Virtual Gourmet

  July 8,  2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Ralph Bellamy, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russel in "His Girl Friday" (1940)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John A. Curtas



By John Mariani


My best impression of Portland on my visit last month was that it hasn’t changed much in the past five years. That is all very much to the good, for I feared that Portland might have begun to morph into Seattle, now irredeemable from developers who think that unbridled expansion and growth is a good thing. For developers.

     I am a bit queasy about the reports that 18 new hotels will be opening in Portland in the next two years, but for the time being Portland still remains a laid back (dreadful word) city with plenty of good restaurants of every stripe, which include more than 600 food trucks arrayed in neighborhood “pods” along Fifth Avenue, Third Avenue, Mississippi Market and Portland State University.  Some are open for breakfast, but when night crawlers’ munchies hit, Cartopia along Hawthorne Avenue (right) is the pod where they satisfy their cravings at places like Perierra Crêperie, Chicken and Guns, El Brasero and Pyro Pizza.


527 SW 12th Avenue

Photos by John Valls

    Arriving midday on a Sunday in Portland, I was faced with little choice other than predictable brunch options, so I was relieved to find the darling Agnes Bistro serving a full-fledged and very hearty lunch service.  (I did indulge in a brunch-y Bloody Mary, if only to swat away some of the jetlag after a delayed flight from New York.)
    Bistro Agnes, opened in January, is owned by Greg Denton (below) and his wife, Gabrielle  Quiñónez Denton, who met at Terra in Napa Valley, then moved farther west, including a stint on Maui, eventually to open the much-acclaimed Argentinean grill Ox Restaurant in Portland.
    Agnes was Greg’s beautiful grandmother, whose photo adorns the menus at the two-room bi-level restaurant with a bright open kitchen. The place definitely has the look of a modern bistro in France, with brass railings above the banquettes, teal green walls, tile floors and French posters. Greg is in and out of the kitchen chatting with his guests, and the service staff is as attractive as they are eager to please.
    The menu is resolutely French bistro style, so you’ll pop the black pepper gougères puff pastry balls in your mouth along with olives and pickles ($10) and be on your way to a fine meal. You’ll not find a better, hotter, bubblier, cheese-rich onion soup gratinée than here, piled with browned and melted aromatic Gruyère atop thyme croutons ($13).  So, too, the terrine of foie gras with its Sauternes rendered jelly and warm brioche is textbook perfect. Way more out of the ordinary is the pig’s head croquette laced with sauce gribiche ($10).
    My main courses included a coq au vin braised in red wine, with lots of meaty chicken pieces suffused with red wine and swimming with lardoons of bacon, Parisian mushrooms and buttered new potatoes ($24). And what would a good bistro be without a very good steak frites—twelve marbled ounces of it, beautifully charred and chewy medium rare inside, though a tad salty, lavished with a sauce Bearnaise and served with superb French fries ($38)?  My only disappointment was a croque monsieur sandwich ($11 at lunch), which came with the wrong kind of bread and a magma of bland Mornay cheese sauce; this needs re-working.  I’d also like to see more seafood on the menu.
    There are spots of chocolate on the paper menu I took with me at Agnes, from a delicious malted chocolate mousse with crème Chantilly and crunchy chocolate cereal bits called perles croquantes ($9) and big puffed up profiteroles with vanilla ice cream ($9). I also loved a lemon tart with perfectly ripe sweet strawberries of the season ($9).
    Agnes’s wine list is oddly short, amplified by beers and ciders. Next door is KASK, the Dentons’ craft cocktail bar.

Open for lunch and dinner daily.

fter lunch at Agnes I felt revived from my jetlag stupor but a little sleepy from the wine, so I checked into the finely transformed Sentinel Hotel and promptly fell into a nap of sheer contentment.
That evening I stopped at the hotel’s sleek new Domaine Serene Lounge (right), opened by the winery of the same name in the Willamette Valley, which was pretty packed both with guests and locals trying to be heard over the din of a modest duo with a lot to be modest about.


1001 SW Broadway (at the Heathman Hotel)

    Afterwards I walked a few blocks to Headwaters, a fine two-year old restaurant in the historic Heathman Hotel. While wholly re-configured, the space recalled where a generation ago Chef Philippe Boulot really put Portland’s dining scene on the map (he’s now chef at the prestigious Multnomah Athletic Club).  So it’s a good thing the new incarnation is in the hands of one of the city’s most admired chefs, Vitaly Paley (he’s also owner) along with his wife, Kimberly, and manager, Garrett Peck. The Paleys opened Paley’s Place in 1995, which was one of the first modern restaurants of the nineties. Executive Chef Tim Eckard, whose work I knew at Jory at The Allison Inn  in the wine country, runs the daily operations at Headwaters.
    It’s a big space, more or less one room on two levels with a silvery bar and a shining open kitchen, the ferns hung on somber distressed concrete pillars. 
    Headwaters is perhaps Oregon’s most rigorously focused restaurant insofar as obtaining Pacific Northwest ingredients, and within its formidable global winelist you’ll find the very best and some of the rarest West Coast wines from Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho.
    The menu is just large enough to be both manageable and expansive, so you begin with offerings from the Sea Bar that include an array of shellfish—the seafood tower ($45 and $86) is mounted with oysters, daily ceviche, smoked mussels shots, Dungeness crab and much more, with their assorted sauces. The smoked fish platter of kippered King salmon, sturgeon pastrami, smoked sable fish and smoked herring schmear ($17) is justifiably one of the most popular starters, and the kitchen makes a bright ahi tuna poke ($15). An avocado mousse (above)is topped with flowers and radiantly colorful.
    I was delighted with a Dungeness crab cake with rhubarb, pea vine and popped sorghum ($19), and the hand-rolled fettuccine past with spring peas, morels and a Parmesan cream  ($18 and $29) was as delicious a pasta as I’ve had in the west.
    “From the Sea” came dayboat halibut with carrot and hazelnut romesco, roasted white onions and an allium salad ($34), all coming together to ennoble the  mild fish itself.
    If you’ve never tasted Columbia River spring Chinook salmon ($48), try it at Headwaters—when it’s available seasonally—and you’ll never go back to farm-raised salmon again. Its delicacy is equaled only by its rich fat content, and the chef uses an old Indian method of cooking it on a cedar plank, giving it a light smoke, served with a luscious hollandaise.
    Sad to say that a seafood paella with shellfish and rice scented with saffron ($24) had very little flavor. But spit-roasted half chicken ($23) is a great bargain for a juicy, crisp-skinned bird with heirloom grain salad and vegetables, stinging nettle yogurt and pickled green strawberries with a rhubarb glaze—an outstanding amalgam of first-rate ingredients that might have overpowered the chicken but instead only enhanced it.
    Megan Jean makes serious desserts, including a strawberry cheesecake with a tangy-sweet rhubarb coulis and unusual pink peppercorn tuile. It’s supposedly based on an old Russian technique called toplyonoye moloko, where milk is slowly baked in a brick oven until it is light caramel in color.
    The Paleys are justly proud of their lavish Russian Tea Service, too (left).
    Everybody at Headwaters works very hard to epitomize the relaxed character of their city without any of the forced silliness the TV show “Portlandia” mocks.  Headwaters is a serious restaurant whose culinary traditions and commitment to the best provender is a reminder that ingredients come first and a respect for them comes right after it.

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.


By John Mariani


2342 Arthur Avenue (near 187th Street)



  Southern Italian-American food, I read, is making a comeback, despite the fact that it has never been away. Yet, driven by endless articles about new, “authentic” pizzerias, the food media seem suddenly aware that Italian-American cooking has for more than a century been built on solid foundations of Neapolitan, Calabrian, Abruzzese and Sicilian tweaked by the immigrants who had to adapt their native dishes to East Coast American markets.
    There was no buffalo milk in New York, so mozzarella was made from cow’s milk. Cattle breeds were different, as were seafood species.  A North Atlantic lobster is a much larger, meatier critter than a puny Mediterranean lobster, the crabs of the Midatlantic coastline are fatter and sweeter than their European counterparts and the beautiful red snapper does not swim in the Aegean.
    It’s a long story, which took two books for me to cover adequately, and there’s a whole lot more to Italian-American food than the so-called “red sauce,” or “gravy,”—condiments, along with pizza, almost unknown in Northern Italy until after World War II.  The best thing to happen to Italian-American food—indeed to all American food—was the improvement and supply of better and better ingredients, which now include extra virgin olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, funghi porcini, white truffles and great Italian wines that no American cook had access to even thirty years ago.
    So, if there’s a renaissance of Italian-American cuisine, it is as much at well-established places like Mario’s, opened a century ago, in the Arthur Avenue neighborhood of the Bronx, as at trendy new spots in Williamsburg and Chelsea.  Opened as a pizza window shop and expanded into a full-service restaurant in the 1930s, Mario’s is still run by the Miglucci family, whose fifth generation members are always there to maintain its unwavering consistency. Today Joe and his wife, Barbara, and their daughter, Regina, run the restaurant, whose pillared archways, heavily varnished Neapolitan landscapes, photos of family and celebrated patrons are maintained decade after decade. There are still double tablecloths, long banquettes, good lighting and carts are still wheeled from the kitchen brimming with pizzas, cold and hot antipasti, steaming pastas, generous main courses and old-fashioned dessert.  The wine list has never been much to rave about, but the bottlings are all decently priced.
    The menu has been shortened a bit in recent years, which is all to the good so that the kitchen can focus on freshness every day, including its nonpareil tomato and meat sauces.  And no one I have ever taken to or sent to Mario’s has ever come away without a deep admiration for the perfectly cooked Neapolitan-style pizzas, with their crisp corona, black bubbles of dough and an amalgam of seasoned sauce, melted mozzarella and basil that perfumes the room whenever it’s brought to the table.
    You sit down to a big basket of warmed seeded Italian bread and a dish of chile-spiked marinated carrots (left). My favorite antipasti include golden brown fried calamari ($13.50), luscious eggplant rollatine, the cold octopus salad ($12.50) and the piping hot spiedini all romana ($10) of skewered mozzarella and bread slices in an egg batter, served with anchovy or tomato sauce in a portion big enough for two. The escarole in brodo ($8) and stracciatella egg drop soup ($8) are based on a strong stock.
    It’s difficult to single out a pasta among the marvelous array, from simple spaghetti and meatballs to light potato gnocchi ($16.75), from the garlicky linguine with small vongole clams in the shell ($18.50) to rigatoni with sausage and broccoli di rabe ($16.75). The manicotti comes from the great Borgatti fresh pasta shop around the corner and served with tomato or marinara ($13). My own favorite is the macaroni layered with eggplant and mozzarella alla Siciliana (left) then lightly baked, all of it fusing together in a mass of sweet, gooey goodness ($16.50). 

    As in Italy, main courses are best kept simple at Mario’s: Superlative eat-with-your-fingers lamb chops ($25); a big platter of veal chop ($35.25); broiled calf’s liver ($23.50); peppery chicken alla scarpariello ($22.50) and one of the best chicken alla parmigiana ($22.50) renditions you’ll ever come across.
    For seafood, my favorites are the chile-hot lobster fra diavolo ($34.75); the simply grilled langoustines (when available); and a buttery filet of the fish of the day.
    I’d like to report the desserts are made in-house, but the ones brought in are fairly standard and of good quality. Espresso, if asked for “short,” will make you very happy with the dense, foam-topped results.
    When Mario’s is very busy the evidence of people thoroughly enjoying themselves over wonderful food is palpable, but it never gets too loud. When it is not so busy, Mario’s is a place to thoroughly relax, take your time, schmooze with the folks at the next table, have an aperitif and nibble on a pizza with a bottle of Chianti. You might order too much and you’ll probably take food home.  And you’ll never leave Mario’s without a member of the family coming over to make sure you enjoyed your meal. It’s the kind of enduring benevolence that seems so often absent from the trendy new Italian restaurants and pizzerias around town where people are rushed in, rushed out, with a “who-gets-what?” attitude and a stiff bill at the end.

    Mario’s has been honing its food and its ambiance for a century. Somewhere around the 1980s they got it all just right, and I hope it sets a civilized example for anyone who wants to know what the Italian-American restaurant should be.


Open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sun.



By John A. Curtas

                                                                                Bonollo Distillery in Torrita di Siena

    Grappa has an image problem. As the old joke goes, tell someone you bought a bottle of grappa on a motor trip through Italy, and they'll ask you if you got a second one to re-fuel your car.
    "Harsh," "rocket fuel," "great for stripping paint," are but a few of the insults heaped upon grappa over the years, and, to be honest about it, much of what was distilled for most of the 20th century fit the descriptors. There is no doubt that grappa was low born—it is said to have been used by peasant farm workers to warm them up and dull the pain of their daily grind in the fields—but there's been a new wave afoot for a few decades now, and what is showing up on shelves and wine lists (in Italy and elsewhere) reflects a maturity of spirit that can be as compelling and complex as any eau de vie or brandy.
    My introduction to high-quality grappa occurred fifteen years ago, by happenstance at the end of a meal at the Ristorante Sabatini in Trastevere (left). Having seen the beautiful bottles on the grappa cart as we entered, my party of three wanted to try three different ones. But the language barrier being what it was, all our waiter heard was that the three of us each wanted to sample three different grappas. Before we knew what was happening, nine different bottles appeared on the table. A lot of amusing consternation followed, which ended with us happily agreeing to try the entire array. As the saying goes: When in Rome. . . .  Nine sips later, each of us was hooked, and now I can't think of ending an Italian meal any other way.
    Grappa is Italy's contribution to what are called pomace brandies—spirits distilled from the pomace (leftover seeds, pulp and skins) of the winemaking process.  Arabs may have invented the distillation process almost two thousand years ago (right), but it is in prominent wine regions of the world where these spirits have achieved pre-eminence. Every French wine-producing region has its distinctive marc,  as does Spain, where it's called orujo, and Greece, tsipouro. By way of contrast, German schnapps and Alsatian eau de vie are made from the juice or mash of culinary fruits, while brandy is distilled directly from wine—the fermented fruit juice of grapes.
    Like all digestives, grappa is usually taken at the end of a meal, although some Italians like to spike their morning espresso with a shot of the stuff, to make what is called caffé corretto ("corrected coffee").
    Grappa's evolution from hoi polloi hooch to respected sipping for the landed gentry started in northern Italy after World War II.  Italy's first distillery was set up in 1779 in the Venetian town now known as Bassano del Grappa. But grappa didn't go upscale until the 1960s, when, as part of Italy's postwar resurgence, Benito Nonino popularized the use of a discontinuous still (also known as batch distillation) and began making single varietal grappas that contributed a sophisticated kick to the Italian food that was then conquering the globe.
    To make a fine grappa, one first acquires the freshest possible pomace and distills it as soon as possible so that no aromatics are lost. The distillation is done in a discontinuous still to preserve as much character from these single varietal, small batches as possible. Then the cut of the distillation is narrowed as much as possible (eliminating the "heads" and the "tails" which contain impurities) to maximize bouquet and minimize bitterness. Narrowing all of these parameters limits the yield while raising quality, resulting in a refined product whose cost belies its humble origins.
    Because of early pioneers like Giannola Nonino (below with his family) and Jacopo Poli, grappa has now taken its rightful place at the digestivo table, and excellent grappas can be found in Italian restaurants and wine stores across America. The original pioneers are still going strong, but right alongside them are other high quality grappas—many aged in wood—from the great winemaking regions of Italy, and I recently had the privilege of tasting some of the best, right where they are made.
    At the Bonollo Distillery in Torrita di Siena, I received an immersion in grappa (figuratively speaking) that included a class, a tour and a taste of three of their best varieties. Bonollo is a huge operation, with five distilleries set along the spine of the Apennines, but it is in Tuscany where they process the remains of Sangiovese grapes that produce the region’s fabulous Chiantis and Brunellos.
     The first grappa we tasted, however, was made with the pomace of the sweet, perfumed Moscato grape. It was a revelation, especially to anyone who equates grappa with firewater. White wine grapes often produce the most aromatic grappas and this one was no different, bringing forth a strong nose of sweet jasmine, honeysuckle and honey. Those dominant floral aromas exemplify the art of extracting just the right amount of scented fruit from the raw material.
    After this "entry level" grappa, we proceeded to Bonollo’s Chianti Classico Riserva pomace. Unlike Moscato, which makes the most wine-like grappa, the fruit fragrances become more elusive when you move into red wine grapes. Here grappa becomes richer, drier, rounder, and more nuanced. With strong cheese and nuts, Moscato grappa would be a delight. Chianti grappa begs for chocolate and dried fruit. As a finale, we tasted the riserva Consenso grappa, aged in three kinds of wood (ash, cherry, and oak), and it was the most brandy-like of the bunch: lighter in color than true brandy perhaps, but hauntingly rich and very smooth.  With this one, I'd smoke a cigar (if I smoked).
    Working our way north, the Castello Banfi winery was our next stop. Italian law prohibits grappa and wine from being made in the same place, so Banfi ships its grape pomace to the Bonollo Distillery for distillation according to its specifications.
    Before we got to the grappa, however, we were treated to a tour of Banfi's vineyards and winery (left), a barrel tasting of 2017 Brunello di Montalcinos and a sampling of the best of 2012 and 2013 vintages of Banfi's best Brunellos—Poggio Alle Mura and Poggio All'Oro—all of them big, rich, teeth-coating wines, redolent of cherry, chocolate and tobacco, with that extra dimension of deep, dark, dusty    earth that signifies the Sangiovese grape at its best.
    Following the tours and tastings was a private lunch with legendary founder John Mariani (no relation to the publisher of this newsletter), and then it was on to even more grappa (below). The first two Banfi bottles, Grappa del Castello and Grappa di Brunello, were very traditional, in that they were assertive, clean on the finish, and mostly alcohol-forward, while the latter two, Grappa di Brunello and the Poggio alle Mura Riserva, displayed the hints of fruit and complex aromas associated with more modern bottlings. Eighteen months in oak contributed a deep bronze color as well as vanilla and spice flavors to the Riserva, and no doubt, this is the grappa you would break out to impress your friends.
    Northeastern Italy is where grappa began, and the Veneto region is where modern grappa became famous. But the production and consumption is in full flower farther west in Piemonte as well. The Mazzetti distillery (below) in Altavilla, Monferrato, about a half hour outside of Asti, has been in business since 1846. It is still family-owned and is now run by the seventh generation of the Mazzetti family. All their grappas are distilled in steam copper stills using the discontinuous method. This small batch approach is applied to twelve single-grape grappas, as well as ten "special blends" and six "riserva" bottlings. All of these products are on display in a combination tasting room, cafe and gift shop on the ground floor of the distillery, which is the closest thing to a grappa candy store you'll ever see.
    With Elise Belvedere Mazzetti and Claudio Galletto as our guides, we proceeded to make a serious dent in those selections—tasting nine different varieties ranging from another entry-level heavily perfumed Moscato grappa, to their IN Incontro made from Nebbiolo grapes and aged in 225-liter barriques. If there was one lesson learned from all this tasting it was the appreciation of how wood aging brings a softer and smoother profile to this formerly fiery spirit. Nowhere was that more noticeable than in Mazzetti's 7.0 bottle, named for the seven generations of the family in the business. Made from the relatively scarce Ruche red grape, exclusive to the Asti region of Italy, this grappa showed a gentler, softer and smoother side than the non-aged single varietals.
    Once we got to Mazzetti’s more prestigious Gaia and Segni Grappa Riserva bottles, the aromatics were much more assertive and the finish mellower and more mysterious. The Segni Riserva obtains its brandy-like complexity from spending five years in six different wooden barrels, with the sizes generally decreasing over time until smaller mulberry and juniper barrels are used to finish off the aging. This technique mimics how aceto balsamico is produced, and the final product is a pure and haunting spirit that could stand shoulder to shoulder with a V.S.O.P. brandy. Indeed, this is the one grappa that was served to us in a wider-mouthed snifter, the better to appreciate all that wood seasoning.
    Obviously, these are not your grandfather's grappas. Make no mistake, they are still strong drinks (between 35-45% alcohol, i.e., 70 -90 proof), but the varietal character of the grape comes through, which makes side-by-side sipping so fascinating.
    Grappa is generally served in a bulbous-shaped glass with a slightly flared rim—the better to let its concentrated aromas open up at the lip. The glasses are small because grappa is supposed to be enjoyed in very small amounts. The point of today's grappa is not to warm you up or sooth your weary bones. Instead, it is to appreciate the distiller's art: how they can extract the alcoholic essence—the “spirit,” if you will—of decomposing wine grapes, and turn them into something so pure and so distinctly Italian.




"Rising like a phoenix from the ashes, the east side of Berlin. . . is now a thriving community that's home to a vibrant arts scene, mammoth monuments and museums."--Patti Dickey, "Going Deutsch," Philadelphia Style (June 2018).


Wendy’s is now offering a $1 sandwich on its menu called the Buffalo Ranch Crispy Chicken Sandwich.  “We know customers want to have it all — great taste and great price — and that’s exactly what you’ll find at Wendy’s,” says Kurt Kane, chief concept and marketing officer for Wendy’s, via a press release. “Our new Buffalo Ranch Crispy Chicken Sandwich is spicy, melty and just a buck — what more could you ask for in a sandwich?”




Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners


   Wine is a joy year-round but in cooler weather one grape varietal has really taken center stage in my daily activities – that most Italian of grapes, Sangiovese, and its ultimate expression – Brunello di Montalcino.
    From mid-September through mid-October, the Sangiovese grown for our various styles of red wines are be harvested, culminating with the top selection for Brunello di Montalcino.
    Second, cooler weather here means it is time to start enjoying more red wines and especially Sangiovese based wines.  That includes Banfi’s cru of Brunello, Poggio alle Mura, literally the cream of the crop of our Sangiovese vineyards. Alongside our Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino, this year we introduced two more wines from the cru Poggio alle Mura – a Rosso di Montalcino and a Riserva of Brunello.  Rosso is sort of like the younger brother of Brunello, also made from 100% Sangiovese grapes but usually a selection from younger vines and the wine is aged only two years compared to the four required for Brunello.  The Riserva, on the other hand, is an even more selective harvest of Sangiovese, and ages for an additional year before release.
    What is so special about this cru Poggio alle Mura?  Well, it is the result our over 30 years of ongoing research at my family’s vineyard estate, Castello Banfi.  When we first began planting our vines there in the late 1970s studies from the University of Bordeaux indicated which strains of many varietals we should plant, based on the soil type and microclimate of each vineyard.  But when it came to the region’s native Sangiovese, there was only local lore, no scientific research.  So we took it upon ourselves to figure out this vine, and set off on three decades of incredibly detailed research.
    We started with 600 apparent variations on Sangiovese, because it is so susceptible to variations in weather and soil, and narrowed that down to 160 truly genetically different clones.  We planted a vineyard with two rows of each type, made wine from each of them, and charted the differences – remember, you only get one chance a year to make wine, so this took time.
    It took about ten years to get some concrete results, though we continue to experiment today and always will – you never stop learning in science and nature!  Once we determined which were the best, complementary clones that could be planted together to make the best Brunello, we chose to plant them in what we determined to be the optimal vineyard sites.  Coincidentally, the best soils and climate conditions are in the slopes surrounding the medieval fortress today known as Castello Banfi, known since Etruscan times as Poggio alle Mura – the walled hilltop.  Hence the name of our most special “cru” of Brunello, representing a synthesis between tradition and innovation.
    Though the focus of this study was our Brunello, all of our Sangiovese-based wines, including the super Tuscans SummuS, Cum Laude, and Centine, benefitted from this work.  And that’s the third reason for celebrating Sangiovese this month, for the range of wonderful reds that usher us into autumn!  One wine in particular was inspired by our research – the BelnerO, a Sangiovese dominant blend with what I like to call a kiss of Cabernet and a whisper of Merlot.  We grow the grapes a little differently for BelnerO than for Brunello, make the wine with less oak aging and released it earlier from the winery, providing a counterpoint to Brunello and a lovely terroir-driven wine in its own right.
     If you know Italians, you know that by nature we are multi-faceted, varying in mood, and always passionate.  As a nation, we span from the hot sunny beaches of Sicily near the African coast to the rugged mountains and Alpine ski slopes of Trentino-Alto Adige in the north.  Sangiovese is grown in almost all of Italy’s regions and reflects the unique nature of each; it is most famous (rightfully so) in Tuscany, yet even there it reflects the nuances of each hilltop, valley and subzone.  It has something a little different to say in Brunello than Chianti, Morellino than Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino than Super Tuscan blends.
    Here is a smattering of Sangiovese-based wines that you may wish to get to know better, reflecting a spectrum that appeals to every occasion, every taste, and every budget.  We can assure you that the conversation will never become boring.

Recommendations for Celebrating Sangiovese 

BelnerO Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese – A refined cuvée of noble red grapes perfected by our pioneering clonal research. This dark beauty, BelnerO, is produced at our innovative winery, chosen 11 consecutive years as Italy’s Premier Vineyard Estate. Fermented in our patented temperature controlled French oak and aged approximately 2 additional years. Unfiltered, and Nitrogen bottled to minimize sulfites. 


Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Rich, round, velvety and intensely aromatic, with flavor hints of licorice, cherry, and spices. Brunello di Montalcino possesses an intense ruby-red color, and a depth, complexity and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering aftertaste. Unfiltered after 1998 vintage. 

Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino – Brunello's "younger brother," produced from select Sangiovese grapes and aged in barrique for 10 to 12 months. Deep ruby-red, elegant, vibrant, well-balanced and stylish with a dry velvety finish. 

Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – A single vineyard selection of our most historically outstanding Sangiovese, aged five years before release, the additional year more than that required of Brunello including 6 months in barrel and 6 months more in bottle to grant its “Riserva” designation.  Incredible elegance and harmony. Intense with lots of fruit and subtle wood influence. Round, complete, well balanced with hints of chocolate and berries. Unfiltered after 1998.

Poggio alle Mura – The first tangible result of years of intensive clonal research on Montalcino’s native Sangiovese grape.  Estate bottled from the splendidly sun drenched vineyards surrounding the medieval Castello from which it takes its name.  The Brunello di Montalcino is seductive, silky and smoky.  Deep ruby in color with an expressive bouquet of violets, fruits and berries as well as cigar box, cedar and exotic spices. The Rosso di Montalcino is also intense ruby red.  The bouquet is fresh and fruity with typical varietal notes of cherry and blackberry, enriched by more complex hints of licorice, tobacco and hazelnut.  It is full bodied, yet with a soft structure, and a surprisingly long finish. The Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is deep ruby red with garnet reflections and a rich, ample bouquet that hints of prune jam, coffee, cacao and a light balsamic note.  It is full and powerful, with ripe and gentle tannins that make it velvety and harmonious; this wine is supported by a pleasing minerality that to me speaks soundly of that special hillside in southern Montalcino.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

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

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


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


If you wish to subscribe to this newsletter, please click here:

© copyright John Mariani 2017