Virtual Gourmet

  October 7,  2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart at The Colony in NYC in Sabrina (1954)


By John Mariani
and Joanna Pruess

By John Mariani

By John Mariani


Part One
By John Mariani

Philadelphia Soft Pretzels

    Any day now I expect the New York-based foodie media to declare Philadelphia to be the hottest restaurant city in America simply because they’re running out of other cities to name.  Fact is, Philadelphia has for decades been a terrific place to eat out, from the vast Reading Terminal Market to the slew of restaurants opened over the years by Stephen Starr—the city’s equivalent of Danny Meyer, Charlie Palmer and Rich Melman thrown together—whose groundbreaking concepts in Philadelphia include Alma de Cuba, Talula’s Garden, El Rey, Barclay Prime, Pod, Buddakan, Serpico and others. His newest is Love, about which more in a moment.
    Philadelphia is known for dishes like scrapple, cheese steaks, hoagies, soft pretzels, pepper pot soup and other items, but, sadly, with the demise of restaurants like Le Bec Fin and Déja-Vu, the city is now bereft of high-end fine dining.  A recent visit to Philadelphia showed, however, that there has been no lag in very good modern and traditional restaurants any city in the U.S. would be proud to have.


1927 East Passyunk Avenue

Photos: Kateri Likoudis

    Given its location in East Passyunk’s maze of narrow streets, you don’t expect to come upon Le Virtù’s splendid piazza, with its wide mural of Abruzzo, the Italian province whence owners Francis Cratil-Cretarola and his wife, Cathy Lee, and Chef Damon Menapace draw their inspiration.  Indeed, Le Virtù is America’s only true Abruzzese restaurant, based on the food of that mountainous Adriatic region known for its seafood, maccheroni alla ghitarra and ample use of chile peppers the people call diavolicchie (little devils). 
The restaurant’s name itself—the virtues—refers not only to the honest goodness of the food but to a traditional soup built around the legend of seven maidens who contributed the ingredients to the dish, like pork, peas, pasta, carrots and herbs.
    The owners bring in a great deal from Abruzzo, including artisanal honey, cheeses, saffron, extra virgin olive oil and dried pastas; the rest they gather from local farms like their pork from Berks County and lamb, chicken and rabbit from Lancaster County.  They butcher their own meats and house-cure their salumi and sausages, like pancetta, guanciale, capocollo, lonza and more.
    The place has the true rustic look of a trattoria, inside and out, and Cratil-Cretarola’s ebullient and large presence is felt as he goes from table to table making sure everything is going well, making suggestions, fretting if you don’t finish every forkful.       
     The glory of Italian restaurants is most often in the antipasti and pastas, and Le Virtù’s are glorious indeed. Grilled lamb skewers with Abruzzese spices ($16) and fried pizza dough with an eggplant-tomato confit, scamorza cheese and a dash of oregano ($15) make for good nibbles, and the palotte cac’e ove ($13) comes as egg and pecorino croquettes with tomato and basil.
    Not one of the pastas I tried could have been improved upon, from ravioli with Abruzzese ricotta and pecorino in a saffron-tinged broth ($20) and classic maccheroni alla chitarra with braised lamb ragù and a good dose of pecorino ($19) to maccheroni alla mugnaia ($20), a remarkable single strand of pasta with chile peppers, plenty of garlic and olive oil, and taccozelle with a hearty pork sausage ragù, mushrooms, black truffles and saffron ($20).  You may add to the wonderful pasta dishes a main course here of scrippelle ricotta-filled crȇpes with eggplant, tomato and pecorino ($24).
    It is only a slight generalization to suggest that the main courses (secondi) in most Italian restaurants don’t come up to the savoriness of what precedes them. The mains are usually simple, letting the quality of the ingredients shine.  I was somewhat disappointed, then, to find that the main courses at Le Virtù might very well have been found at any number of Italian restaurants, with nothing specifically Abruzzese about them. Roasted lamb shoulder with polenta, broccoli di rabe and peperonata ($27) was a good dish, but there was little to rave about in the grilled pork cutlet with radicchio, tomato and balsamico ($27).  A so-so slice of swordfish with chickpeas in a tomato broth ($28) had little of the intensity you’d find in a seaside Abruzzese town like Pescara or Vasto, and I would have loved to have seen some gamberi (large shrimp) or langostini on Le Virtù’s menu.
    Desserts are quite simple and good, from strawberry gelato to a lovely almond-orange cake.
    High kudos to Le Virtù’s wine list, which is crammed with bottlings obviously chosen for their quality and rarity, not least Abruzzese wines like Trebbiano and Montepulciano that go so well with this food. Pennsylvania state wine pricing laws make finding bargains difficult on a menu, but Le Virtù’s wines are as well tariffed as they can make them.


Open nightly for dinner.


623 South 6th Street

Photos by Peggy Baud-Woolsey

    What Le Virtù is to regional Italian food, Bistrot La Minette is to French bourgeois cooking.  Chef/owner Peter Woolsey and Chef Kenneth Bush are dedicated to reproducing the beloved dishes of bistro-ism and do so within a dining room that could easily fit onto any street in Montparnasse or Marseilles.
    The spot-on décor makes all the sense in the world when you learn that the designer is Woolsey’s wife, Peggy Baud, who was born and bred in France. In person she shows the kind of Gallic charm and American  experience to complete the authenticity of an evening at La Minette. Indeed, the family heirlooms and objets d’art picked up in Paris flea markets adds measurably to the bonhomie of the room, with its butter yellow cast of light and bright red banquettes. Even the menus reproduce the art nouveau lettering of French bistros.
    Woolsey himself trained in top kitchens in France, including Lucas Carton in Paris and with Philadelphia’s French master Georges Perrier.
            Begin with lustrous foie gras pâté with hazelnut butter, tangy rhubarb gastrique and bitter endive ($12), or a chilled velouté of peas and parsley laced with crème fraȋche and topped with chives and radish ($10). Don’t miss ordering
the Alsatian tarte flambé ($11) for the table, a flatbread with crème fraîche, goat’s cheese, leeks and fines herbes.
You’ll find out just how much Woolsey knows about French bourgeois cooking when you taste the perfectly rendered roasted chicken (    ) with braised leeks,  crisp and buttery pommes Anna and a sauce made from a reduction of juices and leeks ($24). Pan-seared duck breast was impeccably rosy, served with peas, turnips, potatoes and wonderfully old-fashioned green peppercorn sauce ($28), an ideal dish as the weather turns cooler.


    Few American restaurants attempt to serve rabbit, so I applaud La Minette’s well-fattened rabbit braised with assertive mustard and served with housemade tagliatelle and rabbit jus ($27). And a real test of a French bistro is how it turned out gnocchi Parisienne, which so often comes as little more than a bland potato puree gratin. At La Minette the gnocchi have heft, texture and good rich cream and butter with a full-flavored cheese gratin ($24) and the lagniappe of baby artichokes and whipped goat’s cheese.
    Desserts ($8) are all true to form: A miniature chocolate cake with gooseberries and crème fraîche ice cream; pot de crème of caramel with cat’s tongue cookies; a frozen rhubarb mousse with vanilla sable, rhubarb compote, strawberry sherbet and strawberry sauce.
    There’s a fine selection of wines by the pichet (carafe), as well as beers and ciders, and Liz Boleslavsky’s full wine list is just the right size and scope of regional French bottlings to further prove La Minette’s commitment to bistro tradition.

Open for Lunch Sat. & Sun., for dinner nightly.



By Joanna Pruess

Photos by Alexandra Hawkins

    In 2008, Zahav, Philadelphia’s modern Israeli restaurant, was on John Mariani’s list of Esquire’s Top 20 New Restaurants. Philadelphia magazine also chose the spot as the Best New Restaurant that year. “We were the only modern Israeli restaurant in the U.S. at the time,” says chef/owner Michael Solomonov.
     A decade later, “I know there are a thousand times more,” he adds
with considerable hyperbole. Along the way, Solomonov garnered numerous accolades for launching the trend on this side of the Atlantic, including several James Beard Awards.
    With all the raves I’d heard about Zahav, I pursued the destination in earnest for a dinner last month in Philadelphia.

    Zahav’s luster (the restaurant’s name means “gold” in Hebrew) continues to suffuse the city with brilliant taste discoveries. Chef Solomonov says, “I believe constantly introducing different dishes, rather than revamping the entire menu, educates diners not about Israeli cuisine, per se—the country is only 70 years old—but its culinary tapestry is woven from recipes and hospitality styles brought by Jews of the Diaspora who immigrated here from other Middle Eastern countries, Europe and Eastern Europe countries including Bulgarian and Georgian, along with Arabic and Yemenite.
     “In the beginning, we had no competition. Now we adapt, change and reinvent to remain in the forefront and strengthen our comprehension of Israeli food. For example, with more Ethiopians and Georgians in Israel, fenugreek seeds have become a unique ingredient. The spice is a cuisine unto itself.”   
Naturally I began my meal with hummus,  at first bite rich and creamy with a definite taste of roasted sesame seeds and subtle notes of garlic, lemon and cumin. When spread on hot
laffa bread and topped with one or several of the salatim (six daily vegetable salads), this seemingly simple concoction rises to sublime heights.
    The recipe is in Solomonov’s just-published
Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), co-authored with Steve Cook. Solomonov writes that “the secret is blending equal amounts by weight of soaked and boiled dried chickpeas and sesame tehina, the Israeli version of Greek tahini.
     Zahav’s hot and cold mezze (above) include zingy flavors like salty-citrusy sumac and the peppery bite of a condiment called schug.Mezze are hospitality incarnate,” he says. “They invite sharing. The relaxed sampling also encourages conversations.”
    We obliged, ordering fried cauliflower with
labneh, garlic, mint and Aleppo pepper; zucchini schnitzel with roasted peach harissa and pickled peaches; haloumi in brik pastry with pistachios, blueberries and honey; and kibbe naya made with spicy, raw lamb ground with bulgur, served with pea falafel and pickled peach amba. It’s a global mash up with far too many choices but my mouth kept asking for more.
     Tasting the lamb shoulder, brined for 48 hours, hardwood smoked,  then braised in pomegranate molasses and crisped in a hot oven, proved to be as swoon-worthy as so many fans have described. Served with Persian wedding rice, the whole is a concert of intense sweet and savory flavors set against textures from meltingly tender to crunchy. He add, “The dish’s chickpeas, simmered in lamb broth, are subtle stars themselves.”
     Chef Solomonov said he and his team had tasted a similar dish made with pork at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York, after the James Beard Awards. The Zahav team substituted lamb, tweaked it a bit, smoked it and sent it out to
a legion of fans.
          Syrian lamb kebabs with sour cherry and chili peppers and sea bass with cucumber tzatziki were other standouts. Half of the menu caters to vegetarians and pescatarians, with such dishes as king oyster mushroom skewers with smoked tomato tehina, beluga lentils and corn.
    Even though stuffed, I tried C
amille Cogswell’s desserts—Mala Malabi custard with blackberries, cantaloupe and caramel, and blueberry konafi with ricotta, lemon verbena and pistachios (left).
    Solomonov told me Zahav has the largest Israeli wine list in the world.
When I met Michael Solomonov, there was something so genuine and soulful about him. He was kind and totally focused on our conversation while everything else in the restaurant revolved around us. Most nights, he says he is found at the restaurant’s bread station because “this is my comfort zone and I can connect with customers.”
    There are no barriers and the friendliness is evident as people stop by or wave to say “hi.” Asked about future plans, Michael Solomonov answers, “For now, I’m staying here. It’s approachable and affordable, and how awesome that our cooks and customers can live in the same place.” Word has it that Philadelphia will have a second Zahav and bakery in the near future.


237 St. James Place

Zahav is open for dinner nightly.



By John Mariani

Loews Regency Hotel

540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street)


     For several decades now The Regency Bar & Grill  at Loews Regency Hotel has been known for its “Power Breakfast,” at which the city’s movers and shakers get in an early morning meeting before limo-ing off to Wall Street, City Hall or some media conglomerate. They nod at each other from across the room, they order the bagels and smoked salmon ($28) or the eggs Benedict ($27), and some have even been known to follow with a second breakfast meeting around nine o’clock. Rev. Al Sharpton can still be found there with ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen before he starts eating his breakfasts in his cell.

The food itself has very little to do with this morning ritual, but in the afternoon and evening, the food is the principal reason to go for lunch or dinner.  The well-heeled crowd at the swanky bar and lounge may have its own glitzy appeal after six (left), but the ambiance in the dining room is far more civilized, and in its décor of art deco carpet, raised banquettes, brown columns and black walls, abstract paintings and black-and-white photos of Upper East Side celebrities, it has a feeling of being uniquely New York.
      Too bad they’ve removed the white double tablecloths (in the photo above) that used to deck the now somber, dark wood tables. Dress codes also seem to have totally disappeared.
    Executive Chef Catherine Madrano (right) sets what might be called a modern continental menu with plenty of American items along with some European dishes like a delectable porcini truffle pizza with mozzarella and pecorino ($23), easy enough for a couple to share for an appetizer. There’s also a Mediterranean plate of raw vegetables with naan ($21), and a classic chopped salad ($29) that might serve as a main course. Rigatoni pomodoro is priced at a whopping $31 for a main course but you can share that too.
    The New York strip steak, at $49, is something of a bargain, since, unlike at steakhouses, it comes with hen of the woods mushrooms, olive oil, smashed fingerling potatoes and steak sauce. It’s a very good piece of USDA Prime beef, too, as is a fine-grained 12-ounce Berkshire pork chop at a very reasonable $39; simply roasted chicken was juicy and flavorful ($38), but these last two do not come with side dishes. Crispy Brussels sprouts can fill in for that lapse for $14.
    Hotels have so much banquet business that desserts are almost always of very high quality, like the Grill’s dark chocolate torte ($14) and the way above average Mah-Ze-Dahr Heavenly Cheesecake with a Graham cracker crust ($15). The cookie plate ($15) will bring out the child in everyone (below).
    Sorry to report that while the waitstaff is generally cordial, waiters disappear for stretches and there seems no manager overseeing anything at all.
    If the Regency Bar & Grill is not one of the more distinctive restaurants on the Upper East Side, it certainly ranks with its immediate competitors like Perrine at the Pierre and The Restaurant at the Carlyle.  It’s not inexpensive but not in the price league with places like Restaurant Daniel or La Grenouille. And what will stay with you is a sense that you’ve taken a small bite out of the Big Apple.


Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; brunch Sat. & Sun.




Which Comes First?
The Wine or the Cheese?

By John Mariani

                                                                                        "Pears and Gorgonzola" (2017) photo by Galina Dargery 

    For a while there back in the 1990s it seemed publishers were falling over themselves to put out books on the subject of marrying food and wine. Taking a perfectly reasonable proposition that red wines go better with heavier foods and whites with lighter, wine writers felt they needed to match precise wines to precise foods and from that extrapolate that there truly is a wine for every food on Earth. (Though such authors have tried, none yet has come up with a good option to serve with artichokes or asparagus.)
    That was also at a time when restaurants in America began adding cheese options on their menus and sometimes an extensive cheese selection was rolled over on a cart, which of course had a dramatic effect on whether or not a table might actually order an extra course or substitute for dessert.
        Having a good selection of cheeses is fairly standard in Europe, especially in France, but in the U.S. the idea has dimmed a good deal and the inevitable conversations about which wine would go best with which cheese died down too, along with the pretension of offering several sea salts on the table intended to be sprinkled on specific dishes.
    Still, the pleasures of enjoying cheese with a beverage at the close of the meal—or at the beginning—are considerable, and there are most certainly reasons not to marry specific wines with a whole range of cheeses. Indeed, if there is a range of cheeses, rather than a single round of, say, Camembert, or a wedge of Stilton, it would be folly to try to match up each cheese with an individual wine. With a range of cheeses, one wine should do the work of many.
    And when that is the case, it is more than likely that a fruity white wine with some acid is going to be the best overall choice for a few reasons. Some red wines and some cheeses do not work well together at all, like a big Cabernet Sauvignon with blue cheeses, which make the wine taste metallic. Big reds can also dominate more delicate cheeses like unaged goat’s, ricotta or feta. For those reasons, I believe that a fine white Burgundy, a well-balanced Chardonnay or an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc goes very well with almost any cheese except blues, from mild goat’s cheese to Camembert, from a good Emmental to Robiola, from Cheddar to Manchego.  Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are also good choices with a wide array of cheeses.  Champagne enthusiasts will always insist their favorite wine will go with anything and everything.  At least they won’t harm anything.
    When whites don’t work is if the varietal is fairly bland, like Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Trebbiano and  Albariño, and the cheese is very rich and aromatic, like Brie, Époisse, mozzarella and Mahón.
    There is, however, some good match-ups for light- to medium-bodied red wines or rosés, including young, fruity Pinot Noirs, Bardolino, Garnacha, Barbera, Beaujolais and Petite Syrah that take quite well to non-blue cheeses, though the more fat content in the cheese the less well those varietals hold up. These wines are excellent with aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and Sardinian Pecorino.
    Inevitably, we come to what’s best to serve with the blues—Stilton, Roquefort, Cabrales, Gorgonzola and others—and the usual answer is that sweet dessert wines are best at enhancing the richness, the fat and the pungent aromas of such cheeses.  Some insist that Roquefort and Sauternes is a classic match, as is vintage Port with Stilton. (The late Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton-Rothschild insisted that whenever he would be eating Roquefort, he’d stick a bottle of Château d’Yquem Sauternes--“and only Yquem!”--in the freezer till ice crystals formed, then served it with the cheese.)
    But you need not spend the money those wines require if you just move down a bit in the same categories, which is to say that there are many alternatives to pricey Sauternes, which include Barsacs (made in the same region), Spätlese quality German Rieslings, Late Harvest Johannisberg Rieslings and Italy’s Picolits. As for Port, there are several below the vintage category that cost much less and are just as good with cheese, including tawny, late-bottled vintage, and crusted Ports. (It should be noted, however, that true vintage Ports are amazingly good buys at $50, though you must be patient for them to mature.)
    The sweeter Spanish Sherries like Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez work as well as Ports in this regard. A rich Amarone Recioto della Valpolicella also has just enough body and sweetness to hold up against blues.
    In the end, I think the wine should be chosen after the cheese has been selected, not vice-versa. And, if you find you have a bit of wine left over after the main course, a nice piece of cheese that you took out to come to room temperature will make a lovely ending for the evening.  The idea is to get at the pleasure of wine and cheese, not to spend time thinking about it.




According to the Irish Times, The Dutch council of state has ruled that Pastafarianism is not a religion, denying Mienke de Wilde (right), a follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the right to wear a colander on her head in her passport and driving license photo.  The church was founded in the US in 2005  as a response to Christian fundamentalists advocating the teaching of creationism in schools.  Believers worship an invisible and undetectable god called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, wear colanders on their heads in homage to their deity, revere pirates as the original Pastafarians and vow to reject “crazy nonsense,” be nice to all sentient beings and eat a lot of pasta.


“Sno-ball: A city that gets as hot and humid as New Orleans needs a few icy tricks up its sleeve to stay cool in the summer. The New Orleans sno-ball may seem like a cousin of the ubiquitous and more widely known snow cone, but only in as much as 600-thread count Egyptian cotton is a cousin to polyester.”--Stephanie Carter, "An Eater’s Guide to New Orleans," (Aug. 27, 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