limestone, gravel, sand, etc. Once in the Loire Valley, a producer of Sauvignon Blanc showed me a rich red soil patch he left unplanted because, he explained, “There is too much iron in the soil. It would make my wines taste like they came from California.” On another occasion, in Burgundy, a producer had me taste the grapes from two adjacent plots in his vineyard. I was amazed to find that one had greater natural sugar while the other was bland. “These vineyards have been farmed for hundreds of years,” he said, “but this plot, right next to the other, has never produced good grapes.”
        After these two basics, the touchy question of how much winemakers manipulate their wines becomes crucial. Many vignerons insist they want nature to determine the outcome, with minimal interference from the vigneron aside from keeping the vineyards healthy; some do not filter their wines to remove sediment. Others, largely New World wineries, do a great deal to create the flavor profile they want and think the marketplace will, too. Of course, blending grape varietals is a given in Bordeaux when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant bottlings, and while that is now more the rule than the exception in California, back in the 1970s and 1980s Napa Valley was deliberately producing monster tannic wines from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.     
There are techniques, like micro-oxygenation (right) to pump up flavors and alcohol, and reverse osmosis to lessen alcohol, but aside from many white wines fermented and aged exclusively in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, many others spend some time in oak, and that can make a huge difference in the flavor of what emerges. Oak casks have two functions: one, to let the wines settle and harmonize over months or years, and two, to impart the actual flavor of the wood. 
The place where the oak comes from also has its distinctions, with French and American the most frequently used. (In spirits making, the barrels are charred to create more burnt caramel flavors.) New oak has a fresher, greener, more intense wood flavor, while old barrels are widely used for better nuance. But the fact is, one wine from one barrel may taste different from another, even within the same winery in the same vintage, so that it is difficult, if not impossible, to say that the contents of a single bottle will match the next bottle in the line, which puts all the overwrought mumbo-jumbo about a wine tasting of mango, leather, cigar box and so on almost useless, not least because the question of whether  or not it’s a good thing to taste of any of those flavors in a wine.
        Given these factors of climate, soil and manipulation, the distinctions between a range of wines all made from the same grape become more a matter of personal taste. Chardonnay, for example, is, in and of itself, a fairly neutral-tasting grape that in various locales is used in very different styles, with the induced caramel-rich and woody flavors of American Chardonnays preferred by the U.S. market. French and Italian Chardonnays are more subtle and better nuanced, overall. So, too, you can debate just what you want your Pinot Noir to taste like. Do you like the elegance—sometimes too subtle—of Burgundies, or the big bomb blasts of Sonoma Valley?
        So, the answer to the questions to why so many wines taste different and why so many don’t is often a case of consumer preference. And, if you keep on drinking California Chardonnays because you like that taste, you may not even be able to identify a wine from the Côte d’Or as being anything more than a run-of-the-mill white wine. And if you really love mango, leather and cigar box flavors in your wine, be my guest.
        But going by point scores, usually on a 100-point scale, is not unlike rating any or all kinds of movies—dramas, melodramas, romances, horror movies, westerns, biker movies—with the same standards and expectations. For one thing, remember that all professional wine tasters, in the media or industry, sample perhaps 20 wines at a clip—all of them on a given day, maybe Charbono or Zinfandel—each from a single bottle and always upon release, with only minimal aging, which would be like saying that a student who get a 97 on his history essay is distinctly smarter than one who got a 94.
       Fortunately there is enough variety and enough styles of winemaking to allow anyone to enjoy what they do based on their own assessments, which may or may not agree with the experts hunched over tables, sniffing and spitting, sniffing and spitting, to come up with a tortured description and a point rating that might be completely different on another day in another place.




"At Audrey, we like to be even vaguer to trigger some curiosity,” says 
Chef-owner Sean Brock (left) of his restaurant menu at Audrey in Nashville, of items like “A Study of Citrus”  made with wekiwa, grapefruit, and mandarin. "Hopefully, I feel like this helps keep the diner engaged.” (7/22/22)



 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 two 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." 

Eating Las Vegas

John Curtas has been covering the Las Vegas food scene since 1995. He is the author of EATING LAS VEGAS - The 52 Essential Restaurants, and his website can be found at You can find him on Instagram: @johncurtas and Twitter: @eatinglasvegas. 


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


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© copyright John Mariani 2022