"Heirlooms" (2017) Photo by Galina Dargery
IN THIS ISSUE
MALÁGA, Part One
By Gerry Dawes
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WINES I'M DRINKING NOW
By John Mariani
THE MAGIC OF MÁLAGA
Story and photos by Gerry Dawes
Antigua Casa de Guardia
Until a trip in early May to attend the Málaga Gastronomy Festival, I was oddly ignorant about Málaga and its unique culinary traditions. For more than forty years I have wandered Spain, incessantly crisscrossing the country from top to bottom, leaving few stones unturned. It would seem that I would have delved more deeply into the major Andalucian city—birthplace of Pablo Picasso and hometown of Antonio Banderas.
I even lived for nearly three years in the province of Málaga, where my late wife, Diana, and I ran The Dawes Gallery for Contemporary Art in Mijas, a picturesque tranquilo ex-patriate artists’ village perched high above the Costa del Sol. But we seldom visited the provincial capital of Málaga itself. In retrospect, the several pleasure outings we made to Málaga were memorable, including a few luncheons at the legendary seafood restaurant Antonio Martín (now revived as El Merendero de Antonio Martín, left), where my wife and I had magical times dining at open-air tables right along the seawall. We had a lovely lunch, invited by a sadly long-forgotten benefactor, at the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel Málaga Palacios overlooking the harbor and we spent a night at the Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro on its spectacular perch high above the city.
A couple of times, we ventured just east of Málaga’s harbor for lunch at one of the famous chiringuitos (way casual beach restaurants) on the Pedregalejo fishermen’s beach (below). There were chanquetes (tiny whitebait crisply fried) and sardinas al espeto, half a dozen sardines stuck on cane spike espetos (spits) and grilled over wood fires right on the beach. (Now the government has decreed that these grill fires cannot be on the beach; instead they are done in sand- and pebble-filled fishermen’s dinghies in front of each restaurant).
And there were particularly memorable non-Spanish dinners at Le Pic Nic, a restaurant run by a very eccentric middle-aged French couple, she cooking marvelous old-fashioned French country food such as rabbit in a cream sauce while he waits the tables and dispenses the vino.
Another memorable night took place on an American aircraft carrier anchored in Málaga harbor. We had somehow met a U. S. Navy Captain pilot, with whom I had hit it off, since I had flown off aircraft carriers on Navy aircraft chasing the Soviet fleet around the Mediterranean when I was a Russian linguist enlisted man. I invited the Captain to our house in Mijas for paella, and he invited us to have dinner with him in the Admiral’s stateroom on board the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy in Málaga harbor.
Ten years ago, one of the shore stops for a cruise ship on which I was lecturing about Spanish gastronomy docked in Málaga, and I went ashore like a tourist and photographed the wonderful Atarazanas Market (left), in a 19th century iron-frame building fronted by a large 14th century Moorish gate that once opened onto the harbor. Now, owing to centuries of development and landfill, it is a few blocks inside the city.
At that time I visited the evocative Moorish fortress, the Alcazaba, which begins at the edge of the old quarter near the restored ruins of the Roman theater. And I visited a few bars and restaurants, the most memorable of which were the venerable 19th century Málaga wine-dispensing bodega Antigua Casa de Guardia and the emblematic flamenco-and-bullfighter-centric restaurant in the old quarter near Málaga’s cathedral, El Chinitas, which took its name from the 19th century Málaga café cantante-teatro Chinitas, made famous by Federico García Lorca and said to be the oldest flamenco café in Spain (right).
So, after some fifty wine-and-gastronomy travels and personal visits to Spain over the past decade, I found myself in Malaga again for the city’s Gastronomic Festival.
First off, it helps to separate Málaga city from the storied and somewhat notorious Costa del Sol, famous for its beaches, booze and high-rise package-tour hotels and apartments blocking views of the Mediterranean for miles. Much of the Costa del Sol caters to mass tourism and is attractive as a retirees’ haven. As home to Marbella, where I also once lived before it became the full-bore, high-rent magnet for well-heeled, but not well-behaved, nuevo Euro-ricos, it lured Spanish celebrities, aristocrats, yacht owners, corrupt politicians and those attracted to that scene, which might be likened to a mini-Las Vegas, but by the sea and without the surfeit of casinos.
Upon landing at Málaga airport, most people take an immediate right turn and head west for Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Marbella, Estepona and on down to Sotogrande, the famous golf resort in neighboring Cádiz province. And, though some of them may make a perfunctory day trip to Málaga for a visit to the Picasso Museum, most remain scattered throughout the beach towns along the coast.
Although there are plenty of foreign visitors, Málaga has managed to maintain its very singular Andalucian character. This ancient city that the Phoenicians knew as Malaka now deserves to break into the ranks of the not-to-be missed Andalucian classics—Sevilla, Granada and Córdoba—and become the fourth must-see city on the Andalucian circuit. And, like those other three cities, the restaurants, tapas bars and shopping in Málaga are intertwined with central city sites of real tourist merit such as the restored Roman theater, the 8th century Alcazaba fortress; the 14th century Moorish doorway to the wonderful Ataranzanas market (right); the 16th-18th century Italian Renaissance-style Cathedral (called La Manquita, the “one-armed lady,” because the builders ran out of money to finish the second bell tower meant to complement the existing one); and the life-size bronze statue of the great Danish fairy tale author, Hans Christian Andersen.
Augmenting the city’s historical treasures, Málaga, in just a little more than a decade, has become a serious art museum attraction with the Picasso Museum (opened in 2003), the Casa Natal de Picasso (the artist’s restored home of his youth), Museo Carmen Thyssen (a collection of more than 200 paintings from the collection of the Spanish baroness who owns many of the paintings at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid), el Centro de Arte Contemporáneo, Centre Pompidou Málaga (the only branch outside of France), the Colección del Museo Ruso (believe it or not, an outpost of the State Russian Museum collection in St. Petersburg), and a burgeoning artsy neighborhood called SOHO next to the port, which all contribute to the city’s now considerable cultural attractions.
I will not try to claim that Málaga’s restaurant scene rivals Barcelona, San Sebastián or Madrid, but I found there were some good authentic regional restaurants, augmented by the classic chiringuitos, those legendary beach-front joints specializing in wood-fire grilled sardines and whole fish; funky, wonderful old-time tapas bars; churros and chocolate emporiums; the great Atarazanas market and its market bars; and some promising modern cuisine restaurants. And there are more than enough tourist attractions and ambience to warrant a serious visit and even an extended stay in this ancient, yet simultaneously modern, international and vibrant quintessential Mediterranean city.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
245 East 44th Street (near Third Avenue)
It wouldn’t be the first time a restaurant was named after a celebrity—there’s a Sinatra and a Picasso in Las Vegas, Michael Jordan steakhouses in Chicago and NYC, and a Piaf in Puerto Vallarta. So why not a restaurant named after Japan’s favorite action hero, Toshiro Mifune, star of such classic samurai movies as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rasho-Mon?
You might expect in such a venue some kind of flamboyant décor in homage to the actor, but in fact there’s only a photo of him. Otherwise, the restaurant, designed by Katsunori Takeuchi, consists of a well-lighted, simple 11-seat counter that leads to a large, high-ceilinged main room done in traditional natural wood, with three large shoji style panels on the far wall accented with the Mifune family crest. There also is a subterranean dining room with semi-private tables for groups of four to eight, at which about 18 courses are served omekase style.
Mifune is an offshoot of the well-known Paris restaurant Sola led by chef-owner Hiroki Yoshitake, who features traditional washoku cuisine, a style that adheres to rigorous attention to the seasonal bounty; at Mifune French culinary techniques and ingredients are added in. The chef de cuisine in NYC is Yuu Shimano, who formerly worked at Guy Savoy in Paris, assisted at Mifune by Tomohiro Urata, who had cooked at La Maison Troisgros in Roanne. The result is a menu full of unique dishes that never stray far from either Japanese or French traditions.
A sensible way to see what Mifune is all about is to order the reasonable five- or eight-course tasting menus ($80 and $120), based on the morning’s market. My meal began with truffled egg custard accompanied by uni sushi, the latter mild enough not to overwhelm the intended blandness of the custard. Next came a lustrous sashimi platter, certainly the most traditional item I sampled, with all the fish of outstanding flavor and at the right temperature.
A crispy scallop, battered with crunched up arare crackers (right), was excellent with a bonito dashi cooking broth that really stimulated the appetite. Red shrimp was quickly seared and topped with what was called “ossetra” caviar, but I don’t know where it came from. Its mild flavor went nicely with the shrimp’s own. Gindara is a species of Asian black cod, here cuddled in a delightful Parmesan foam with tempura-fried squash blossom (left) that shows the global reach at Mifune.
I was happy that the now ubiquitous wagyu-style beef was not served; instead, first-rate and well-aged, lightly smoked Angus beef added a good fatty component at that point in the meal, followed by another enrichment—foie gras with egg mixed into rice with a lush sabayon sauce, whose late summer truffles added little (right). Better to wait for the fall truffles.
Two desserts ended the meal the way Japanese desserts usually do, not with a bang but with a soothing ending: French blancmange was scented with soba tea and served with caramel ice cream; matcha (ground green tea) mousse with azuki beans, fruit compote and kinako (soy bean flour) ice cream wasn’t very interesting, proving that French desserts are almost always going to trump a course Japan has only recently adapted.
There are, of course, several sakes listed, and the wine list encourages you to get away from the usual beer order. There are also plenty of novel cocktails with aching names like the Drunken Angel and the Seven Samurai.
Mifune is one of many Asian restaurants near the U.N., thereby drawing the kind of clientele steeped in good Japanese cuisine. And with its grand design and devotion to a Japanese movie star, it happily deviates form the usual ultra-minimalist style of so many others. I suspect you might visit Mifune ten times and rarely get the same exact dishes twice.
Mifune is open for lunch: Mon-Fri; 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (last order 2 p.m.), Dinner: Mon-Sat.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WINES I'M DRINKING NOW
By John Mariani
Having just returned from France, where I drank exclusively French wines, I have been indulging at home in a wide variety of bottlings from all over the world. Here are some of my favorites at the moment.
Tommasi Rafael Valpolicella Ripasso 2014 ($25)—Valpolicella seems to be having its day in the sun after decades of mediocre imports that might be characterized as “red wine” and nothing more. Tommasi is one of the first-rate labels in Veneto and its “ripassso” version of Valpolicella is a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara that is “re-passed” over the lees of fermented Amarone wine, giving the wine considerably more body and layers of flavor and a second fermentation that adds to the alcohol level. Tommasi’s regular Valpolicella ($14) is also a fine example that is a very versatile wine of the region.
Tenuta Santa Maria Alla Pieve Amarone 2010 ($90)—While we’re on the subject of Amarone, this is a convincing example that this once leathery style wine can be made with considerable finesse. It’s not meant to be delicate but it should be fresh and fruity, as this one is. The label is in the stable of Bertani wines, which have always produced big, beautiful Amarones, and at 15% alcohol, this example is somewhat below more brutish bottlings and therefore far more versatile. It will be ideal for Thanksgiving turkey with side dishes that can often have a sweet component.
Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($100)—An outstanding example of Cabernet that really helped put Chilean wines on the map. The high-altitude vineyards were established in 1890 in the Maipo Valley, and today winemaker Enrique Tirado contends with hot and cool years, so vintages vary. He draws from 142 individual lots, a “quilt” of “multiple expressions,” adding some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot for complexity, reaching a good alcohol level of 14.3%. It’s worth its price, which would be three times as much for a French or American competitor.
Porer Tenuta Lageder Pinot Grigio 2013 ($20)—Rare is the Pinot Grigio worth its price in this country and rarer still is one that can take four years of age. Lageder, in the southern Tyrol, takes full advantage of the sunny climate, using a trellis system (unusual in Alto-Adige, where the pergola system is traditional), aiming for “biological balance,” relying on solar energy, geo-thermal warmth and natural convection currents. Grapes gently push their own way via gravity down a tower during successive stages of vinification. Such care manifests itself in a very rich, well-developed structure, 13% alcohol and a proper acid-fruit balance.
Dow’s Quinta Senhorita da Ribeira Vintage Porto 2006 ($60)—Vintage Ports are among the world’s greatest values, and this year (bottled in 2008) is just ready to decant and drink with great pleasure. The name—“Lady of the River”—refers to a small chapel on the Douro where sailors would ask for safe passage on the river. The wine will certainly improve still further as the tannins soften to reveal the blackberry and vanilla components beneath. With a blue cheese, roasted walnuts or chestnuts, and dried apricots, this is as good a complement as I can think of.
Assobio 2013 ($13)—The Douro does not just produce its famous Port wines; more and more the region is exporting a range of solidly knit, well made red wines like Assobio, whose D.O.C. designation doesn’t tell you much about its origins. Assobio refers to a hillside with high vineyards, but it’s made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, giving it depth and charm. Very well priced.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. 2010 ($108)—Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ reputation goes back to the boom period in California wine in the 1970s, when its Cabernet Sauvignon won the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tasting. S.L.V.’s first vintage was 1972 and it has remained consistently a beautiful example of how a broad-shouldered California Cab, made by Marcus Notaro, can achieve excellence without going above 14% alcohol. It can even age well—not something a lot of California Cabs do—but right now it’s velvety, robust and the kind of wine that begs you cook up a steak or stew for mid-autumn.
DEPT. OF WRETCHED EXCESS,
Nos. 3,445 and 3,446
Madison Park in NYC now sells a cup of coffee
for $24. The reason is that the restaurant's "coffee
director" takes ten minutes to prepare a single cup of
coffee, using rare high-end beans and fancy
machines. . . . Meanwhile in Dubai, Seven Fortunes Coffee
is serving a $68 cup of coffee from beans hand-picked
from a Panamanian volcano. Only 45.5 kilograms of the
special coffee beans — called Esmeralda Geisha Cañas
Verdes —are said to exist in the world and
recently sold at auction for $1,324 per kilogram.
AND ON A CLEAR DAY YOU
Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners
Wine is a joy year-round but in autumn in particular, one grape varietal has really taken center stage in my daily activities – that most Italian of grapes, Sangiovese, and its ultimate expression – Brunello di Montalcino.
From mid-September through mid-October, the Sangiovese grown for our various styles of red wines are be harvested, culminating with the top selection for Brunello di Montalcino.
Second, cooler weather here means it is time to start enjoying more red wines and especially Sangiovese based wines. That includes Banfi’s cru of Brunello, Poggio alle Mura, literally the cream of the crop of our Sangiovese vineyards. Alongside our Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino, this year we introduced two more wines from the cru Poggio alle Mura – a Rosso di Montalcino and a Riserva of Brunello. Rosso is sort of like the younger brother of Brunello, also made from 100% Sangiovese grapes but usually a selection from younger vines and the wine is aged only two years compared to the four required for Brunello. The Riserva, on the other hand, is an even more selective harvest of Sangiovese, and ages for an additional year before release.
What is so special about this cru Poggio alle Mura? Well, it is the result our over 30 years of ongoing research at my family’s vineyard estate, Castello Banfi (above). 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 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.
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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
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; email@example.com; www.nickonwine.com.
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