FOUNDED IN 1997
"L'Asperge" (1880) by Édouard Manet
IN THIS ISSUE
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Taking Prosecco To A Higher Level
By Pat Savoie
By John Mariani
Place de La Bourse
Bordeaux, with a
quarter of a million inhabitants, is assuredly
the world’s most famous wine
capital, and its historic center is on UNESCO’s
World Heritage List for its
18th century architecture and 362 historic
monuments. Nevertheless, it is a
solidly industrial city, and few
Bordelais have achieved international renown—artist Odilon
Jean Anouilh and film director René Clement
pretty much complete the list.
NEW YORK CORNER230 East 44th Street (near 2nd Avenue)
By John Mariani
area around the United Nations has always been
fertile territory for Asian
restaurants—it’s where the phenomenon of
Hunan/Sichuan cuisine began back in
the 1970s—and Zaika adds to the Indian entries
in a highly contemporary way,
not least in a décor of hand-painted pillars
depicting Buddhas, a glittering
bar, and rippled walls lighted in violet
Open daily for lunch and dinner.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Prosecco To A Higher Level
For the past five years, the engine driving the growth of sparkling wine consumption in the U.S. has been Italian Prosecco, which now accounts for about 20% of all sparkling wine sales, with 5.3 million cases imported in 2016, up from 900,000 in 2010. Price is one key to this growth, with more then one-third of Prosecco’s dollar sales from bottles priced between $10 and $14. The brand names that dominate are La Marca (E&J Gallo), Mionetto, Cup Cake, Zonin and Ruffino.
Italy produces about 150 million bottles of Prosecco a year, all from the Veneto region, which includes Venice, of which 65% is exported. Prosecco is labeled by the region where it’s produced using DOC or DOCG (the higher quality). DOC is produced in several provinces spanning the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. DOCG can be made only in the province of Veneto between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene and in the smaller area of Asolo and Montello.
Prosecco wine is made primarily from the Glera grape (right), which used to be called the Prosecco grape but was renamed in 2009 for the ancient Glera, which is the same grape by DNA. Up to 15% of other permitted grapes may be used. Styles are based on the amount of bubbles: spumante ("sparkling"), frizzante (semi-sparkling), or tranquillo (still).
In addition, Prosecco can be made by two different production methods. The vast majority is made by the Charmat, or “tank,” method, with fermentation taking place in large stainless steel tanks, rather than in the bottle. The wine has less contact with the “lees,” or yeast sediment, and generally less complexity. The second approach—the so-called méthode champenoise—is how actual Champagne is made. The main difference between the two methods is that the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. After several months, the sediment is disgorged and the bottle corked.
And the level of sweetness, as in Champagne, varies based on the levels of sugar remaining after fermentation. The most common designations for Prosecco are:
Extra Brut Under 6 grams of sugar per liter
Brut 6-15 grams
Extra Dry 12-20 grams
Sec or Dry 19-35 grams
But there is a trend developing—one experienced with other wines—in which interest and tastes are moving to more complex, expressive and expensive examples of Prosecco. These still represent a small portion of sales, but are growing rapidly. The sweet spot for these wines is the small production area of Asolo and Montello, around the towns of Asolo and Montebelluna.
Asolo (left) is known as the “Pearl of Treviso.” It and the smaller region of Montello are set at the foot of the Venetian Alps, where the landscape is mountainous to the north while to the south plains slope toward the Venetian Lagoon and Venice, 30 miles away.
I visited this area in May as a guest of the Consorzio Vini Asolo Montello and tasted wines from many of the 40 producers (over 85% of total) who are members of the Consorzio. These wines are a step above the rest, with intense freshness, minerality, salinity, and fruit notes. Many were made by the Traditional Method. All are classified as DOCG.
From 2013 to 2016 Asolo and Montello Prosecco Superiore DOCG production increased by about 800%, reaching in 2017 a total of over 10.6 million bottles. But only a few producers, many of whom are fairly small, have importers in the U.S., though several are seeking representation. Following are some of the standouts.
Bele Casel – Brother and sister Luca and Paola Ferraro now run the winery that their parents started over three decades ago. Luca makes some fine Proseccos, including the popular Extra Dry (about $15 in U.S.). The wines show the minerality and salinity that are hallmarks of the region.
Montelvini - Armando Serena founded this winery over 50 years ago. He is now the President of the Consortium Vini Asolo Montello, and his son, Roberto, runs the winery and makes the wine. They produce about 4.5 million bottles, of which 1.5 million are Prosecco. While they are exporting to most of the rest of the world, they are currently not in the U.S. due to a law suit over the brand name of the winery. (They do sell “recyclable kegs” to on-premise buyers here.) Their Brut and Extra Dry are perfect examples of the Asolo region.
Conte Loredan Gasparini – This winery, located in Venegazzù, Montello, has been in existence for about 60 years. It was purchased in the 1970s by the Palla family, and Lorenzo Palla is now the winemaker. The Pallas planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbech (Italian spelling) and produce some lovely red wines as well as a Brut and Extra Dry Prosecco (about $15).
Ida Agnoletti Winery – Ms Agnoletti personifies the independent female wine maker. She is opinionated and, in her own words, a “contrarian.” Her wines are lush and distinctive. Her Proseccos (she doesn’t like calling them as such) are fine and she makes a still white Manzoni and a lovely Merlot, a grape that does well in this area. Her red blend is excellent. She used to export to the U.S. a few years ago. She is currently seeking an importer.
Tenuta Baron – Founded by Nico Baron in the 1970s, the winery is managed by his wife, Enrica Beatrice, and son, Giacomo, in collaboration with Andrea Sbrissa. Their Brut, Extra Dry and Extra Brut (about $15) are excellent. The Syrah-Merlot blend Conamore ($17) is nicely fruity.
Case Paolin – Emilio Pozzobon purchased this Montello estate in the 1970s; he and his family had been sharecroppers previously. They planted more vines and today his sons, Diego, Adelino and Mirco, run the operation, where production is organic. Lovely Brut and Extra Dry Proseccos ($17) and red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot-Carmenere ($17) are worth seeking out.
La Ghisolana – Excellent Prosecco from vines over 100 years old. The family also runs an Agriturismo inn. Organic.
Pat del Colmel – In addition to the Proseccos, wines from native grapes such as Recantina and Rabbiosa are made by this small winery (above). They follow organic practices but are not certified.
LETERRE – Lovely Prosecco, plus good reds (Cabernet Sauvignon and blends).
Tenuta Amadio – Sylvia and Simone Rech reclaimed a hundred-year-old family property and created a sustainable winery. They bottled their first vintage in 2014. The Brut and Extra Dry and great examples of Asolo Prosecco. They are actively seeking an importer.
Hot-pot parlor Jiamener in Chengdu, China, recently opened its doors and offered a month of all-you-can-eat unlimited food for $25, but customers ate the restaurant out of business, falling $100,000 in debt after just two weeks of operation.
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.
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 hillsidein 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 amazon.com.
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.
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“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.
❖❖❖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, ForbesTraveler.com 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
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
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