Virtual Gourmet

  November 16,  2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Immigrants at Ellis Island, NYC (1902)
, where the sign on the wall, 
written in several languages, said 'NO CHARGE FOR MEALS HERE'


By John Mariani

                                            MASTER RESTAURATEUR VICTOR GOTTI OF
                                        SAN FRANCISCO'S ERNIE'S PASSES AWAY AT 92
                                                                  By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

    Like most big American cities, Baltimore has both its boosters and its detractors—often the same persons, including waggish local boys like H.L. Mencken and John Waters.  Alternately called “Charm City” and “Mob Town,” Baltimore has all the best and worst of any modern city, but, at its core, this is still one of America’s most historic and cultured metropolises, and no longer just a gateway to Washington DC.  Indeed, the National Register of Historic Places lists 280 properties in Baltimore.

    The city’s native sons and daughters include Edgar Allan Poe (who has a museum in town that rarely seems to be open), “Eubie” Blake and Billy Holiday (left), Babe Ruth, and director Barry Levinson, who’s shot several movies in his cherished hometown, including “Diner” (1982) in the photo below, which made the Fells Point Diner a pop culture tourist attraction.  (Ironically, there never was a diner on that location; Levinson had one moved there, then moved it back. Today the location is a brick condo.)
    Baltimore’s schools, like Johns Hopkins University and Loyola have enviable national reputations, as do the Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art, this year celebrating its 100th anniversary. Baltimore’s major sports teams—the Orioles and Ravens—draw crowds from all over the Mid-Atlantic region.  It’s also the country’s leading producer of straw hats.  Who knew?
    The development in the 1970s of the Inner Harbor, which includes Harborplace, most certainly brought light, safety and tourism to a once derelict part of the city. Sadly, though, instead of featuring the food of Chesapeake Bay, Harborplace has become nothing more than yet another shopping  center, with all the usual national brands and restaurants, from Hooter’s to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
    Baltimore is actually an easy one- or two-day visit by train from NYC, Philadelphia, Wilmington and DC.  On my last trip I stayed at the Hotel Monaco (right), which appears to be a stately old grande dame of a hotel, but is actually a magnificent conversion of the historic and majestic B&O Railroad headquarters, done in a stunning Beaux Arts architecture (it’s well worth reading the building’s history, posted on the mezzanine). With only 202 rooms, there is plenty of space for bed and bath, including bunk beds for families, c
omplimentary wi-fi, morning coffee and tea, a hosted evening wine hour, and free use of public bikes.
    Baltimore’s restaurants are as varied as any big city’s right now, so avoiding the banal offerings in Harborplace is easy. The city’s Little Italy neighborhood is within walking distance, with the usual Italian-American style restaurants, all serving pretty much the same menu, though Aldo’s is several cuts above most, and actor Chazz Palminteri runs a first-rate Bronx-style pizzeria under his name.

   Right on the water is Fleetstreet Kitchen (
1012 Fleet Street; 410-244-5830), set between Little Italy and Harbor East.  Modern and beautifully lighted, the establishment has a convivial bar and tavern room, with plenty of space between tables.   In the main dining room (left) plaid banquettes, chandeliers, ceiling lights, and splashes of flowers make it one of the city’s most romantic spots to dine, helped along by a wide-ranging wine list. The Baltimore Sun named it one of the best restaurants of 2014.
      Chef Michael Correll delivers unexpected
pleasures like chilled ratatouille soup ($9), with a nicely spiced piperade of peppers.  Ricotta-filled ravioli ($13) came with a truffle essence, a poached egg, fennel, brown butter cream and Easter egg radish—a good but complicated dish whose overkill of ingredients caused the pasta to cool while all the rest of the ingredients were added. Two main courses were outstanding—a perfectly seared and juicy halibut with glazed baby carrots, the tang of lemon, the crunch of hazelnuts and sweet carrot butter ($30); and roasted pork, impeccably cooked to pink, with a nice crust on the outside, served with charred radicchio, green beans and sautéed leeks ($30).
      There’s a four-course dinner menu at $65, whereby you choose whatever you like from the menu; a chef’s tasting menu of seven courses ($85), and a vegetarian tasting menu ($65); each may be paired with wines for a supplement. 
    There’s no let-up in proportions with the wonderful desserts like honeycrisp apple napoleon with cardomon-flecked cream, almond-pecan granola, and apple sorbet ($9), or the frozen pumpkin mousse with
pumpkin seed toffee pomegranate ($8).
    The wine list is one of the best in town, but pricey, with too few whites under $50  and top heavy with reds above $100, though they are of good value.

Open for dinner nightly.


    The appropriately named Waterfront Kitchen (1417 Thames Street; 443-681-5310 ) is a handsome, wide 78-seat restaurant that sets just the right balance of sophistication and casual chic. A canny use of rustic and polished woods along with heavy draperies and woven fabric chairs might only be improved by having soft tablecloths rather than hard surfaces, but the view at twilight of the harbor has enormous charm seen through 35-foot-tall glass windows.
    The restaurant also has a “mission statement,” which usually means fatuous seriousness, but in fact that mission is to support urban gardening for students  (the kitchen has its own garden and greenhouse), and they are involved with a program to hire disadvantaged Baltimoreans.
    The ebullient
chef Jerry Pellegrino is a man of good appetite, as you can tell by the generosity on his plates and the proud emphasis on American tradition.  He turns out food that has vigorous flavor and genuine nuance in dishes like pan-seared foie gras with a red wine and fruit compote and spiced nuts ($16) and duck leg confit with plum compote and greens ($12); entrees with heft, like braised lamb shank with crispy smashed potatoes ($32) and pan-seared scallops with roasted pumpkin, crispy polenta and pea tendrils ($30).  There is also an array of housemade charcuterie ($9-$11).
        As at Fleet Street Kitchen, the 600-label wine list at Waterfront Kitchen seems weighted toward higher priced bottlings, but they are of high quality too.  

Lunch and dinner Tues – Sun.

he odd name of Parts and Labor (2600 North Howard Street; 443-873-8887) derives directly from its having recently been a car garage of the same name, and the long lines, doors and wide space of the dining room give it a proletarian grandeur that has been packing people in as the city’s new hot spot since opening last spring.     The slowly gentrifying neighborhood has a ways to go before it loses its edginess, but apparently that’s part of the restaurant’s inherent cool. Owner Spike Gjerde also runs Woodberry Kitchen in town, with a butcher shop right on the premises of his new place.  There hang beef carcasses, dry aging on the walls in order to supply Gjerde’s restaurants while allowing him to sell retail to the public.
    Inside the stark, deafeningly loud dining area is a 10-foot-high soapstone hearth fireplace where all that meat is roasted, grilled and turned on a rotisserie, so the aromas are enough to alert everyone coming through the door just what they’re in for. E
xecutive chef and butcher George Marsh offers a short menu that changes all the time, so you might find the cuts of meat changing—he favors the less known, like bavette—so the superb charcuterie served here may one night include kielbasa, ham hocks, and wursts befitting Baltimore’s eastern European immigrant food culture, on another evening whatever is fresh from the butcher.  There are also salted meats, including a coriander flavored mortadella.
    Offal is the pride of the kitchen, so cuts like pig liver, brains, sweetbreads and blood sausage show how every scrap of meat is utilized.  There are also a few seafood items, and most of the first courses are vegetables, like grilled broccolini with pecorino, sesame, and fried egg ($13). Portions of meat are deliberately on the modest size, and are priced accordingly, like a six-ounce tenderloin at $18. But there are also “Large Bastard” platters for tables of three or more that include a 45-ounce côte de boeuf with potatoes ($100), ten pieces of fried chicken with mashed potatoes, corn and collards ($75), and braised veal shank ($75).
    The food comes out when it’s ready, so don’t expect three timed courses, though the wait won't be very long in any case.
    Now about that dry-aged meat: Marsh proudly buys grass-fed beef only, for reasons that range from sustainability to healthfulness, but truth be told, you are never going to get the marbled inner muscular fat and sweet flavor from grass-fed beef that you would from animals raised, or at least finished, on corn. As a result, the hamburger that was so highly recommended was actually a bit bland, and the steak lacked that richness I seek at a beef-centric restaurant.  I’d rather go back for more of the charcuterie and offal, ending off with a dessert like the banana split doughnut with ice cream, which must surely have been raised on corn.
        The wine list is nothing to speak of—18 reds, 9 whites--but I can rave about the screed of beers and the huge spirits list here that offers specialties like Lot 50 Single Copper Pot Still Rye, Havana Club Añejo rum, and Oban 14 Year Old Scotch.

Open Tues-Sun. for dinner. Brunch on Sunday.




By John Mariani

    When the term “gentleman restaurateur” is used the figure of Victor Gotti comes to my mind with a big smile. Gotti, the co-owner of San Francisco’s famous Ernie’s Restaurant, died last week in San Francisco at the age of 92.  

With his brother Roland (on the left in the photo), Victor made Ernie’s into one of the most heralded and respected restaurants in America, at a time when San Francisco had no others of that ilk to brag of. Ernie’s attracted all the big names, from the local pols and sports figures to everyone in the entertainment industry who knew they would be treated not as celebrities but as people who knew how to act with a genuine sophistication that reflected itself throughout the restaurant.  Rarely a day went by when columnist Herb Caen didn’t mention who of note was dining at Ernie’s—perhaps Sinatra, Monroe, or Streisand.

    The walls were Barbary Coast deep red brocade, there was an open fireplace, the staff wore tuxedoes, and Victor and Roland were always on hand to provide a buoyant bonhomie.  The place was opened in 1934 as Il Trovatore, in what had once been a dance hall, by a cook named Ernie Carlesso, who sold the business to his waiter,  Ambrogio Gotti.  His sons Victor and Roland worked as busboys but eventually bought the restaurant, keeping the name Ernie’s. Each year the Gottis improved the premises and wine stock, which became one of the stellar cellars in the country, and the continental menu—tournedos Rossini, chateaubriand, frogs’ legs Provençal--was always based on the finest ingredients obtainable in northern California.  There was tableside service and plenty of flamed dishes.

    After six decades the restaurant finally closed in 1995, not a victim of change so much as it was just time for the party to end.

    Of course, the most famous habitué of Ernie’s was Alfred Hitchcock, who wanted to film parts of his San Francisco-based 1958 movie “Vertigo” in the restaurant.  But since the Gottis simply could not shut down their business for endless shoots, the director had to reproduce it as a set (above, with James Stewart at the far right), with every detail faithful to how the bar and dining room looked.

    I will never forget seeing that movie years later, while I was in college, watching James Stewart in an impeccably cut dark suit, white shirt and silver tie, escorting his fantasy lover Kim Novak  (left) through the dining room. (I didn’t know at the time that the Gotti brothers actually appeared in the movie—Victor said he flubbed his line).  To me in the slow tracking shot of Stewart moving with the glowingly beautiful Hitchcock blonde Kim Novak I saw everything I someday wanted to achieve—membership in a civilized, grown-up world where such moments were possible and where good taste in dress, manners, food and wine were requisite to the pleasures of such an evening.  In a way, I think that scene set in Ernie’s, were early nudges towards my career as a food and travel writer.

As soon as I could, on my first trip to San Francisco, I dined at Ernie’s and for once, the glamour of the real world exceeded even that of the movie version.  I was hooked.  And I was proud to have known that great gentleman restaurateur Victor Gotti.






By John Mariani

The white truffles at San Pietro


    Yogi Berra once famously quipped of a restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.”
    Which is true of an amazing range of New York restaurants that never make the list of New York magazine’s
Restaurant Power Rankings--the “most-talked-about, must-visit restaurants in New York City”--but whose dining rooms are fully booked every day and night they’re open.

    Two veteran Italian restaurants easily fall into this category of places that have a fiercely loyal clientele and whose reputations bring scores of  pre-theater and post-theater visitors. Both are beautiful restaurants of high style, the tables draped in good linens, the wine glasses thin, the service staff pleasingly dressed. The dedicated owners never take a single guest for granted. 

San Pietro
18 East 54th Street

       San Pietro, just off Fifth Avenue in Midtown, has for 22 years been running as smoothly as an autostrada, despite never having had a review by the NY Times.  Yet owner Gerardo Bruno does not have  time to complain, because he is hard at work at his ristorante every day, lunch and dinner, catering to a crowd of business people and those in the arts and fashion industry, who come here for classic Italian cooking, especially that of the Amalfi coast, whence Mr. Bruno comes. 

    You are received by a lovely hostess, behind whom stands the impeccably dressed Mr. Bruno, who smiles with surprise to see everyone, whether it’s someone who dines there three times a week or comes for the first time.  On the table inside the door are arrayed the freshly arrived white truffles, the size of tennis balls (above), and bottles of wines he recommends.  Most of his clientele ask his advice.

    White-jacketed waiters bring bread and olive oil to the table the moment you sit down, and, after taking your cocktail order, Mr. Bruno or a captain will explain the night’s specials, which always number about half a dozen, geared to the season and the market.  On my recent visit, when my wife and I just wanted a night out alone, we put ourselves in Mr. Bruno’s hands—actually everyone calls him Gerardo—and were rewarded with sumptuous food of the moment.

    We began with a variation on beef carpaccio, with paper-thin slices of filet mignon quickly warmed under herbed sea salt and served with arugula, fresh porcini mushrooms and parmigiano ($32).  An “autumn salad” was artfully composed of white and red radicchio, puntarelle greens, juicy ripe pear, and shaved parmigiano, dressed with very fine olive oil. Then came a morsel of crispy potato and zucchini flowers oozing melted Taleggio cheese.

    Those fragrant white truffles were put to glorious use over fresh egg-rich tagliolini (market price)--the aroma carries across the room--while a heartier pasta was al dente rigatoni (below) with tomato, mushrooms and veal ragù ($30).

    Our entrees were a hefty grilled Prime ribeye steak with watercress and shaved parmigiano ($58), and  the crispiest roasted baby pork I’ve ever had--its skin almost like bacon--with herbs, crushed peppercorns, lemon and orange scent, served with broccoli di rape and spicy cherry peppers ($48).

    Obviously, we were full, but San Pietro makes splendid desserts, and the soft chocolate torta is outstanding.

    The huge wine list changes all the time, for Gerardo is always on the look-out for delectable new estate bottlings (his family also runs the first-rate San Pietro Wines & Spirits in Tuckahoe, NY).  Of course, all of the big-gun labels are on there, too.

San Pietro is  open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat.


120 West 55th Street (near Avenue of the Americas)

    Circo opened on West 55th Street near the Hilton Hotel and Ziegfeld  Theater 18 years ago, and the Maccioni family has always kept it true to their Tuscan roots. Indeed, many of the recipes are from the materfamilias, Egidiana (below), who casts a withering glance on any waiter or cook who has compromised her food, putting her trust in executive chef Alfio Longo, who hails from Pistoia. (The Maccionis also run the illustrious Le Cirque and the new Sirio Ristorante in NYC, as well as others around the world, with a brand new Circo in Abu Dhabi.)

    Up front stands one of the city’s finest maȋtre d’s, Bruno Dussin, a Venetian displaying half century of experience, obvious from his dress, his demeanor and his wit.  On most nights there is another of the Maccionis on hand—Marco, Mauro, Mario, Egidiana, perhaps even the patriarch, Sirio—to seal that extra sense of professionalism that is definitively both very Italian and very New York.

    The high-ceiling décor by Adam Tihany is themed to an Italian circus, with animal sculptures cavorting along with commedia dell’arte figures on circus tent motifs and rope ladders, with a spotlight on one wall.

    Circo’s menu is larger than what one usually thinks of in a trattoria, but all of it expresses the Maccionis’ love and flair for cucina rustica, beginning with La Signora’s thirty-vegetable soup ($11), on the menu since the beginning.  The buffalo mozzarella is the finest imported variety available, the prosciutto from Tuscany.

    The fried mixed seafood with zucchini, eggplant, lush marinara sauce, spicy aïoli and aromatic herbs ($19) is textbook perfect, but my favorite autumn dish is the soufflé of porcini mushrooms with a rich parmigiano fondue and truffles ($23).

    There are five pizzas on the menu, which seems a bit odd in a Tuscan restaurant, but they are good, the crust on the thin side.

    Pastas will always be the glory of Italian cuisine, and Circo’s show the enormous care the kitchen takes to marry texture and flavor in every forkful.  “Ravioli di Mamma Egi” are filled with bufala ricotta and spinach, then glossed with good butter and fresh sage ($23). Right now and through New Year’s, there is tortelli with butternut squash, mustard fruit, saba wine reduction, sage and a crumble of  amaretti cookies ($26). The tagliatelle verde alla bolognese ($26) is one of the most authentic in the city, while the risotto with radicchio and Taleggio cooked slowly in amarone red wine ($26) is outstanding. By the way, you may order two pastas, as a main course, for $32.

    You won’t find more lustrous, succulent Mediterranean sea bass in salt crust or with grilled, roasted vegetables ($37) than here, and the stuffed lobster “Riviera” style (right) with tagliolini carbonara ($44) is as sumptuous a dish as any on the menu.  They also do a true cacciucco alla Livornese , a Tuscan fish soup of prawns, calamari, octopus, monkfish, clams and mussels ($34). It’s one of the few Italian restaurants in America where I happily order the seafood.

    Among my favorite current main courses are the braised cheeks of Colorado-raised wagyu beef with a pumpkin puree, chestnuts, Tuscan kale and a chianti classico sauce ($32).  You’ll come no closer in Manhattan to the classic bistecca alla fiorentina ($43 per person) than the thick, quickly seared example at Circo, sliced in slabs, gorgeously rare inside.

    David Gomez’s desserts stay fairly simple—an excellent tiramisù and a very fine, sweet and tangy apple tart with fior di latte gelato. The Tuscan bomboloni donuts with marmalade are a very good item to share at meal’s end with a well-made espresso.

    The 400-label wine list is one of the best in the city for Italian bottlings, and there are plenty of wines under $50.

Circo is open Mon.-Fri. for lunch, nightly for dinner. The fixed price lunch is $28, at dinner $48. $42 pre-theater





By John Mariani

With autumn in full and chilly swing, I don’t much change the heft of the wines I drink as I do tilt towards more varietals, depending on what I’m eating.  Here are some I’ve been particularly delighted with over the past few weeks.

Quintodecimo Giallo d’Arles 2013 ($48)--This Campanian white wine producer from outside Naples makes this superb Greco di Tufo DOCG--a local varietal whose popularity has made for some mediocre exports. Quintodecimo’s shows far more structure and complexity, color and intensity than most. The name pays homage to the color of golden yellow preferred by Von Gogh during his time in Arles.  A very good wine with grilled seafood or a zuppa di pesce.

Dalzocchio Pinot Nero 2009 ($30)--This Italian pinot noir, made in Trentino by organic and biodynamic processes, from five acres of vineyard land in view of the Alps (below), is produced in small amounts of about 8,000 bottles to maintain integrity.  After being transferred to barriques, it undergoes élévage for about 18 months in 100% French oak and rests for a year before release. The result is a soft, nuanced wine with its own Italian, not French, character.  Right now it is ready to drink with a fine roast chicken.

Beronia Rioja 2010 ($16)--This “limited edition” made to celebrate this Spanish estate’s 40th anniversary is made from tempranillo, mazuelo and  graciano grapes harvested from its oldest vineyards.  At 14% alcohol it shows the power of the tempranillo varietal, with all its almond-like, rustic flavors and long finish, ideal with roast lamb on the grill.

Franciscan Estate Magnificat 2010 ($50)--At 14.5% alcohol, this Meritage-style blend of 78% cabernet sauvignon, 18% merlot and 4% petit verdot is blended, says the label, like the vinous equivalent of Bach’s 1733 “Magnificat in D Major.”  That’s fair enough, for this splendid, rich, very California-style cab shows levels of flavor like those of the five soloists in the musical piece. There’s spice entwined with plum notes and tannin, and it’s loosening up just fine right now, excellent with prime rib of beef and Yorkshire pudding for the holidays.

Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 667 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 ($55)--I am as loud a critic of Sonoma Valley’s overripe pinot noirs as I am a booster of its well-made, stylish examples like this rich, well balanced example at 14.5% alcohol. Bynum (now owned by Rodney Strong Vineyards) has long championed more refined pinot noirs, and the acid so often lacking in New World pinots is here with subtlety and charm, making this perfect for roast duck or goose.  Despite its youthfulness, it’s a pretty wine right now.

Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve Decima Aurea 2007 ($33)--Red wines from Veneto, with the exception of amarones, don’t get much attention because they tend to be fairly lightweight, like bardolino and valpolicella, and attempts at using Bordeaux varietals like merlot have been largely unimpressive.  But this merlot, from Gaetano Bertani, is outstanding, telescopic in its flavors as it travels over the palate to a lasting finish.  Seven years of age shows all the mellowness merlot has at its best, and this is certainly comparable to a very fine St. Émilion or Pomerol.  Drink with roast pork and apples.

Cable Bay SyrahWaiheke Island 2012 ($30)--Founded in 1998 on one of the loveliest islands in New Zealand, Cable Bay grows ten different varietals, including an award-winning chardonnay. I was enchanted with this full-bodied but stylish syrah (with 2 percent viognier), which at 14% alcohol proves that New Zealand can make syrahs with elegance and finesse, not blockbusting overripeness. It's a young bottling but delicious when I drank it; a year or two more of age will probably improve it further.

Underwood Pinot Gris 2013 ($6)--Pinot gris (the same as pinot grigio) has been so overproduced and oversupplied that its reputation is deservedly low.  Then along comes a screw-topped surprise out of Oregon from a small company called Union Wine.  It’s not a great white wine by a long shot, but it’s fruited without being cloyingly sweet, shows good acid, and—believe it or not—you can buy it in 375 ml aluminum cans! Slosh it down as an aperitif or with a bowl of pasta with butter and sage.

Domaine Fournier Sancerre Cuvée Silex 2012 ($35)--Sancerre is my favorite go-to white wine as an aperitif-and-first course choice, and Domaine Fournier's Silex is my favorite Sancerre.  While it shows its Loire Valley appellation proudly, it is the specific terroir that comes across as highly individualistic. The fermentation lasts three weeks, with no malolactioc, and the acid-mineral ratio is just perfect. I think it's the ideal expression of sauvignon blanc, and at $35, it's really a bargain.



 According to news station KSWO in Oklahoma City,  a woman named Kristi Rhines walked out on her bill, insisting to the El Cholo restaurant and police that her husband, Jesus Christ, would be arriving to pay the tab. After police confirmed that Rhines had no money to pay for her tab, she was arrested and booked  on fraud charges.



"Even the staff uniforms are artful: boys in matelot stripes straight from a Jean Paul Gaultier homoerotic ad, or wet-dream mechanics in boiler suits. Every now and then, a tiny person dressed as a French maid pops up, her sole role apparently to sweep the floors – a truly sisyphean task. This might be the most absurd restaurant in the UK, a Barbie-on-MDMA fantasy serving unintelligible food at prices to make your eyes water into matching pinkness. The bill comes in a sandpaper envelope; it might as well just say, “Ouch!” You’d probably hate it. Me? Well, darlings, I think it’s faahbulous. And hey, it’s art."--Marina O’Loughlin, "David Shrigley at Sketch," The Guardian (Oct. 24). 



Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners

by Cristina Mariani-May         
co-CEO of Banfi Vintners America's leading wine importer

    I know, I know.  Thanksgiving being the quintessential American holiday, we tend to want to reflect our American heritage and drink American wine.  Well, fellow wine lovers, I have some of Italy’s best American wines for you!

    Now I know that seems like a contradiction, but follow me on this.  Let’s take as an example something else near and dear to all gourmets, virtual or otherwise: the tomato.  It is native to the Americas; the conquistadors brought it to Spain in the 1500s and the royal Bourbon chefs brought it to the “Kingdom of Naples” in the 1600s.  Yet when we think of tomato based dishes, including sauces and salads, we think Italian.  So in essence the tomato has become Italian, but its roots – and its inspiration – are thoroughly American.
    Now take the case of wine, or at least one particular wine estate and its very American story.  My grandfather, John Mariani Sr., was an all-American boy, born in Torrington, CT to a successful Italian immigrant family.  As a young boy, he returned to his roots to study in Italy under the tutelage of his maiden aunt, Teodolinda Banfi, head of household for Achille Ratti; Ratti was the archbishop of Milan and both he and Teodolinda later did their own immigration of sorts to Vatican City when he was elected Pope Pius XI, but that’s a story for another time.
    My grandfather finished his studies and returned to the US in order to serve his country as it entered World War I.  After the war he settled in New York to found a wine importing business, taking advantage of the new peace and prosperity as well as some of his old world contacts.  He raised his children well and sent them to Ivy League schools so they were well equipped to take over the family business.  His sons John, Jr.  (my father, who also served in the US military) and Harry built the import trade up significantly; while always remembering their roots, they embraced the American ideal of self improvement.  When Italian wines did not meet up to their standards (or, more importantly, the standards of their customers and the critics of the wine world), they took matters into their own hands, a very American move but with great Italian sensitivity. 
    They put together an estate in an ideal spot in Tuscany, planted vines, built a winery and developed a label – all from scratch so as not to inherit anybody else’s mistakes.  They set new standards and quickly raised the bar for Italy and the broader world of fine wine with their accomplishments at Castello Banfi (right).     
    You can learn more about this great American story from our website,, but in the meantime you should celebrate American opportunity and inspiration by enjoying Castello Banfi wines with your Thanksgiving feast.  I can think of nothing more quintessentially American than that.
    Here are my personal top dozen Banfi wines for the Thanksgiving feast: 

La Pettegola – A bright, zesty wine from the Tuscan coast with clean fruit flavor and zippy acidity to welcome guests and kick off the festivities.  This delightfully well structured wine also has the character to follow through with the varied and complex flavors at the table.     

Principessa Gavia Gavi – From a single vineyard property in southern Piedmont, not far from the border of coastal Liguria.  Made from 100% Cortese grapes, this charming wine has  intriguing  crispness which exalts the fruitiness of this historic and noble wine. Named for an ancient noble woman, this wine is very lady like indeed, showing surprising nuances with each encounter and pairing.

Centine Bianco – A wine that, like most Italians, wears it heart on its sleeve – the fresh, grassy aroma belies the Sauvignon Blanc portion of this blend; smooth flavors of stone fruit such as peaches and apricots highlight the character of unoaked Tuscan Chardonnay, and it all closes with the crisp, clean, almond like finish that is the signature of Tuscan Pinot Grigio.  

Fontanelle Chardonnay – A more fruit-forward, fuller bodied and lush wine.  Fresh and harmonious with hints of apple, peach and apricot. Its balanced complexity is endowed in part from a small portion of the wine that is subtly fermented and aged in oak barrels. Unfiltered. 

Centine Rosé - A Delightful pink rosé with hints of woodland berries and a long, crisp finish.  Made from the same grapes as its sister red wine – Tuscany’s native Sangiovese dominates with supporting roles by Cabernet and Merlot.

L’Ardí Dolcetto d’Acqui – A lively and quaffable red wine made from Dolcetto grapes from Piedmont. Ruby colored and redolent of fresh grapes and ripe cherries, with a dry finish.  

Centine - A Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vinified in a firm, round style that easily accompanies a wide range of dishes. A smooth and fragrantly satisfying wine with international character.

BelnerO – A Sangiovese dominant wine that speaks eloquently with a sense of the place that is Montalcino.  Round, generous and deeply flavored, with zesty character that will make you thankful for its presence at the table.

Cum Laude – A complex and elegant red which graduated “With Honors,” characterized by aromas of juicy berries and fresh spices.  This wine, as its name implies, makes a bold statement, but its soft tannins will not dominate or overwhelm the meal.

Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino – The tangible result of years of intensive clonal research on Montalcino’s native Sangiovese grape.  Estate bottled from the vineyards surrounding the medieval Castello from which it takes its name.  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. 

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.  A deep, complex red wine with layers of flavor that continue to reveal themselves in a long finish. 

Rosa Regale - Aromatic with a hint of rose petals and raspberries, a unique sparkling ruby-red wine – great with savories and especially well suited to desserts, particularly chocolate. It is also delightful and festive icebreaker, and because the traditional Thanksgiving feast has such a broad range of flavors, Rosa Regale can keep charming company throughout the meal.  Also available in romantic 375ml half bottles, 187ml single serving or the 1.5L magnum for more generous sharing.

Cristina Mariani is not related by family or through business with John Mariani, publisher of this newsletter


I'm proud and happy to announce that my new book, The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books), has just been published through Amazon and Kindle.  It is a Christmas 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.

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

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: The Baltic; Courcheval, France.

Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;

MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk,  Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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© copyright John Mariani 2014