Circa 1886 Restaurant

Wentworth Mansion

49 Wentworth Street

Charleston, South Carolina

(843) 853-7828


Circa 1886 - InteriorTucked away in the original carriage house of the Wentworth Mansion, replete with its original pine floors and enchanting architectural accoutrements, Circa 1886, as their website so understatedly notes, “evokes the romance and Old-World charm of historic downtown Charleston.” An understatement, indeed, considering that in 2020 the restaurant was cited as one of “The Most Romantic Restaurants in the World” by Architectural Digest.

Circa 1886 - Ex Chef Marc CollinsBut Circa 1886 offers diners infinitely more than alluring ambience, as the restaurant is consistently ranked as one of the finest the city of Charleston has to offer. For over a decade, Executive Chef Marc Collins has worked with local farmers and fishermen to create an innovative seasonal & local menu that has taken Lowcountry cuisine to new culinary heights… In 2019, he launched a unique four-part menu that takes diners on an historical journey through South Carolina’s fascinating foodways – Tastes of Native TribesFlavors Brought from Africa… Influences from Europe – and how these elements have been fused into a decidedly modern take on Lowcountry cuisine… South Carolina Today.

Needless to say, the menu presented so many intriguing possibilities that it was extremely difficult knowing what to choose. Somehow or other – undoubtedly by pure chance – my dining partner and I managed to put a dent in all four categories. I began with the Foie Gras (from Europe), which, when I happen to spy it on a menu is almost impossible to resist. Mr. Collins version was particularly avant garde, bewitching the palate with such delicious traveling companions as cassava pudding, pomegranate strawberry jam, lime basil oil, and smattering of hazelnuts.

Circa 1886 - Shrimp & GritsCirca 1886 - Rainbow TroutMy dining companion’s Shrimp n’ Rice Grits (from Africa; pictured) was equally au courant, incorporating smoked ham hock gravy, Burden Creek Dairy goat cheese, and tiara of cabbage leaves.

It was a rather warm evening in Charleston, so we decided to take the piscatorial route. I opted for the Paprika Grouper (from Europe). Pillowed on a seabed of leeks n’ kale, it was accompanied by crispy fingerling potatoes and garnished with Manchego cheese and an intriguing preserved tomato & caper crudo… A captivating combo of flavors and textures to say the least. My dining partner’s Rainbow Trout (Native Tribes; pictured), however, was even more thought-provoking. The filet was enveloped in an ethereal sunflower sumac crust and kissed by an enticing corn sauce, with a wild rice porridge, arugula, and cranberry paint in strong supporting roles.

Other interesting items that are definitely worth a try… Butternut Squash & Peanut Soup: grilled scallion lacquer, dried mango; Southern Grilled Cheese: pimento cheese mousse, grilled brioche, Surryano ham, paddlefish caviar, cured yolk powder; Chicken Fried Duck Breast: Hoppin’ John, turnips & tops, orange & grapefruit salad, buttered biscuit gravy; Peri-Peri Pork Belly: coconut red rice, collard greens, red onion piccalilli, guave purée; Sea Scallops: blue corn grits, copper carrots, Brussels sprouts, vanilla bean vinaigrette.

Desserts continued the kitchen’s winning ways with one representative from each of the menu’s above-mentioned four culinary categories: Sweet Corn and Huckleberry (Native Tribes): sweet corn Bavarian, Johnny cakes, huckleberry sorbet, puffed hominy; Coconut Sombi (from Africa): Carolina gold rice pudding, fresh mango, coconut sorbet, benne seed tuile; Mousse au chocolat (from Europe): dark chocolate mousse, caramel crèmeux, pecan profiterole, chocolate sauce.

Circa 1886 - Strawberry Shortcake SouffleOur denouement of choice, however, was the Strawberry Shortcake Soufflé (South Carolina Today; pictured): beautifully textured buttermilk soufflé, rich, decadent Grand Marnier ice cream, and sweet fresh strawberries… Incomparable.

One final note. Circa 1886 also has a fabulous wine list… including a Bucket List Wines by the Ounce, with one, three, and five ounce pours of some extraordinary vintages. And their innovative specialty cocktails are certain to raise a few eyebrows as well as spirits… Like Spring on Wentworth: Vodka, Limoncello, Lemon, Basil; Ladies Man: Glenmorangie, Cocchi Americano, Orange Bitters; or Little Bird Told Me: Spiced Rum, Campari, Pineapple.

Circa 1886 - ExteriorIf you are visiting the Charleston area, Circa 1886 is certainly worth a visit. Check that… a journey.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well



During a recent road trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, for a family gathering, my traveling companion and I discovered two interesting restaurants along the way.

Docks, South Portland, Maine - InteriorDocks Seafood Restaurant & Market, 15 Evans Street, South Portland, Maine, (207) 899-4433, Visited on our way to Bar Harbor, Docks was conveniently located a stone’s throw from I-95 and just a few blocks from our Courtyard Marriot. This super-casual restaurant/market combo features fresh, local & sustainable species of fish & shellfish, Maine craft beers, wine & cocktails, and local snacks & art.

The setting is unpretentiously utilitarian, but the welcome is warm and the regional cuisine carefully & lovingly prepared. And lobster, as you can well imagine, plays a significant role here. The Maine Lobster Dinner is a house favorite, or you can also go for the Lobster Roll, Lobster Nuggets, or the downright decadent Lobster Mac & Cheese.

Docks - Haddock ReubenFinny fare includes items like Grilled Swordfish; Salmon, baked or grilled; Haddock, baked or stuffed; and such sundry other possibilities as Seafood Newburg, Fisherman’s Platter, Seafood Alfredo, and baked or seared Scallops. My traveling companion opted for the Fish & Chips, while I settled on the Haddock Reuben (pictured), an utterly delicious amalgam of fried local haddock, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Thousand Island dressing sandwiched between toasted slices of Mainly Grains marble rye.

Landlubbers, however, may take heart, as the menu also features Hamburger, Pulled Pork Sandwich, and “Value Meals” such as Chicken Tenders, Grilled Hot Dog, and Grilled Cheese.

If you should be traveling north to Maine, Docks Seafood Restaurant & Market would make a very pleasant stopover.


Fix Burger BarThe Fix Burger Bar, 108 Grove Street, Worcester, Massachusetts, (774) 823-3327, Tucked away in an old warehouse building, the Fix Burger Bar provides a modern setting for custom burgers companioned by craft beers, a slew of innovative cocktails, and a number of spiked milkshakes.

The cocktails here are called Remedies; and they are certainly good for what ails you… The Hibiscus Mojito: Hibiscus-Infused Rum, Hibiscus Simple Syrup, Muddled Mint & Lime and Soda; the Navola: Drumshanbo Sardinian Citrus Gin, Italicus, Limoncello, Lemon Juice, and Simple Syrup; Plum Surprised: Damson 6 O’clock Plum Gin, Lime Juice, Plum Purée, Ginger Beer; and the Peach Piggy Smash: WhistlePig PiggyBack 6yr Rye, Peach Liqueur, Muddled Mint & Peaches, Ginger Ale… Well, you get the idea.

Fix Burger Bar - Fried PicklesThere are a number of interesting ways to start things off here – the Mac & Cheese with parmesan, cheddar & truffle breadcrumbs looks like a good bet… ditto the Spicy & Sweet Snaps, roasted sugar snap peas, spicy sweet soy glaze, crushed cashews, and red pepper flakes. Then there’s always Roasted Garlic Hummus or Potato Chip Nachos with short rib, cheddar, fresh jalapeño, whisky BBQ, corn, onion, and chili sour cream.  Our starter of choice, however, was the Fried Pickles. They are crispy crinkle cuts with a dynamite horseradish dipping sauce (pictured). This is a really great starter. Just a hint of dill through the light breading with the sauce adding a nice bit of heat. If you’ve never tried fried pickles, you’re in for a real treat.

Fix Burger Bar - The Gatsby BurgerWith a name like Fix Burger Bar, burgers are, as you have probably surmised, nothing short of spectacular. They are, as the menu notes, “cooked through while remaining tender and juicy.” Without doubt, the best I have tasted anywhere. Possibilities range from the Bigger Mac, obviously a takeoff on McDonald’s (2 ¼ lb. house patties, special sauce, lettuce, American cheese, pickles, onions, sesame bun), through the Mushroom (sautéed mushrooms, grilled onion, arugula, Swiss cheese, truffle mayo, brioche roll), the Bacon Blue (Great Hill blue cheese, bacon, red leaf lettuce, red onion, tomato, creamy Frank’s Red Hot, brioche roll), the Phenomenal (bacon, smoked gouda, fried egg, frizzled onion, sweet chili ranch, brioche roll), culminating with the Gatsby (pictured), the most expensive burger on the menu, (1/2 lb. American Wagyu patty, clothbound cheddar, slab bacon, grilled onion, ancho ketchup, brioche roll).

The menu also offers a number of intriguing alternatives to beef… the Green Acre (veggie patty), the Enzo (grilled chicken), the Spartan (lamb patty), and the Ghostface (roasted garlic turkey patty), as well as Burger Bowls featuring variations on both beef and chicken.

Fix Burger Bar - InteriorDesserts, which we did not sample, also look good. The two listed on the menu are B5 Chocolate Spring Rolls (white chocolate mousse, ginger strawberry sauce, whipped cream) and Pistachio Cheesecake (orange honey, crème Chantilly, candied pistachio).

Traveling near Worcester, Massachusetts…? The Fix Burger Bar is not to be missed.

 Bon Appétit!


Penicillin CocktailIn the title of his recent article in the Robb Report, Jason O’Bryan described the Penicillin as “the Most Successful Whiskey Cocktail of the Millennium (So Far).” And in his 2016 book A Proper Drink, cocktail historian Robert Simonson referred to the Penicillin as “the most well-traveled and renowned new cocktail of the 21st century.” Today, Penicillin is considered a modern classic; and yet, somehow, also a reminder of the past as well.

Mat Bar, The - IcelandBe that as it may… I freely confess that I had been absolutely unaware of this libation before I spied it on the cocktail list at the Mat Bar (pictured; full review at a later date), a cozy little gastropub in Reykjavik, Iceland, and decided to give it a try. The name, of course, caught my eye immediately, as did the intriguing list of ingredients: Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch, honey, ginger, lemon, and Angostura Bitters. If I order a cocktail before dinner, I prefer a predominance of bitterness rather than sweetness… and the Penicillin definitely exceeded my expectations.

Sam Ross, BartenderUnlike the Negroni cocktail, mentioned in a previous newsletter, which traces its history back to 1919, the Penicillin is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was created in 2005 by Sam Ross (pictured), a native of Melbourne, Australia, at New York City’s famous Milk & Honey Bar. Just 22-years-old at the time, he was experimenting with Gold Rush, a cocktail that featured bourbon, lemon juice, and honey. He decided to skip the bourbon and, instead, mix blended Scotch with fresh lemon and a homemade honey-ginger syrup. The result was a beautiful balance of sweet, tart & spicy, similar to that found in a Whiskey Sour. The real genius of the drink, however, was the quarter-ounce of smoky Scotch that he floated on top. Served in a rocks glass, it really spiked up the aromatics.

While the Penicillin is considered a modern classic, and is available across the globe – from lavish hotel lounges to local neighborhood bars & chain restaurants – it is also easy enough to shake up at home.


 For the Cocktail

2 oz blended scotch (I prefer Johnnie Walker Black Label)

¾ oz fresh lemon juice

¾ oz honey ginger simple syrup

Dash of Angostura Bitters (optional)

¼ oz peated scotch (I prefer Bowmore from the Island of Islay)

For Honey Ginger Simple Syrup

1 cup honey

1 cup water

4 inches fresh ginger peeled and chopped

Sam Ross - BartalkINSTRUCTIONS

 For the Cocktail

  1. Add the blended scotch, lemon juice, honey ginger simple syrup, and Bitters into a shaker with ice. Shake for 30 seconds or until well chilled.
  2. Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Top with the peated scotch and garnish with a piece of candied ginger.

For the Honey Ginger Simple Syrup

  1. In a medium saucepan combine honey, water, and ginger and bring to a boil, ensuring the honey fully dissolves.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat, allowing the simple syrup to steep for 30 minutes (or up to a day if you prefer a singer ginger flavor). Strain out the ginger and transfer the simple syrup to a clean glass jar.
  3. The simple syrup may be stored at room temperature for 1 week or in the refrigerator for a month.

One final note… In addition to the Penicillin, Sam Ross has also created three other incredibly popular cocktails that may be of interest: the Fort Lauderdale, Paper Plane, and the Conquistador. If you would like to watch all four of these cocktails being made, be sure to check out the following video on YouTube:


Be Safe & Stay Well



Agave Mexican Cuisine

1620 Baltimore Pike (Route 1)

Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania

(484) 770-8345

Agave - ImageThere is absolutely no shortage of Mexican restaurants in the Phoenixville/King of Prussia area. However… if you consider yourself a discriminating connoisseur of south-of-the-border cuisine, a road trip to Chadds Ford is something of a must. I say this because Agave, which made its debut on January 25, 2017 – and was previously reviewed by this writer in February 2018 – remains, in my opinion, the numero uno Mexican eatery in Philadelphia’s western suburbs.

I have put in several dinner appearances recently and have yet to hit a clinker. The kitchen knows what it’s about and carries it off with understated flair and panache. Mexican fare isn’t exactly renowned for its photogenicity; but most of Agave’s presentations are as attractively presented as they are carefully and lovingly prepared.

A scant moment after you’re seated, the tortilla chips and salsa hit the table. The house-made chips are especially good, delightfully crunchy and seductively seasoned… But be sure to team them up with the kitchen’s benchmark Guacamole, served in a traditional molcajete (the Mexican version of mortar and pestle). While customarily made by mashing ripe avocados and sea salt, other ingredients may vary significantly. Agave’s irresistibly chunky rendition, for example, incorporates chopped tomatoes, red onions, cilantro, serrano peppers, and a splash of lime.

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Other starter possibilities include the ubiquitous Nachos de la Casa; Clams a la Mexicano, littleneck clams sautéed in garlic white wine or red diabla sauce with chorizo; Tuna Tostadas; or Queso Fundido, a type of party dish often compared to a cheese fondue (pictured). Typical main ingredients are melted cheese and a characteristic meat sauce of loose fresh chorizo, tomato, onion, chili, and spices. It is served in a small, shallow casserole or other ceramic or metal heatproof baking dish. The cheese and sauce are prepared separately and combined just before serving. The mixture is quickly broiled and presented while still bubbling hot. It is then spooned onto small soft tortillas for individual servings. This is an extremely rich dish, but also incredibly delicious and satisfying.

Agave - Quinoa Salad On the other hand, if you’d prefer something a bit lighter, the kitchen also does a commendable job with salads. For example, the Salpicon Salad (or salpicón, meaning “hodgepodge” or “medley” in Spanish) is comprised of romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, radishes, queso fresco, and white wine tomatillo vinaigrette. My favorite, however, which I’ve sampled on numerous occasions, is the incomparable Quinoa Salad (pictured), a delightful amalgam of pumpkin seeds, avocado, raisins, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and queso fresco splashed with an enticing lemon vinaigrette dressing. Simply not to be missed.

Agave - Taco Tasting Platter w Kennett Square MushroomsAs I mentioned in my initial review four years ago, as you move on to what would be considered entrées, the tacos – all served on homemade corn tortillas – are definitely a cut above. My favorites include Coliflor (cauliflower and chick peas), Costilla (short rib braised in guajillo chili sauce, and Pescado (mahi mahi served with chipotle aioli, red cabbage coleslaw & avocado). But the Taco Tasting Platter, which I thoroughly enjoyed during a previous visit, is clearly the way to go here (pictured with side of Kennett Square Mushrooms). Choose your five favorites and feel free to share.

Agave - Grilled SalmonDuring my most recent visit, however, matters piscatorial took center stage. The Bronzino, Mediterranean sea bass, was exceptional… but the Salmon a la Plancha (pictured), grilled salmon served on a seabed of quinoa and arugula was even better. I seldom order salmon when dining out, as I so often prepare it at home… However, companioned by perfectly prepared julienne vegetables, this filet was an incredible textural treat, cooked through (as opposed to translucent) but still incredibly moist and flavorful. Just the way I like it. Kudos.

Agave - Tres Leches CakeAs I mentioned in my first review, Mexican restaurants aren’t known for their desserts… but Agave’s renditions are definitely worth the extra calories. The Flan is quite good… ditto the Spicy Chocolate Mousse Cake. Though not noted on the printed menu, when it is available, the Cheesecake with Tequila Sauce is excellent. Even better, however, is the spectacular Cheesecake with Crème Brûlée Topping. The thick Graham cracker crust provides a fabulous crunch, while swatches of raspberry sauce add touches of color and a tangy contrast to the sugary crème brûlée.

Most recently, I sampled the Tres Leches Cake (pictured), a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of three milks – evaporated, sweetened condensed, and heavy cream – topped with whipped cream. Very sweet… but very, very good. Be sure to save room.

Agave is still BYOB. However… On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the restaurant offers a three-course special for $35.00 per person and will throw in a complimentary bottle of white wine or pitcher of margaritas. So be sure to check it out.

Located very close to Longwood Gardens and just a stone’s throw from the Brandywine River Museum, if you happen to be traveling anywhere in the Chadds Ford area, Agave Mexican Cuisine is definitely worth a visit.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well



Essay Wines of South Africa - VineyardThe term “Essay” is a play on words, as it refers to the popular abbreviation for South Africa (SA). But it also implies “assemblage,” or the blending of elements to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Essay Wines of South Africa - Riaan Moller, WinemakerInitiated by partners/cellarmasters José Conde and Tyrrel Myburgh of MAN Family Wines and head winemaker Riaan Möller (pictured), Essay Wines consists of two blended Mediterranean-style vintages produced from grapes grown in the Agter-Paarl (“behind Paarl”) Cape Coast region of South Africa. The vineyards are grown sustainably, are unirrigated, and are planted on old shale soils, which tend to produce grapes with good minerality coupled with fresh fruitiness.

The 2021 Essay Wines Chenin Blanc consists of 72% Chenin Blanc, with the addition of 17% Roussanne & 11% Viognier giving the wine an impressive aromatic “lift” and touch of richness on the palate.

According to the producer, 2021 was a warm and dry season that produced smaller berries with enhanced flavor concentration. Warmer day-time temperatures combined with cooler nights resulted in perfect fruit quality, demonstrated in both excellent flavor intensity and fresh acidity.

The 2021 Chenin Blanc is medium-bodied and delightfully fruity with a fresh finish. The wine is perfect on its own for warm weather quaffing or as an aperitif; but it also pairs exceedingly well with a wide variety of foods, especially Asian entrées and summer salads.

Essay Wines of South Africa - Chenin Blanc, SyrahAnd the price is quite a delight as well. The 2021 Essay Wines Chenin Blanc retails around the $10.00 mark.

For those who enjoy red wine, the 2020 Essay Wines Syrah is a blend of 59% Syrah, 17% Cinsault, 14% Grenache, and 10% Mourvèdre. Like the above-mentioned Chenin Blanc, this Syrah is also medium-bodied with a decidedly lush mouthfeel.

Like a typical Syrah, the 2020 is rife with hints of ripe plum and dark fruit on the nose and palate. Grenache softens things up a bit, as well as adding some floral notes. The Mourvèdre contributes complexity and spice, while the Cinsault a touch of softness to the final blend. This is a wine that shows both depth and finesse with gentle tannins. This is a most satisfying wine that is perfect for everyday quaffing. And, once again, the price is right. The 2020 Syrah averages around $12.00 retail.

These wines are available from various sources. However, since both may be easily purchased online via special order from Pennsylvania State Stores, going this route may save you a great deal of hassle.




Dante’s Italian Bistro & Pastry

550 Kimberton Road

Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

(484) 924-8072

Dante's Bistro - ExteriorFor those of you out there who may be keeping score, the answer is Yes. Yes, I am aware that I’m reviewing two Italian restaurants back-to-back. Last month it was Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, this month it’s Dante’s Italian Bistro. Initially, this one-after-the-other formula struck me as an exercise in futility, sort of like comparing apples and oranges; but, the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that having a look-see at their similarities and differences might prove very interesting to readers – from a fiscal as well as a culinary perspective… Especially since one is the absolute antithesis of the another.

Davio’s, as you may recall, is a loud, bustling, pricey (overpriced, in my opinion), classy chain establishment with 10 outposts stretching from Massachusetts to Texas.  Dante’s, on the other hand, is a quiet little mom & pop BYOB restaurant and pastry shop that tends to fly right under most people’s radar (my dining partner and I only discovered it via word of mouth from a friend who just happened to give it a try).

Tucked away behind Citadel Federal Credit Union in the Kimberton Shoppes, sharing space with Kimberton Nails, Gracie Jiu Jitsu, RK Arters Tax Prep, Z Best Cleaners, and the Asian Café among others, Dante’s is easily passed by without notice.

Dante's Bistro - Pastry Display CasesYou cross the threshold, stroll past the pastry displays (have a good look, as you’ll want to take some goodies home later), and follow the hostess to a small dining room in the rear.

Utilitarian and brightly lit, the area isn’t exactly high on ambience… but it’s comfortable, the service is friendly & attentive and, as an added treat, every once in a while, you’ll catch a glimpse of papa toting a tray of freshly-made pastries from the kitchen to the front of the house.

Dante's Bistro - Garlic Knots & SauceThe food here, as you may have surmised, is just as homey and down-to-earth as the atmosphere. Everything is made from scratch; red sauce – which, I will warn you in advance, tends to be on the sweet side – predominates the proceedings, and portion sizes are prodigious. You won’t go hungry here. You won’t go broke either, as prices are decidedly easy on the wallet. The menu tops out at $28.99 for Homemade Scampi Ravioli; salads and appetizers range from $4.95 – $9.99; and, should you order a pasta dish, the price will include not only homemade garlic knots (pictured) & a side salad, but the dessert of the day as well.

You may start things off, as noted immediately above, with either a salad or an appetizer. Among the former, the Chicken Caesar is always a good bet… ditto the Italian Chef’s Salad, a hefty combo of lettuces, deli meats, olives and provolone cheese. When it comes to the latter, you discover many of the standard – but exceptionally well-prepared – items such as Mozzarella Sticks, House-Made Crispy Onion Rings, and Classic French Fries served up au naturel or with bacon & cheese or bacon & a delightfully decadent Alfredo sauce.

Dante's Bistro - Arancini al FromaggioFor my money, however, the Arancini al Fromaggio (pictured) is clearly the way to go. A staple of Sicilian cuisine, Arancini are Italian rice balls that are stuffed with mozzarella (and, occasionally, other items such as green peas and ham), coated with bread crumbs, deep fried, and served with a marinara dipping sauce… Definitely a “Wow” factor in the works!

As you move along, entrées clearly demonstrate that this restaurant understands its proper role in the ultimate gastronomic scheme of things and will not allow its reach to exceed its grasp. In other words, the kitchen knows its limitations and doesn’t attempt to do too much. Diners are offered main courses from only three major categories: Seafood, Chicken, and Pasta.

Even the Seafood option, which may at first appear to be rather broad in scope is, in reality, exceedingly narrow, as the kitchen’s culinary creations, at least according to the printed menu, are limited to various incarnations of shrimp. The Homemade Scampi Ravioli, mentioned above, for example, consists of homemade ricotta-filled ravioli in a vodka sauce with bacon crowned with shrimp scampi. Variations on the theme include Shrimp Scampi, pan-seared garlic butter shrimp served on a pillow of fettuccine, and Linguine & Shrimp with bacon vodka sauce.

Dante's Bistro - Sicilian Citrus ShrimpOther possibilities include several familiar items – and some not so familiar: Shrimp Fra Diavolo, a traditional favorite of sautéed crustaceans in a spicy marinara over spaghetti; Shrimp Alfredo in a made-to-order white cream sauce with parmesan; and Creamy Garlic Butter Tuscan Shrimp in a creamy sauce with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and melted mozzarella.  For something a bit different, however, be sure to try the Shrimp Regina with fresh tomatoes & broccoli in a white wine sauce, or Gameretti al Limone (pictured), pan-seared shrimp and broccoli in a lemon white wine sauce with fettuccine.

The chicken dishes tend to round up the “usual suspects”: Parmesan, Francese, Piccata, Marsala. But there are also a couple of interesting surprises that are well worth trying. Balsamic Caprese, for example, caresses the sautéed chicken breasts in a tangy balsamic glaze with tomato, basil, and melted mozzarella in strong supporting roles. On the other hand, if you prefer your entrées on the rich, rich, rich side, there’s always the Gorgonzola Chicken, pan-seared breasts swimming in an addictively creamy gorgonzola sauce spruced up with Italian herbs.

Dante's Bistro - BologneseIf this kitchen has a claim to fame, however, it is undoubtedly their pastas – and there’s something for just about every taste. If you like it rich and creamy, go for Fettuccine Alfredo or the Pasta Norcina, penne pasta with slices of mild Italian sausage in a cream sauce with parmesan. Or, if you’re prefer not to go overboard on the cream, I highly recommend the Fettuccine with Authentic Bolognese Sauce (pictured). Here you have a slowly simmered meat sauce awash with celery, carrots, and onions buttressed by tomato sauce, wine, and just a touch of cream.

On the other hand – with apologies to Alighieri – if you like it hot, there’s always Dante’s Inferno, a fiery combo of penne pasta, hot Italian sausage, and hot cherry peppers swimming in a spicy marinara sauce. It isn’t the Nine Circles of Hell – but it’s close. And since it’s specifically noted on the menu as “VERY spicy,” don’t say I didn’t warn you. Since gastronomic discretion is the better part of peristaltic valor, you might want to settle for the less lethal Pasta Arrabbiata, penne in a made-to-order spicy tomato sauce. Yes, I know it’s a step down on the spice scale … but it may save your delicate innards from an uncomfortable stay in purgatory.

Other options, two of which my dining partner has enjoyed during separate visits, include the Baked Homemade Cheese Ravioli smothered in marinara and melted mozzarella and Dante’s House Special Pasta. This latter selection features penne luxuriating in an Italian spiced bacon tomato sauce awash with morsels of the rich house special sausage. Both proved to be excellent choices.

Dante's Bistro- Eggplant ParmMy own proclivity is for Eggplant Parmesan (pictured). When I see it on a menu, I freely confess that I find it difficult to resist; and my visits to Dante’s certainly proved to be no exception. I have also discovered that it is an excellent test of a kitchen’s prowess (or lack therefore). For while it is relatively simple to prepare, it is also quite easily mucked up. The eggplant could be undercooked, or overcooked and mushy… The breading could be too sparsely or too liberally applied, burned to a crisp or raw-tasting on the palate… The sauce could be too sweet or too acidic… The cheese, etc., etc. Well, you get the idea.

Fortunately, Dante’s kitchen does an excellent job of keeping all the elements in perfect sync. The eggplant is hand-cut, breaded, and fried to perfection. It is then pillowed on a veritable mountain of spaghetti marinara and smothered in melted mozzarella. As I mentioned at the outset, and as you will note from the photograph, the portion size is, indeed, prodigious.

Dante's Bistro - Dessert CookiesDesserts (if you still have room) vary with the day and whim of the kitchen. On several visits, my dining partner and I took the pasta route, which meant that dessert was included. On those occasions, we were treated a plate of homemade cookies, which, given the size of the entrées, proved to be the perfect ending to a perfect meal. And, speaking of cookies, don’t forget to check out the pastry displays before departing, as I know you’ll want to take something home.

By the way, Dante’s also offers diners a variety of lunch salads, cold hoagies, hot grilled panini sandwiches, stromboli, calzones and, of course, pizzas.

Just don’t forget… Dante’s Italian Bistro & Pastry is a BYOB restaurant.

Bon Appétit!




Azamara Journey -SuiteCruising, like other forms of travel, has its advantages and disadvantages. The major advantage is, of course, that you must endure the onerous rigors of unpacking only once. Also – not a minor consideration – is the fact that you need not worry about the possible consequences of indulging in a bit too much vino over dinner, as the comfort of your stateroom is just a few steps away.

One of the major disadvantages, at least from my perspective as a food writer and gastronomic gadfly, is that – apart from a few shore excursions that may include an excellent lunch or other epicurean delights – you are limited to the culinary vicissitudes of your ship’s floating kitchen(s). And, given the length of some cruises, it is no exaggeration to assume that the quality of the cuisine may owe infinitely more to creative cryogenics than innovative cookery.

Azamara Journey - Discoveries Main Dining Room 2My introduction to Azamara’s cuisine came aboard their ship the Quest during a 2020 cruise along the east coast of South Africa… And my traveling companion and I both agreed that while the food was acceptable it was hardly transporting. During our most recent cruise(s) from Athens to Rome to Lisbon onboard the Journey, we did notice some improvements, especially in Discoveries, their main dining room (pictured), although there were still some significant downs as well as ups.

Azamara Dining - BarrataOur first night’s dinner, for example, was a particularly mixed bag. My dining partner’s Escargot was an excellent starter and her pork dish followed suit. My entrée, Sole with Romesco (a rich Spanish sauce of puréed charred tomatoes & roasted red peppers spruced up with raw garlic, vinegar and red pepper flakes), was also quite good. And our desserts, Crepes with Berries and Financiers (small French almond cakes flavored with beurre noisette), respectively, also hit the mark. On the other hand, my appetizer of Burrata with Spinach & Tomatoes (pictured), which looked so good on the plate, was a complete washout. The spinach leaves were the texture of cardboard carpaccio and, in the dish as a whole, anything even approximating flavor was conspicuous by its absence.

Crispy Chicken KaarageAs time when on, however, Discoveries’ kitchen appeared to hit its stride with a variety of diverse cuisines… The German-inspired Cabbage & Sausage Soup, for example, was excellent… A few days later I started out with a first-rate appetizer of Charred Green Asparagus & Egg Salad aided & abetted by spinach, pine nuts, parmesan shavings, and pink pepper. My dining partner had nothing but raves for her Filet of Hake gently caressed by a subtle Champagne-citrus beurre blanc. My own entrée took an unexpected – but decidedly delicious – turn with Crispy Chicken Kaarage companioned by fried noodles and Asian vegetables (pictured).

Rainbow TroutFrom my dining partner’s perspective, other memorable items included Grigliata Mista, an Italian seafood combo of shrimp, scallops, calamari and white fish filet served on a seabed of Portuguese baked potatoes… Rainbow Trout with grilled shrimp, mushrooms, new potatoes, green pea & broad bean purée (pictured)… Crab Ravioli… perfectly pink Lamb Chops… Lobster TailPotato/Leek SoupDuck TerrineFrench Lemon Tart… and, of course, Escargot.

Crepes Stuffed with Ratatouille Topped with VeggiesMy own favorites were somewhat more eclectic. I particularly liked a number of Discoveries’ Asian presentations. The Yakitori Chicken, for example, served with grilled green asparagus and Japanese fried rice, was quite good… ditto a starter of Chicken Goyza, which was similar to pot stickers, served with a first-rate ponzu sauce. The Mongolian Lamb Strips accompanied by a fragrant mound of jasmine rice were also quite excellent. I also very much enjoyed the Breaded Veal Schnitzel with German potato salad and lingonberry sauce. Quite good… but the portion size, which could easily have fed three, was actually somewhat off putting. Infinitely more appealing were the Crepes (pictured). Stuffed with ratatouille and topped with a variety of vegetables they were a treat for both eye and palate.

Other items of interest included Bonbonnière (bon bons) stuffed with ratatouille and Penne Pasta in Sour Cream Sauce. An appetizer well worth mentioning is the Strips of Veal Tenderloin in Tuna/Caper Sauce. This may strike you as an unlikely combo, but the slightly assertive sauce does wonders for the veal. An absolutely fabulous marriage of flavors and textures. The first time I sampled this dish was in a little wine bar in Munich; and tasting it once again brought back some very pleasant memories.

Prime C - Dover SoleIn addition to Discoveries, the Azamara Journey also has two specialty upscale eateries: Prime C, a steakhouse; and Aqualina, an Italian restaurant. And while things appear to be looking up in the main dining room, their specialty enclaves, at least during our most recent cruise, didn’t fare quite so well. My dining partner’s Dover Sole (pictured), though hardly top of the line, actually wasn’t too bad…

… My Filet Mignon, on the other hand – which should have cut like butter, as the saying goes – was as tough as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. And, despite my steak knife’s munificent machinations, simply refused to be cut (or sawed) into submission. So, back to the kitchen it went (something I never like to do, for a variety of reasons). It’s replacement, which demonstrated only marginal improvement, was no great shakes either. Needless to say, this was not the kitchen’s finest hour.

Aqualina - Lemon Liqueur MousseAqualina was something of a mixed bag. Our first visit was extremely satisfying, infinitely better than the experience on our first cruise, as I recall. The starter of Eggplant Lasagna stuffed with red bell pepper tapenade pillowed on a bed of Italian cous cous, for example, was quite good. An entrée of Spaghetti Bolognese was also up to the mark. In this case, however, it was dessert that stole the show. The Sorrento Lemon Liqueur Mousse (pictured) garnished with meringue and accompanied by lemon gelato was nothing short of spectacular. Alive with fresh flavors, it was the perfect conclusion to a perfect meal.

Aqualina - Vegetable Soup with LentilsOur second dinner, however, proved something of a disappointment. It started out well enough… We both enjoyed the Tuscan-style Vegetable Soup with lentils (pictured). And my dining partner had nothing but praise for her Rigatoni with bell pepper-tomato sauce with grilled asparagus, broccoli & pumpkin. My Eggplant Parmesan promised mozzarella quinoa pasta with rustic pomodoro sauce… However, it turned out to be the same rigatoni & sauce that had graced my partner’s dish. In addition, there were only three small pieces of eggplant and they were hard and woefully overcooked. Adding insult to injury, my dish was lukewarm when it hit the table.

Azamara Journey - Windows Cafe 4But let’s conclude on a few positive notes… Located aft on deck 9, Azamara Journey’s most consistent restaurant, in my opinion, is their casual Windows Café. And, as you will note from the photograph, it is well named, as an impressive wall of floor-to-ceiling windows offers diners a magnificent view of the open sea and/or shoreline.

But there is infinitely more to Windows than just the view. Open for early breakfast, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, their buffet-style dining is top-of-the-line and exceeded our expectations in every respect.

My traveling companion and I found the lunches here very pleasant, indeed. Of particular note are their salads – tuna, chicken, egg – all freshly made. Sandwiches also have a great deal to recommend them, as do the rotating hot entrées, which are themed to celebrate particular cuisines. Desserts, however, are truly exceptional, especially my personal fave, the extraordinary made-in-house gelati.

But breakfasts here are also quite good; and, on numerous occasions, we would stop in before setting out on our various shore excursions. The eggs, in whatever incarnation – scrambled, omelet, Benedict – are first-rate… ditto the blintzes, stuffed pastries, potatoes, bacon, and sausages.

Azamara Journey - Windows Cafe 2And, as an added incentive, Windows Café is adjacent to the Sunset Bar (pictured), a welcoming outdoor patio with both covered and open-air seating. After collecting your comestibles from Windows buffet, it’s the perfect spot for dining alfresco, enjoying an innovative cocktail over lunch or later in the day, or simply watching the world sail by.

One final word: A few days before the end of our cruise(s), our usual waiter in the main dining room, with whom we had become quite friendly, offered to have the chef, his good friend, prepare a special dinner just for us with the cuisine of our choosing. Since he was from India, we decided to go that route, which made him very happy – and us, as it turned out, as well, as the food was incredibly delicious.

Azamara Journey - PakorasWe started out with Pakoras (pictured), spiced fritters that originated from the Indian subcontinent, but are also sold by street vendors and served in restaurants in South Asia and the United Kingdom. Pakoras may consist of many different items, usually vegetables – particularly diced potatoes & onions, which we enjoyed here – coated in a batter of chick-pea & rice flours and deep fried. These were served with a spicy chutney made with green chilies, which provided just enough heat to invigorate rather than incinerate one’s sensitive palate.

Azamara Journey - Chicken Tikka MasalaOur main course was Chicken Tikka Masala (pictured). This is a dish consisting of roasted marinated chicken segments served in a rich, creamy orange-colored spiced curry sauce. This dish was popularized by chefs from India living in England and is now offered in restaurants around the world. It is also the most popular Indian dish served in America.

The Masala was companioned by basmati rice, naan bread (naan is a leavened, oven-baked or pan-fried flatbread that is found not only in India but also in the cuisines of Western & Central Asia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Caribbean), and papadum (wafers made from ground lentils) with mango chutney.

The bottom line, of course, is: Would I sail with Azamara again? The answer is an unequivocal Yes! Despite a few faux pas, the food has improved considerably over my previous experience. In fact, during our recent cruise(s) my traveling companion and I, along with several other passengers, were asked to participate in a test tasting of various meats that Azamara was considering for its ships’ kitchens. It is obvious to me that this cruise line is continually attempting to up its culinary standards; and that, in and of itself, is a testimony to the company’s ongoing dedication to its patrons.

Bon Voyage!

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Cambria - Jill Russell, Winemaker 2When people think about California wines, they generally have Napa Valley in mind. However, there is another long-standing wine region that is home to remarkable winemaking. Though often overlooked as a top wine destination, Santa Barbara County is home to some of the most diverse soils and vineyards.

Family-owned and sustainably-farmed, the Cambria Estate Winery is a remarkable property with each wine bearing the Cambria name grown, produced and bottled on the estate. With vineyards dating back to the early 1970s, Cambria Estate helped establish Santa Maria Valley as a world class wine producing region.

The now-deceased Jess Jackson and his wife, Barbara Banke, established Cambria in 1986 after purchasing what was originally known as the Tepusquet Vineyards. Today, the winery is owned and operated by Ms. Banke, with her daughters, Julia and Katie Jackson, serving as co-proprietors. The Kendall-Jackson property covers more than 1,400 acres and is located 17 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Maria, California. The cool sea air blankets the vines in a maritime fog, creating a unique climate that is ideally suited for the cultivation of chardonnay and pinot noir.

Under the watchful eye of winemaker Jill Russell (pictured), every wine produced on the Estate is sourced from a single vineyard and certified sustainable. But the two primary vineyards producing chardonnay and pinot noir, respectively, are named after the above-mentioned Julia and Katie Jackson. These vineyards are marked by both a depth of character and history of excellence – most recently when Wine & Spirits magazine named Cambria Winery one of the “Top 100 Wineries of 2020.”

Cambria - Katherine's Vineyard Chard 20192019 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay: The critical acclaim for this wine has been nothing short of spectacular. Wine critic Antonio Galloni of Vinous bestowed 94 points and called it “fabulous… This classic Santa Maria Chardonnay hits all the right notes.” Wine Enthusiast added 93 points, designated it an “Editors’ Choice,” and chimed in: “Winemaker Jill Russell does wonders with this widely available wine.” Wine Spectator and Wilfred Wong of contributed 91 and 90 points, respectively.

This lovely medium-bodied chard is plush, creamy, and easy to drink. And there’s just enough oak to gently caress rather than smother those fragile fruit flavors. Add a hint of spice, a nice touch of acidity, a lingering finish, and you have a real crowd-pleaser.

The price is a real crowd-pleaser as well. Retailing at $21.99, in Wayne, New Jersey, currently has it on sale for $16.99 (plus shipping). The really good news, however, is that this little beauty is also available via special order from Pennsylvania State Stores for only $14.99.

Cambria - Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir 20192019 Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir: I have always been an avid fan of pinot noir, and Cambria’s 2019 Julia’s Vineyard is particularly recommendable. This is an attractive, kind of easy-going wine that can handle a minimum of cellaring but is drinking well right now. It’s a bright translucent red colored pinot with interesting aromas of cranberry and pomegranate.

On the palate, it’s medium-bodied – but feels as light as a feather – beautifully textured, and smooth as silk. There are subtle spice notes here, and a kind of “earthiness” that complements the perfectly balanced tannins. Not as lush and plush as some pinots, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in elegance and finesse.

Wine critic Jeb Dunnuck refers to this wine as “value-priced”; noting, in fact, that “it tastes as if it cost 2-3 times the price.” And he’s right on target. The 2019 Julia’s Vineyard retails around the $25.99 mark., noted above, currently has it on sale for $19.99 (plus shipping). Once again, however, there is good news from the PA State Store front, as it is available via special order for a mere $16.99.


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Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse

200 Main Street, Town Center

King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

(610) 337-4810

Davio's - InteriorAlthough it hardly seems possible, a full four years have passed (March 2018) since I posted my initial review of Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse. As you would expect, there have been a few minor adjustments here and there; but, for the most part, the restaurant seems to have changed not at all. The cavernous dining space remains something of an echo chamber; caught between a high ceiling, hardwood floors, and bustling bar scene, the decibel level, especially when the joint is jumping – which seems to be most of the time – is still downright daunting. Depending upon your table location, carrying on a civilized conversation without shouting may very well constitute a major challenge.

Davio's KOP - Veal TenderloinThe food is yet another constant. The general pandemonium notwithstanding, the cuisine continues to be first-rate on all counts. During my most recent visit, the six diners in our party (three couples) were completely satisfied with the gastronomic goings-on. The majority chose variations on the carnivorous theme: 8-Ounce Center-Cut Filet Mignon, 8-Ounce 55 Day Prime Aged Strip Steak, etc. Though enjoyed during a previous visit, the incomparable Sautéed Veal Tenderloin (pictured), also deserves mention. It remains, without doubt, one of the best veal presentations it has been my pleasure to ingest this side of the Atlantic. The veal was extraordinarily tender, with oyster mushrooms, cipollini onions, and roasted fingerling potatoes putting in superb supporting performances… But, ultimately, it was a rich and savory Marsala wine sauce that succeeded in propelling this dish into orbit. Highly recommended.

Davio's KOP - Seared Atlantic SalmonOn this occasion, however, my dining partner and I decided to take the seafood route, both opting for the Atlantic Salmon (pictured). It arrived at table flesh side up on a seabed of sautéed baby spinach surrounded by a pool of warm eggplant caponata. The filet was attractively seared while its interior remained delightfully moist. This entrée had been ordered on one of my previous visits, and it remains a personal fave. As I noted in my initial review, Davio’s has managed to inject a healthy dose of pizzazz into an all-too-pedestrian piscatorial menu fixture.

Davio's - Chicken Livers 2Our group’s appetizer choices ranged from a shared Chopped Romaine Salad to San Marzano Tomato Soup with goat cheese chive crostini to Oysters Rockefeller. Once again, though, my dining partner and I took a different route, sharing a starter to which we have become thoroughly addicted: the Crispy Chicken Livers (pictured). A bath in the deep fryer leaves them irresistibly crispy yet with a moist & succulent interior. They are then tossed with roasted pine nuts in an enticing port wine balsamic glaze and crowned with deep fried spinach leaves. They may not look like much, but, trust me, they are an incredible feast for the palate.

That’s the good news… now for the bad. Dining at Davio’s – as I clearly noted in my first review – is a downright expensive proposition. Recently, however, it has graduated from “expensive” to “simply outrageous,” surpassing even Eddie V’s Prime Seafood as the king of high prices. This restaurant is definitely not for the faint of pocketbook. Cocktails are all in the $15.00 – $18.00 range; wines by the glass start at $12.00 and top out at $34.00 for a Verve Clicquot “Yellow Label.” “Select Wines by the Glass” begin at $29.00 and top out at $50.00. The regular wine list is definitely worth a read, but – depending upon your choices – could set you back some big bucks.

Salads are in the $14.00 – $19.00 range; pastas begin at $24.00 and top out at $49.00 for the Maine Lobster Risotto. Antipasti start out innocently enough with the San Marzano Tomato Soup garnished with Goat Cheese Chive Crostini, $12.00. From there, however, it’s onward and upward. That innocent-looking Crispy Calamari with cherry peppers and citrus aioli will set you back $20.00; the Tuna Tartare with avocado, Meyer lemon, harissa, and Davio’s herb pasta chips, $23.00; Grilled Octopus with purple potatoes, micro greens, and romesco, $19.00; Oysters Rockefeller, $25.00; and Oven Baked Lump Crab Cake, $29.00.

Davio's KOP - Crispy Chicken LiversAll of the above high finance, of course, tends to make those aforementioned Crispy Chicken Livers, $15.00, look like a comparative bargain. Well… yes and no. The photograph of the chicken livers above was taken during my most recent visit. Compare it to the photo of the same dish taken 4 years ago. Please note that the current rendition is less than half the size of the original… Not such a bargain after all.

Entrée-wise, the Veal Tenderloin and Atlantic Salmon pictured above go for $41.00 and $39.00, respectively.  An 8-Ounce Center-Cut Filet Mignon will set you back $57.00; a 10-ounce, $70.00. The real killers, however, are the “Daily Specials,” all of which were recited without benefit of prices. And when we specifically inquired as to their cost – and our server was immediately forthcoming in this regard – they turned out to be significantly more expensive than a goodly number of items on the printed menu. Our server’s description of the special Black Sea Bass, for example, sounded great; but it weighed in at a whopping $55.00; the special Scallops at a wallet-busting $70.00.

Davio's KOP - Dessert CartAnd desserts offer no monetary reprieves. All sweet denouements carry a heady $15.00 price tag – with the exception of the Warm Chocolate Cake with Stracciatella gelato and Amarena cherries, which is $16.00. Tack on coffee/espresso, perhaps a digestif, tax, and tip and you could very well have a fiscal tsunami in the making.

The big question is, of course: Does the quality of the food justify these hefty prices? That depends, to a great extent, upon your point of view… and the state of your wallet. However… this conversation is not about Jean-Georges, or Le Bernadin, or the French Laundry, or La Tour d’Argent, or some other legendary bastion of ethereal gastronomy. No, this is about Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in beautiful downtown King of Prussia, PA.

So, is it worth it????? Is it worth paying elevated fine dining prices to chow down on chain steakhouse fare – as good as it may or may not be – in an atmosphere saturated with near-lethal decibel levels? Is it…? Not to me… but it’s your call.

 Bon Appétit!

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Arneis 20202020 Almondo Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie: Roero is a small DOCG-qualified (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) viticultural area in the northeast corner of the province of Cuneo in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. Together with Monferatto and Langhe, this trio of vineyards form a UNESCO-ranked World Heritage Site. The designation’s name is steeped in local history, as “Roero” refers to a family of bankers who were very influential in the area during the Middle Ages.

There are approximately 2,861.48 acres of vineyards in Roero DOCG, producing 6.6 million bottles of wine per annum. Roero is known for its elegant Nebbiolo red wines, which, because of its sandy soil, are less tannic and more approachable (and significantly less expensive) than its neighboring Barolo.

The area’s real claim to fame, however, is Arneis, a fragrant pear-perfumed white wine grape that is responsible for 77% of the vineyards’ plantings. Indigenous to Roero, Arneis has been cultivated here since the 1400s. The varietal nearly became extinct after World War II, as it only remained in three vineyards. Even then, it was simply used to attract insects away from the more important Nebbiolo. However, when tastes began to drift away from fuller-bodied over-oaked chardonnays and the like, Arneis experienced a renaissance and has recently been rediscovered by a variety of white wine lovers, especially in the United States.

For generations, the Almondo family has carefully tended the vines of Arneis. The old vines of the single vineyard, Bricco delle Ciliegie, are rooted in the sand that was once an old ocean bed. Building upon the legacy of his talented father, Giovanni, Domenico Almondo, has taken this small family winery to such new heights that he is now considered one of the best winemakers in Italy.

I have tasted numerous vintages of Almondo Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie, but the 2020 is truly special… and wine writer Antonio Galloni of Vinous, who bestowed 91points (100-point scale) agrees: “The 2020 Roero Arneis Bricco delle Ciliegie is layered and creamy, yet retains terrific freshness throughout. Pear, ginger, white flowers and a hint of spice lend notable character to this inviting, compelling Arneis, Bricco delle Ciliegie is one of the great whites of Italy.”

The major problem with Almondo’s wines is that the quantities are just too small to satisfy the demand each year. Once the Michelin-starred restaurants of Rome and Paris have received their share, only a miniscule amount of wine is imported; and the entire United States allocation is gobbled up in one big hurry. Right now, according to Nicholas Wines, Red Bank, New Jersey, the count and the amount are down to 25 cases anywhere. Nicholas is currently offering this extraordinary vintage at $26. 50 per bottle (plus shipping). The perfect wine for relaxed summer quaffing.


Argiolas Costera 20182018 Argiolas Costera Cannonau di Sardegna: The wine region of the Italian island of Sardinia includes the vineyard area across the entire stretch of land, with approximately 98,842 acres cultivated. Sardinia is located off the west coast of Italy and is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily.

Cannonau is the most important grape variety of the island for red wine production. The resulting deeply-colored, full bodied wines are characterized by a balanced alcohol level and equally balanced acidity & tannins combined with beautiful fruit flavors and notes of peppery spice. It may be produced as a single varietal wine or blended with other varieties to add body and fruit without tannins.

Until recently, it was thought that Cannonau was just the Sardinian name for Grenache, which originated in the region of Aragon in northern Spain and was brought to Sardinia when the Aragonese conquered the island in the early 14th century. The Sardinians, of course, never quite believed this story; and their doubts piqued the interest of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania. They formed a partnership, which subsequently led to the excavation of archaeological sites in Borore, Sardinia, in 2002. There they discovered hundreds of preserved grape seeds dating back some 3,200 years. DNA testing at U of P laboratories conclusively proved that these grape seeds were, indeed, the remnants of Cannonau, were indigenous to Sardinia, and distinct from modern-day Grenache.

Argiolas is the foremost wine estate on the island of Sardinia, producing exceptional wines from native varietals.  Antonio Argiolas, who died in 2009 at the age of 102, inherited seven acres of vines from his father in 1938 and was the first on the island to convert to modern viticulture to pursue quality over quantity. His sons, Franco and Giuseppe, replanted the vineyards in the 1980s with the goal of reducing yields and focusing exclusively on Sardinian grapes. The Argiolas estate consists of 692 acres of vineyards, divided across a number of different estates to the north and east of the city of Cagliari. The winery currently produces 2.2 million bottles each year.

The estate’s flagship wine is the Turriga Rosso Isola dei Nuraghi. The highly-rated 2016 – 97 points from wine critic James Suckling; 93 points from Vinous – for example, is a blend of 85% Cannonau, 5% Carignano, 5% Bovale Sardo, and 5% Malvasia Nera and is aged for 18 to 24 months in new French oak barriques and an additional year in bottle. It’s a lovely, polished wine, dense and powerful. It will also put a $75.00 – $90.00 dent in your wallet, depending upon your place of purchase.

On the other hand, the 2018 Argiolas Costera Cannonau di Sardegna is an incredibly beautiful wine that is rich & intense, yet delightfully smooth and supple on the palate. My first sip elicited a totally unexpected “Wow!”… as did the price, a paltry $13.99 at your local PA State Store. Bargains like this do not come along every day. A fabulous wine. Get it while it’s hot!

 Bon Appétit!

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