Virtual Gourmet

  September  23,  2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


"New Jersey Eggs from Unpastured Chickens" (2018) By Galina Dargery


By Geoff Kalish


By John Mariani

By John Mariani

There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet next week because Mariani will be eating and drinking his way around Spain on behalf of his readers.



By Geoff Kalish

Chez Muffy, Montréal



    Like Québec City, Montréal sits along the St. Lawrence River, contains a quaint “old town” district and a larger more modern area, and holds a daily farmers’ market.  In addition, both offer outstanding well-designed art museums featuring exceptional exhibits, such as the current showing of African Influence on the work of Picasso at the Montreal Musée des Beaux Arts and the Berthe Morisot exhibit at Québec’s Musée Nationale des Beaux Arts that features many of her little-shown paintings from private collections. 

    Similarities aside, Québec is quite “Francophiled,” with primarily French spoken and a laid-back feeling, while Montréal is a far more French-English, fast-paced city. Even within the similarities there are marked differences. For example, while the shops in both “old town” areas look similar, those in Québec carry mainly tee shirts and the like, with many of those in Montréal presenting more upscale goods, especially brands made in Canada like Joseph Ribkoff and Simpli. 

    On the other hand, both cities continue to offer ample opportunity for excellent upscale lodging, wining and dining. (All prices are in Canadian dollars, which are worth 75% of U.S. dollars.)




Restaurant Initiale

54 rue Saint Pierre 



    Dinner at the highly touted Initiale lived up to its reputation as a gourmet mecca with fresh seasonal fare. Located in a former bank building on a corner across the street from the Old Port area, the elegant modern interior features cream-colored walls and tablecloths, with attractive dark wooden latticework panels across the windows.

    The dining room is managed by the affable Rolande Leclerc and the kitchen by her husband, Yvan Lebrun, and a small staff.  And, while the restaurant only offers a nine-course menu,  primarily composed of French classics, along with a five-course option of  both classic as well as more modern preparations, the prices are a bargain ($165 for the nine courses and $115 for the five), with wine pairings available for each. We selected the latter, plus the wine pairing (at $99).

    Our meal began with a small portion of dewy arctic char served with shrimps and a smoky cream sauce. Next came perfectly roasted large scallops with yellow and green beans and finely chopped broccoli, all topped by a tasty shellfish vinaigrette, followed next by a portion of tender, pink roasted duck (above) coated with a  reduced red wine Grand Veneur sauce and accompanied by chanterelles,  an onion compote and a portion of classic halibut filet meunière atop a cauliflower puree and fresh corn cake. Our dessert was a confection of fruit, pastry and cream (left).

    Rather than trying to find one wine to match with the fare, we went with the pairing, which brought an outstanding array of white, rosé and red French and Canadian wines, each mated quite harmoniously with the fare. 


Chez Muffy

Auberge Saint Antoine Hotel

10 rue Saint Antoine



    When last reviewed in this publication, two years ago, this once very upscale restaurant located in the boutique historic Auberge St. Antoine Hotel was named Panache and served French and Québecois classics. However, in the past year this space with a farmhouse feel (rustic stone walls and wood-beamed ceiling) has morphed into its current incarnation, Chez Muffy,  named for the matriarch of the family that owns the hotel,  Martha “Muffy” Bate Price.

    While the tablecloths are gone and it no longer offers a large selection of haute cuisine choices, it serves a more modest selection of “farm-to-fork” dishes geared to families, especially locals. I found the fare well prepared, service pleasant and professional, and a wide range of top-notch Canadian and French wines, albeit a bit pricey, continues to be offered.  Portions are quite generous. 

    An appetizer of chanterelles came as a casserole loaded with the delicate mushrooms sautéed with shards of tasty local seagrasses;  a crisp baby lettuce salad arrived with a zesty, creamy vinaigrette dressing. A main course of Québec lobster scooped from the shell was served atop a thick, heady lobster bisque, while Atlantic halibut was enlivened by a lemon-ginger dressing and accompanied by garlicky potatoes and tender turnips from the hotel’s garden. We accompanied the meal with a fragrant, plummy 2014 Volnay from Fernand and Laurent Pillot ($145) and concluded with a dense, albeit slightly fallen, chocolate soufflée.

Expect dinner for two to cost  $140-$150, not including wine, tax or tip.






Maison Boulud

Ritz-Carlton Hotel

128 Sherbrooke Street West



    Located two blocks from the Musée Nationale des Beaux Arts, Montreal’s ultra plush Ritz-Carlton Hotel is known locally as the “Grande Dame of Sherbrooke,”  opening its doors on New Year’s Eve 1912.  Of note, it was the first hotel in the world to be named “Ritz-Carlton,” derived from combining the name of the consortium founded by the original developers, The Carlton Corporation, and  legendary hotelier César Ritz,  who lent his name with a proviso that every room have its own bathroom.
A century later the hotel underwent a multimillion-dollar refurbishment that included the installation of a luxurious spa and Maison Boulud restaurant, named for and “overseen” by famed chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud (left).

    The dining room features a blonde wood and glass-themed interior with well-spaced cloth-covered tables, a long bar and an open kitchen, with an outdoor seating area under an awning that looks out on a formal garden that includes not only greenery and flowers but a pond with a waterfall and swans. As to the cuisine, the fare served is casual haute cuisine at its best; for those familiar with  Boulud’s New York City establishments, think more in terms of Café Boulud or Boulud Sud, not Daniel.

    On our recent visit, an artistically composed starter of small squares of a fois gras terrine accompanied by semi-dried apricot wedges, dabs of apricot jam, hazelnuts and cubes of brioche tasted as good as it looked. And an egg-yolk ravioli, filled with fresh sheep’s milk ricotta and topped with sautéed mushrooms and adrift in a bubbly spinach coulis was decadently rich.

    For main courses we enjoyed a thick filet of broiled sea bass topped with figs and chanterelles, doused with a zesty saba sauce made from a grape must reduction, and an artfully composed plate of tender lamb saddle with summer beans, black trumpet mushrooms, all set in a savory lamb jus.  We drank an excellent bottle of 2016 Saint Joseph from Domaine Natacha Chave that had flavors of plums and a distinct peppery finish. We  concluded the meal with velvety ice cream and a basket of freshly made tiny madeleines.

Expect dinner for two to cost $160-180, excluding wine, tax and tip. And there’s a four-course seasonal tasting menu available at $90 a person.


Le Toque

900 Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle 



    I am happy to report that since its last Virtual Gourmet review some nine years ago, this establishment now open for more than 25 years, has not lost a step. In fact,  chef Norman Laprise (right) seems at the top of his game, and the front of the house continues to sail smoothly along under the watchful eye of his wife, Christine LeMarché.

    The restaurant is still situated in a sleek room featuring brown wood, beige walls and gauzy curtains over the tall windows, and I found the fare continues to be not only extremely flavorful but exquisitely beautiful on the plate. For example, a starter of foie gras arrived looking more like an abstract painting than food, with a large square of rich, creamy terrine surrounded by a slice of just-baked brioche, fresh raspberries, almonds and a small pool of raspberry purée. Its taste was no less spectacular, the raspberries and purée serving to accompany the fois gras perfectly, much like a glass of Sauternes.  Equally beautiful and tasty was a starter of Nordic shrimp tossed with delicate mushrooms and slices of fresh green vegetables.

    For main courses, we dined happily on a large slab of cooked-to-the-minute halibut surrounded by green and yellow beans, and a dish of tender leg of guinea fowl, the plate strewn with morels and dabs of a pesto purée.

    For dessert we shared an order of  raspberry ganache in a chocolate tuile served with ice cream.

    Service was prompt and professional and for wines we had two half-bottles—a berried 2015 Alain Gras Saint Romain from Burgundy and a cassis-scented 2015 Château Tour du Pas Saint-George Saint Émilion .

Expect dinner for two to cost $180-$190, excluding wine, tax and tip—with a 7 course degustation menu at $142 per person.

Restaurant XO

Hotel Le St. James

355 rue Saint-Jacques



    This restaurant is housed in the plush Hotel Le St. James, once the Merchants’ Bank Building dating from 1870. It is a large, rather formal room with well-spaced tables dressed with starched white tablecloths, dark wood paneling and a towering ceiling.  It offers a seasonally-changing menu with a focus on innovative interpretations of “European classics.”  While it has garnered accolades as one of the best and most creative upscale eateries in Montréal, we found the fare somewhat inconsistent.

    An appetizer of grilled octopus arrived very soft and rather tasteless—most likely pre-cooked too long and not grilled long enough—and a summer salad came with an overabundance of dressing. Yet a main course of sea bass served with zesty, tomatillo and mango salsa and shitake mushrooms was moist and flavorful, as was a savory duck breast with crispy skin served atop a heady cherry sauce.  For dessert, we enjoyed three slices of well-chosen cheeses with toast and condiments to match and the restaurant’s “nouveau” interpretation of a chocolate ice-cream sandwich. 

    Service was prompt and professional. From an extensive wine selection, we accompanied our meal with an excellent sensibly-priced 2011 Francis Gay Savigny-les-Beaune, with a fragrant bouquet and taste of ripe berries and anise.

Expect to pay $130-$140 for dinner for two, excluding wine, tax and tip.



By John Mariani

840 Second Avenue (near 45th Street)

The menu at Palm Restaurant circa 1947

    When I first started out as a journalist in the seventies, a rite of passage in New York was to be invited to eat at Palm, the storied steakhouse on Second Avenue and 45th Street that began as a modest Italian restaurant during Prohibition and evolved into a power lunch and dinner spot, not least for all the writers and reporters, sports figures, industry titans and show biz stars whose caricatures lined every inch of every wall.
    So I felt I’d fallen in with a very prestigious group when the late Clay Felker, then editor-in-chief of New York magazine, for which I was writing, invited me to join him along with other editors and staff to have lunch at Palm.  I fell in love with the place from the moment we entered: the bustle of a crowd of mostly men—pretty women were always an asset, however—the sawdust floors and walls whose older caricatures were darkened with cigarette smoke, the waiters in their tan jackets and black ties tossing down menus like playing cards and the way everyone seemed to know each other.
    A good dose of history is in order here: Back in 1926, during Prohibition, two immigrants from Parma, Italy, named Pio Bozzi and Giovanni “John” Ganzi
opened a small Italian restaurant on NYC’s East Side. If customers asked for something to eat, Ganzi ran to a butcher shop to buy steaks and then cook them. 
Bozzi and Ganzi sought to register their place as a restaurant named after their hometown of Parma, but a city clerk, who could not understand their accent, issued the license under the name “Palm.” The owners figured, why bother to order another sign, so it stayed there.   To this day, regulars call it “Palm,” as it is on the window and doggie bags, not “The Palm,” despite Bozzi and Ganzi letting "The" onto their menus (above) and, today, their website.
    Palm soon began serving a full menu of simple Italian dishes and steaks, personally selected from prime carcasses in the Meatpacking District, and adding items like a tomato and onion salad, cottage fried potatoes, lobsters, and for dessert, cheesecake. It was a menu not dissimilar to that served at other steakhouses in the immediate vicinity—called “Steakhouse Row”—like Christ Cella, Colombo’s, and Bruno’s Pen & Pencil (all now closed), but Palm became the best known, not least for the murals of cartoon caricatures of regular customers, a tradition begun when local artists paid for their meals by drawing the cartoons.  Later, some of NYC’s finest cartoonists added their work to the walls.
    After Bozzi and Ganzi’s deaths, great grandson Bruce Bozzi Sr. and son Walter Ganzi, Jr., took over the operation. Until the 1970s there was only the original Palm restaurant on Second Avenue at East 45th Street and an adjunct across the street called Palm Too.

        In the 1980s, however, the company began franchising, currently with 32 units in the U.S. and abroad, even in JFK Airport.  Sorry to report that when I’ve dined at any of “the” Palm restaurants—even the one on Manhattan’s West Side—I’ve never had the kind of USDA, dry-aged Prime beef I’ve had at the original. There’s just not enough of that to go around.
        The sad part of the story is that the original Palm, on the west side of Second Avenue, was forced to close after selling the building for $6 million to a developer who had no use for the restaurant, meaning that those famous murals had to be destroyed, too.
        Happily, Palm Too survives, and it looks very much like the original and has the same cast of light, via table lamps, though the sawdust is gone.  Palm Too has its own decades of cartoon caricatures, with a few of those from the original now put in frames. 
The old sit-‘em-and-serve-‘em attitude has been softened and you’ll be well greeted, asked if you want a table or booth, if available. The noise level is not a problem as in so many other steakhouses with blasting Sinatra music.
        The menu is shorter than it used to be, when it listed items with names like Steak à la Stone and Chicken Bruno, along with a couple of pasta dishes.  Believe it or not, prices are a touch lower than at other steakhouses around: the 18-ounce New York strip is $57 (14 ounces for $51),  while you’ll pay $54 at Quality Meats, $62 at Hunt & Fish Club, $63 at Bobby Van’s and $65 at NYY.
        Cocktails are well made and generous, the bread basket and butter ramekin are too. I find it hilarious that the menu lists the calories count of each dish.
        Palm Too proudly promises and delivers on an abundance of not just jumbo but colossal lump crabmeat (right) in its crab cocktail ($26), and I don’t know how they get such good tomatoes year-round, but for now, with thickly sliced raw onion and a vinaigrette, the platter of them (left) is nonpareil in town ($14.50).  There’s also a lobster bisque ($15.50) and the now-requisite slab of bacon ($16).
        Now, let me state that the rich, minerally taste of the beef at Palm  I recall at the original is indelibly in my memory, and, as I mentioned, I don’t expect to find that quality at the other Palm restaurants. So I ordered a strip steak (14 oz, $51; 18 oz. $57), cooked impeccably medium-rare, and while I can’t say it gave me shivers of joy, it was a damn fine steak.  So was a bone-in ribeye ($59), ordered rare. And the Colorado lamb chops ($53)—four hefty ones, with just enough exterior fat left on—were superb.
        You’ve got to order side dishes at Palm Too—the decadently rich creamed spinach scented with nutmeg, portioned out to serve the table; the hand-cut golden brown French fries; and, the absolute must: a “half and half” platter of the sweetest shredded onion rings and brittle crisp cottage fries I dare you to stop eating.  (All sides are served family-style for two or more $14; individual portion $10.50.)
        You really don’t need dessert after a meal like this, but the S&S cheesecake is as good as ever (though order it without the gooey strawberries on top). They list “Crafted Gourmet Desserts from Sweet Streets,” like iced carrot cake and chocolate peanut butter pie, but I’ve never tried them.
        Palm Too’s wine list, which was once depressingly basic, is now quite substantial, if not as encyclopedic as Sparks’ or Smith & Wollensky’s. There are plenty of wines by the glass, though most are pretty standard labels. Don’t bother looking for bargain bottles.
        Going back to Palm Too was not quite so wonderful as going to the original restaurant, but it’s close enough and most certainly good enough to make it one of my top two or three steakhouses in New York. Just being there, in an atmosphere it would be foolish to reproduce anywhere else, including branches of “the” Palm, takes me back to those days when I could believe I’d passed a test, grown in stature and tasted some of the best food in the world, on my editor’s dime.



By John Mariani

         Autumn weather is struggling in and one looks forward to cooler temperatures, but good, fresh cool white wines are always worth putting on the table.  Here is a number of whites that all have different flavor profiles.


LAGAR D CERVERA ALBARIÑO 2016 ($18)—Made from 100% Albariño in Rias Baixas in Galicia, this has a real citrusy tang that is refreshing at the very first sip and enhances whatever lighter foods you are eating, like the tortellini in chicken broth I enjoyed it with over lunch. The estate is now owned by the illustrious La Rioja Alta since 1988, which means great care was taken to keep this wine as lively as possible. The 2017 vintage is also now available.



FETZER SUNDIAL CHARDONNAY 2016 ($7.50)—This is a very appealing California-style Chardonnay at a remarkable price. It’s not subtle, but at 13.5% alcohol it’s not massive or overripe either, and winemaker John Kane aims for levels of flavor. Different toast levels in the oak barrels were used to produce the buttery flavors many people will enjoy with dishes like chicken, black bass and trout.


MICHAEL MONDAVI EMBLEM CHARDONNAY 2016 ($35)—Similar to the Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay, this Sonoma County production is for those who like fleshy whites with a little sweetness but in balance with the apple-citrus flavors. The website reads that “The 2016 Emblem Chardonnay marks our premier voyage into the Petaluma Gap, a subappellation of the Sonoma Coast AVA [whose] unique aspect . . . is that it consistently experiences much greater wind speeds than its neighboring regions in southern/western Sonoma County.”  It was a vintage in Sonoma with smaller berries, meaning sugars were condensed, so they were picked early and went through partial malolactc. The wine spent 10 months in both new oak and neutral oak barrels, and emerged at a high 14.5% alcohol.  There is, therefore, some complexity here that makes it ideal for dishes that have some chile heat to them. Not a Chardonnay for everyone



CANTINA TRAMIN KELLEREI MORITZ PINOT BIANCO ($14)—This northern Italian Pinot Bianco from the Sudtirol-Alto-Adige region has a lot more going on in the bottle than the varietal gets from southern climes. It was vinified in stainless steel, without malolactic fermentation, so the nice nutty flavor comes from the grapes themselves, not the barrel. Fine acids and good fruit make it a match for any kind of seafood, risotto with vegetables or rabbit cooked over the grill.  It gets its body from 13.9% alcohol. Also a good option with a terrine of foie gras.



FÓRRA MANZONE ALOIS LAGEDER BIANCO ($30)—Alois Lageder is one of the very best winemakers in Europe, founded in 1823 and still in the family, with biodynamic grapes from their own well-tended Dolomites vineyards as well as long contracted cooperatives. Though located in northern Italy, they speak German at the estate and the back label is in that language. The “IGT” means it is a wine made according to the Lageder blend, not in accordance with the DOC regulations, and you won’t find the grapes listed. "Fórra" means narrow valley" refers to a canyon in Adige. Made from a cross between Riesling and Pinot Bianco, the Manzoni Bianco grape was created in 1937 and is not widely planted. It has a good deal of weight at only 13% alcohol and a delectable aroma.



Rodale Books has pulled an Instagram influencer’s foraging cookbook, Johnanna Holgren's Tales from a Forager's Kitchen,  after critics indicated that some of the recipes could make people sick because they involve  unsafe ingredients,  including raw, peeled acorns, raw elderberries, and raw morels, which can cause nausea and vomiting and contain difficult-to-digest chitin.




The Beatrice Inn
285 W. 12th St., nr. W. 4th St.; 212-675-2808

"These birds are salt-cured, double-dipped in seasoned flour, and by some advanced frying technique cooked until the crust is as crunchy as a Greenpeace sidewalk solicitor."--Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld, "There's a Lot of Great New Fried Chicken in New York Right Now," New York Magazine (Aug. 20, 2018)



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.


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© copyright John Mariani 2017