Virtual Gourmet

  December 24,  2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


"The Christmas Hamper" by Robert Braithwaite Martineau.



By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By Brian Freedman


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. 



By John Mariani

The Brasserie Terrace at Fouquet's Paris on the Champs Élysees


    One of Oscar Wilde’s characters observed, “When good Americans die, they go to Paris.” Which is sufficient reason for me to try to be one, for, if I must spend an eternity somewhere, I doubt I’d ever run out of things to see, hear, do or taste in Paris.  Indeed, it always strikes me that bad Americans who go to Paris and restrict their diet are like people who go to the movies and don’t buy popcorn. It’s really absurd.

    Meanwhile, I try to pack as much time on earth into visits to Paris and to dine from the top, where the cuisine can be sublime, to the bottom, where the food is usually wonderful, but not always. Two trips this year gave further proof of that, as well as to the proposition that you can get a bad meal in Paris, including at Alain Ducasse’s dreadful new Champeaux, set within the maze of modern banality that was once scruffy Les Halles. The restaurant looks like a cafeteria, the menu is a complete bore, and the food seems slung onto the plate from some assembly line.

    But enough of that. 




Hôtel Barrière Le Fouquet’s Paris

46 Avenue George V

+33 1-4069-6000


    For lunch, I chose a favorite venue from which my wife and I could watch the flow of Parisians and visitors walk slowly up and down the Champs Élysées, which always includes a line of Japanese women exiting the Louis Vuitton flagship store across the street.

    Fouquet’s Paris began in 1899, named after its owner, Louis Fouquet, who sought to attract well-to-do American tourists and knew the value of advertising “American Drinks & Cocktails.”
    The restaurant survived two World Wars, the Depression, changing fashions, persnickety landlords and, in the 1970s, a fading of the Champs Élysée’s chic. A new owner, Maurice Casanova, in 1976 added the identifying red and gold awnings, which now seem as much a part of the revived boulevard as any landmark in Paris. Now, since 2006 attached to the Hôtel Barrière, everything at Fouquet’s has undergone a total restoration, and Chef Pierre Gagnaire has been brought on to oversee the contemporary menus.

    An overcast day—pretty much a given in Paris in late October—did nothing to dampen our spirits at our table,  though two cigar smokers did.

    For 40 years Fouquet’s Paris has been host to the after party of the César film awards, so the interior dining room’s walls are lined with photos of actors and actresses, while just outside the restaurant a bronze plaque (right) in the ground lists many of the winners of the award. 

    The menu remains classic, with some modern flourishes. We began with a light lentil salad with poached egg and saucission (right), and I could hardly help ordering the onion soup au gratin, but I was disappointed because the soup’s cheese was not properly melted and its onions were only lightly caramelized.  Gagnaire’s input can be seen in novel dishes like sea scallops in coconut milk, and lobster ravioli in a foamy Nantua-like sauce. For dessert, the traditional profiterole (left) is not bettered by any in Paris.

    Our chilled bottle of rosé reminded me that, as the song says, “I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles.” And looking up the slight incline of the Champs Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe, I almost imagined seeing Anouk Aimée in the middle of the street and hearing that lovely lilting music from the film A Man and a Woman.






25 Rue du Dragon

+33 (0) 623 74 30 55


    On arriving in Paris this fall, my wife and I were in the mood for something new, so we headed to Cyril Lignac’s delightful year-old Le Bar des Prés, which is right next door to his two-year old modern bistro, Aux Pres. I’ve long admired Lignac’s cuisine at his upscale Le Quinzieme, and this new place expands upon his interest in global flavors.

     Le Bar des Pres is small, with a bustling bar and just a few tables along the wall. It gets a young crowd, yet, this being Paris, there is none of that ear-ringing cacophony you’d find at a comparable spot in New York City.  It’s one of those places that from the street looks like the coolest place in the neighborhood, in this case on the Left Bank in the 7th Arrondissement.

    The menu begins with two pages of specialty cocktails—unusual in Paris, and each only 5€ —then two more pages of regional wines, with several under 50€; then a two-page menu, skewered to Asia, especially Japan, so it begins with sashimi (an assortment is 24€;  sushi, six  pieces for 28€). These were certainly among the best examples of raw fish I’ve had in Paris—something I don’t usually seek out—with the same commitment to quality as in French dishes at Lignac’s other places.

     “To Share” dishes went from a warm tomato in vinaigrette caramelized with miso, avocado and croutons (18€) to Brittany lobster salad with figs, walnuts and sansho pepper (28€). Well-fatted chu-ton tuna was semi-cooked, dashed with ponzu sauce and a warm toasted sesame oil (20€), while a crispy pancake contained crab in a light Madras curry sauce with avocado and lime (22€).

    The flavors were tantalizing in each dish, the colors brilliant, and the devotion to complementary textures rife throughout.  Everything was beautifully, simply presented, the pacing of the meal was flawless, and everyone was clearly having a very happy time of it.

    Desserts follow the same line, by taking a traditional baba au rhum and giving it a dollop of Matcha green tea ice cream (12€); fresh, perfect raspberries cuddled in whipped cream and a coconut sorbet (11€), while Japanese tapioca came in coconut milk with pineapple confit scented with vanilla (11€). For something nostalgic there is a plate of rich profiteroles with vanilla and tonka beans and caramelize hazelnuts (11€).

    I don’t care a whit for what’s “hot” in any city, for it’s easy enough to tell that Le Bar des Prés is packed because people who know great sushi take every seat every night.





20 Rue de Surcouf

+33  1-4705-0901

  Every Parisian has a favorite neighborhood bistro, and in the area near Les Invalides, Au Petit Tonneau is mine.  Typical in its simple décor—small, narrow, with red-checkered tablecloths, vases of flowers, old tiles, a little shelf of books, a blackboard menu, and a jolly staff—this 80-year-old wonder makes old-fashioned fare that never seems old-fashioned at all.     You never have the feeling the kitchen, now under Chef Vincent Neveu, is just coasting or neglecting any aspect of its ingredients or preparation, from a sweet onion tart confit (below) on flakey pâte brisée with a generous shower of black truffles (20€) and a poêle of woodsy girolles mushrooms (20€) to a blanquette de  veau (24€) so rich and aromatic that I was reminded of the first example I ever ate in Paris, fifty years ago. 

    Bass came with a lovely herbaceous sauce vièrge (24€) and a hint of curry.  Desserts were very traditional—a tangy lemon tarte (below) and a not-too-sweet tarte Tatin of caramelized apples.

    According to Paris food writer Alexander Lobrano, “Obliged to sell by poor health, Au Petit Tonneau’s chef owner Ginette Boyer was determined to sell to a woman, because she hoped to preserve the legacy of the cuisine menagère (home cooking) that had won her a devoted following of local regulars through the years. In the end, Arlette Iga, a client of the restaurant, decided to buy, and she’s respecting Boyer’s wishes by serving the type of uber traditional French comfort food that’s become nearly extinct in Paris.”

    There is a polished brass plaque on the wall (just above the banquette in the photo above) that tells you Jules Maigret, the gourmand detective in many of the Georges Simenon novels, dined here often, if fictitiously, just as Sam Spade did at John’s Grill in San Francisco in The Maltese Falcon.

    By the way, there is at least one other restaurant in Paris with the word “tonneau” (barrel) in it, but the one on the Rue de Surcouf is the only one that matters.

    There is a 37€ fixed price dinner offered in addition to à la carte.





Mandarin Oriental Paris Hôtel

251 Rue Saint Honoré

+33 (0) 1-7098-7400


    The Mandarin Oriental Paris near Place Vendôme takes a very modern tack in its décor, which gives its dining room, Camélia, a look that might resemble the commissary on the Starship Enterprise—white chairs on white tile floors and white floors, white amoeba-shaped ceiling panels,  huge white flower petal shapes behind the banquettes, white flowers and recessed ceiling lights.

    There is a Japanese element to Chef Thierry Marx’s composed dishes on rustic ceramics. Portions are not lavish and prices high, as with “La Saint-Jacques,” meaning one large seared scallop with artichokes (62€). Leeks cooked in foil so as to steam came cold atop romaine lettuce with a truffled vinaigrette (32€), and an onion Roscoff (right) was set into a modernist foam sauce with a duxelle of mushrooms  (29€).  More substantial was suckling pig with  sesame, maki wasabi mayonnaise (46€), and a  dish of succulent chicken with coffee-infused parsnip and honeyed gravy (56€). The best of the desserts tried was a gâteau St. Honoré.
    There is an extensive list of wines by the glass, starting at 13€; otherwise bottle prices are expensive.

   Camélia is the more casual restaurant at the hotel, with Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx the gourmet room.
     In warm weather, the garden is where you want to sit, sip some Champagne and wile away the afternoon.
    There is a 78€ "Shopping Lunch," a tea time menu and Sunday brunch is 108€.



By John Mariani

99 East 52nd Street

Sometimes you can try so hard at something and still come out looking quite inept. 
So it is with The Grill, whose unique beauty—dating back to 1959, when it was called The Four Seasons—gained rare landmark status, meaning the new owners could not so much as put a tack into a wall.

    Having so much grandeur to work with, the owners, along with the Major Food Group’s partner/chefs Rick Torrisi, Mario Carbone and partner Jeff Zalaznick, have pulled out all the stops in a gamble that seeks to bring back the fine dining era of the 1960s, while upgrading every item on the menu.  Ironically, none of the partners was even born back then and none has any first-hand knowledge of the time. And, they have not, in any way, succeeded in replicating those days.

    Lest anyone suspect my writing a social history of The Four Seasons  20 years ago colors my current reaction to The Grill, the former was never among my favorite restaurants in New York City, except for that spectacular interior and its enormous influence on fine dining in America. It was where the Power Lunch was created, with every table in the Grill taken every day at lunch by NYC’s media, show biz and political titans. It was a place to take one’s out-of-town friends for elegantly presented—often tableside prepared—fare that was always consistently good, though rarely exquisite.  And it cost a royal fortune to eat there.

    It still does but, as they say, you can’t eat the furniture.  You can bask in the ambiance and look for celebrities, but the reason most people go to a restaurant is for the food. Little I tasted at The Grill would make me return.  There is much pizzazz but not much good taste. Tableside service has returned, but it’s nothing like what you’d expect: A $10,000 silver duck press (never much used in NYC restaurants) is employed by a single server to make parts of a duck and bacon fat into a bland sauce that is poured over tagliatelle noodles to no savory effect ($29) (right).  More on the roast beef rolling cart in a moment.

    As you walk into the former Four Seasons restaurant—The Grill is set down a hallway from the even grander Pool Room, which I wrote about a few weeks back—you face four pleasant greeters in the white marble-clad, rather cold lobby. The host station used to be at the top of the stairs, where it makes sense. At the top of that grand staircase is a splendid bar to the right, overhung with a famous Richard Lippold sculpture of gold rods. As of 6 p.m. it gets very loud there, not helped by the intrusion of wholly unnecessary music from the Fifties and Sixties.  When the bar crowd staggers out around seven, things quiet down a little. But the lighting in the dining room is much lower than it used to be, so that all hopes of spotting someone of any note is dimmed.

    I doubt you’ll find a better trained staff in NYC, though it’s difficult to figure out who does what. There seems to be no maître d’ per se, though there are figures in Tom Ford tuxedos and others in waiters’ or busboys’ jackets, then those two people who run the tableside service, someone who seems to be the sommelier, and assorted others who rush frantically about the room.  But they are knowledgeable and gracious, happy to discuss a menu that needs a lot of explanation.  God knows how many times a night a waiter needs to launch into an inane story about how JFK on his birthday at The Four Seasons was serenaded by Marilyn Monroe but just asked for what is now called “Jack’s Pie” on the menu.  “Pheasant Claiborne” would seem to be named after the late NY Times food critic Craig Claiborne, but it’s never satisfactorily explained.

    There is a chef’s buffet offered nightly and a selection of chilled crustaceans, along with items like house-cured salmon ($24), pickled sardines ($21), and crudités $23). One of the best dishes I had was the tangy cauliflower piccalilli.  A wild mushroom omelet ($25) is prepared tableside, which is odd when you have a buffet cook nearby.  Marvelous rolls come warm to the table but the only butter you get is compounded with ingredients.

    Crab Louis ($29) is a salad of crab and hard-boiled egg (left) formulated on the West Coast before World War I—Louis has never been convincingly identified—that has acquired avocado at The Grill and emerges looking like a ladies’ luncheon plate at a country club. A dish of fresh, seared foie gras with onions ($32) was very disappointing, because it was sinewy, suggesting it might be grade B or C liver (right, shown with shared chicken).  Like most dishes at The Grill, it was very salty, as was the Seagram Crabcake ($36), topped with a crisp potato layer, which at these prices should have been composed entirely of jumbo or colossal lump crab.

    Triple lamb chops with curried flavors and mint jelly ($59) were fine, best enjoyed with the hash brown potatoes ($12).  Bay scallops were good to find on the menu, but they were served at room temperature when a quick sauté would have improved their flavor.

    As for that rolling serving cart (below), which was once a staple of old line French restaurants, it was good to see it back.  Much has been written about how the chefs pondered how to improve the cooking of prime rib, which too often emerges steamy on the plate.  Their solution was to cut off the bone, slowly barbecue, then bring it back for service with a slab of nicely marbled roast beef ($65)—a very good idea, because that bone is the very best thing I had that evening, a succulent, mustard-flavored, crusted beauty to gnaw on. The problem is that that crust is, yet again, powerfully salty, as is the rim of fat around the smoky beef, rendering it close to inedible.  For the record, no one at our table of four finished their slice of beef, which tasted closer to pastrami than to Prime rib (below).

    Possibly the most retro thing at The Grill is the desserts ($15), which might well have shown up at any continental restaurant in the U.S. back in 1965—including a way-too-sweet grasshopper Charlotte, which looks like a Carvel birthday cake and needs a stake in its heart forever.

    The wine list is exemplary and wide-ranging, though trying to find a bottle under $150 is tough. Most cocktails are $18, oddly enough not the highest in town. Offering dozens of vintages of Château d'Yquem Sauternes is very odd indeed, since so few people ever drink Sauternes anymore. Especially when they run several hundred dollars a bottle.

    By the way, though not unusual these days, there is absolutely no dress code at The Grill or The Pool. In the past, The Four Seasons offered an array of blazers for gentlemen who arrived in shirtsleeves; now, in a place of such sophisticated grandeur, you may well be sitting next to a table of guys who look like they just came off the set of a Seth Rogen movie.

    The Major Food Group has tried hard but has not delivered on its extravagant dream to place The Grill and The Pool among of NYC’s great restaurants.  That is not entirely surprising, for Torrisi and Carbone, who have enormous chutzpah to match their considerable talent and foodie media idolatry,  have never actually operated anything on this grand scale before. They began with a charmingly modest little Italian-American spot named Torrisi (now closed), then several sandwich shops called Parm, a flagrantly expensive Italian throwback called Carbone, ZZ’s clam bar, a bistro with the off-putting name Dirty French, even a Japanese brasserie named The Lobster Club.  So the leap from those to remaking The Four Seasons is like the gang on Pawn Stars opening an Old Masters art gallery, or Miley Cyrus singing Carmen.  Easier dreamt than done.

    One last thing, if you can find the restaurant’s phone number—it’s not on its website!—212-375-9001—you’ll get the recorded voice of a woman with a curious British accent who says you cannot book a reservation by phone, only through Open Table.  I’d expect that from a casino-based branch restaurant in Vegas, but not in a restaurant striving to epitomize NYC hospitality in 2017.


Open daily for lunch and dinner.



By Brian Freedman

Mount Brave Vineyards

        The days of American Merlot struggling for respectability are, thankfully, in the past.
    Consumers at retail and guests of restaurants are increasingly spending their money on what, in the right hands in the vineyard and winery, has the potential to be one of America’s vinous calling cards. Just last month, in fact, Wine Spectator announced its Wine of the Year: The Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2013, a glorious wine that I wish I had more than one bottle of in my personal cellar, the better to follow its evolution over the next several decades.

    There is, of course, no single style of American Merlot, just as there is no quintessential American accent, culinary tradition or political affiliation. Indeed, even within individual regions or appellations, the range of styles can be tremendous, depending on drainage, aspect, wind and what precisely happened in that particular patch of the planet 250 million years ago that impacts the exact nature of the soil even today. Just tasting through the marvelous single vineyard Merlots from Duckhorn, or pouring the La Jota and Mt. Brave Merlots side-by-side—both crafted by the same deeply talented and dedicated winemaker, Chris Carpenter (right), from totally different terroirs—is enough to prove that. They’re also enough to prove just how fascinating and delicious American Merlot can be when treated with the respect it so richly deserves.

    For all of this range of American Merlot possibilities, however, I have found that the best of them typically boast generous fruit, a hint of herb or tobacco in the background, and a sense of structure that, while perhaps less monumental in general than the top Napa Cabernets, still provides the scaffolding for the best of them to age for many years—and sometimes decades—in the cellar in top vintages.

    As these wines continue to gain traction, consumers should expect them to keep getting better for reasons of simple economics: As the wines improve, and as their reputations (and therefore prices) continue to catch up with their already high quality, better and better land will be given over to Merlot, which will increase quality even further, inflate prices higher, increase American Merlot prestige, and on and on the positive feedback loop will spin.

    Right now, however, there is no shortage of world-class Merlot being produced all over the United States, and often at prices that, given the pleasure they offer now as well as their potential longevity, are beyond fair. Here are seven of my favorites, listed alphabetically, either varietally-labeled Merlot or blends based on the grape. Any one of them would be a more than welcome addition to the cellar or the dinner table, during the holiday season and well beyond.


Broadside Merlot Margarita Vineyard 2013 Paso Robles ($13).

Lush and perfumed nose, with spice, sandalwood, and a hint of incense, turning to flavors of kirsch, cassis, chocolate, and espresso. Drink now to 2022.


Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards “The Blue Note” 2012 Malibu Coast ($45).

A blend of 44% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. Gobs of crème de cassis and kirsch define the liqueur-like nose. The palate boasts sweet fruit that remains in balance, with fig pudding, game-meat carpaccio, and a hint of flowers on the finish. Excellent with slow-braised meats this winter. Drink now to 2021.


Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot 2014 Carneros ($37).

Serious Merlot, with a tar-like edge of aromatic savoriness to the black cherry, cherry liqueur, and vanilla pod. On the palate, this is plush and giving, with chocolate, black cherries enrobed in ganache, a hint of coffee, and violets, especially on the finish. Drink now to 2024+.


La Jota Vineyard Co. Merlot 2014 Howell Mountain ($84).

Brilliant, generous nose of wild strawberry, dark berries, and sweet oak spice, and a palate that is still in its youth, yet already showing cherry, flowers, and vanilla crème brûlée, all framed with the minerality you’d expect from such high-quality mountain fruit. The structure and long, balanced finish promise a decade and a half of evolution. Drink now to 2033.


Mt. Brave Merlot 2014 Mt. Veeder ($85).

An entire field of mountain berries is zipped through with mineral on the nose, and there is a hint of Chinese five spice peeking through it all. On the palate, this is impeccably structured and defined by its minerality, as well as currant, mulberry, cherry, plum pit, and spice, electrified with excellent acidity. Fantastic now with a stint in the decanter, but I’d hold onto it for a few more years. Drink 2020 to 2042.


Stinson Vineyards Meritage 2014 Monticello ($32). A blend of 46% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 12% Petit Verdot. Lots of red cherry and fresh raspberry on the nose, with a touch of well-integrated oak, and a silky palate of fruit and spice, more of that cherry, and a bit of tobacco-flecked vanilla. The finish is more savory than expected, and complicated by a delicious licorice note. Drink now to 2022+.


Switchback Ridge Peterson Family Vineyard Merlot 2012 Napa Valley ($55).

This has started down the road toward maturity with a real sense of elegance, the aromas of sweet exotic spice and cigar humidor, as well as dried figs and plums, all turn to a palate sweetly fruited and generous, with roasting coffee beans, dark and dusty chocolate, a hint of wild strawberries and dark cherries, cinnamon, and a touch of clove. Drink now to 2022.



Before passing away at the age of 75, Richard Lussi of Philadelphia asked to be buried with two 
Philly cheesesteaks from Pat’s King of Steaks.  The day before the funeral, his son John, grandson Dominic, and two of John’s friends drove to Philadelphia to pick up the sandwiches, and the   funeral director instructed him to wait to place the sandwiches in the casket “because people would take them.”


A Pakistan woman named Aasia Bibi (not the woman in the photo) forced to marry a man against her will tried to escape her fate by poisoning her new husband, but instead  accidentally caused the deaths of 16 other people. Apparently a few days before the wedding, Bibi allegedly poisoned a glass of milk intended for her husband, but it was instead used by his mother to make yogurt lassi for  27 members of their extended family. Seventeen people have died so far.  Bibi and her boyfriend were arrested on murder charges. Bibi told the court that her husband had been her only target, and she regretted the deaths of the other guests.




Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners



   Wine is a joy year-round but around the holidays 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. 

    From mid-September through mid-October, the Sangiovese grown for our various styles of red wines are be harvested, culminating with the top selection for Brunello di Montalcino.

    Second, cooler weather here means it is time to start enjoying more red wines and especially Sangiovese based wines.  That includes Banfi’s cru of Brunello, Poggio alle Mura, literally the cream of the crop of our Sangiovese vineyards. Alongside our Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino, this year we introduced two more wines from the cru Poggio alle Mura – a Rosso di Montalcino and a Riserva of Brunello.  Rosso is sort of like the younger brother of Brunello, also made from 100% Sangiovese grapes but usually a selection from younger vines and the wine is aged only two years compared to the four required for Brunello.  The Riserva, on the other hand, is an even more selective harvest of Sangiovese, and ages for an additional year before release.

    What is so special about this cru Poggio alle Mura?  Well, it is the result our over 30 years of ongoing research at my family’s vineyard estate, Castello Banfi.  When we first began planting our vines there in the late 1970s studies from the University of Bordeaux indicated which strains of many varietals we should plant, based on the soil type and microclimate of each vineyard.  But when it came to the region’s native Sangiovese, there was only local lore, no scientific research.  So we took it upon ourselves to figure out this vine, and set off on three decades of incredibly detailed research. 

    We started with 600 apparent variations on Sangiovese, because it is so susceptible to variations in weather and soil, and narrowed that down to 160 truly genetically different clones.  We planted a vineyard with two rows of each type, made wine from each of them, and charted the differences – remember, you only get one chance a year to make wine, so this took time. 

    It took about ten years to get some concrete results, though we continue to experiment today and always will – you never stop learning in science and nature!  Once we determined which were the best, complementary clones that could be planted together to make the best Brunello, we chose to plant them in what we determined to be the optimal vineyard sites.  Coincidentally, the best soils and climate conditions are in the slopes surrounding the medieval fortress today known as Castello Banfi, known since Etruscan times as Poggio alle Mura – the walled hilltop.  Hence the name of our most special “cru” of Brunello, representing a synthesis between tradition and innovation.

    Though the focus of this study was our Brunello, all of our Sangiovese-based wines, including the super Tuscans SummuS, Cum Laude, and Centine, 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.  The Brunello di Montalcino is seductive, silky and smoky.  Deep ruby in color with an expressive bouquet of violets, fruits and berries as well as cigar box, cedar and exotic spices. The Rosso di Montalcino is also intense ruby red.  The bouquet is fresh and fruity with typical varietal notes of cherry and blackberry, enriched by more complex hints of licorice, tobacco and hazelnut.  It is full bodied, yet with a soft structure, and a surprisingly long finish. The Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is deep ruby red with garnet reflections and a rich, ample bouquet that hints of prune jam, coffee, cacao and a light balsamic note.  It is full and powerful, with ripe and gentle tannins that make it velvety and harmonious; this wine is supported by a pleasing minerality that to me speaks soundly of that special hillside in southern Montalcino.

SummuS – A wine of towering elegance, SummuS is an extraordinary blend of Sangiovese which contributes body; Cabernet Sauvignon for fruit and structure; and Syrah for elegance, character and a fruity bouquet.  An elegant, complex and harmonious red wine. 

Cum Laude – A complex and elegant red which graduated “With Honors,” characterized by aromas of juicy berries and fresh spices.


Centine – A Cuvee that is more than half Sangiovese, the balanced consisting of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Vinified in a firm, round style that easily accompanies a wide range of dishes, this is a smooth and fragrantly satisfying wine with international character, and a perennial favorite at my own dinner table. 

Banfi Chianti Superiore – The “Superiore” designation signifies stricter government regulations regarding production and aging requirements, as compared to regular Chianti.  An intense ruby red wine with fruit forward aromas and floral notes.  This is a round wine with well-balanced acidity and fruit.

Banfi Chianti Classico – An enduring classic: alluring bouquet of black fruit and violets; rich flavors of cherry and leather; supple tannins and good acidity for dining. 

Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva – Produced from select grapes grown in the "Classico" region of Chianti, this dry, fruity and well-balanced red has a full bouquet reminiscent of violets.

Fonte alla Selva Chianti Classico – This is our newest entry into the Chianti arena, coming from a 99 acre estate in Castellina, the heart of the Chianti Classico region.  The wine is a captivating mauve red that smells of cherry, plum and blackberry with hints of spice.  It is round, full and balanced with very good acidity.  

Col di Sasso – Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Luscious, complex and soft with persistent notes of fruit and great Italian style structure.



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

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,  The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to four excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  THIS WEEK:

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


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, Geoff Kalish, Mort Hochstein, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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