It’s truffle season. So which wines are you going to pour with these expensive gems?
Whether you’re splurging on white truffles or black, Alba or Périgord, you still have to grapple with the especially tricky decision of what wine to drink with this most unusual of foods. One thing is sure though: this is a meal you can’t slide by with inexpensive vin ordinaire, Beaujolais Nouveau just isn’t going to cut it.
Even wine beginning to acquire the earthy funkiness of slow decline that makes it unsuitable for almost any other food renders it ideal for truffles. The decadently fecund sense of slightly decayed vegetable matter that great wine acquires as it tips over the edge of maturity perfectly complements the wet-leaves, pagan earthiness of truffles
Old white Burgundy, old Champagne, old red Burgundy, old Nebbiolo from Piedmont – Barolo or Barbaresco – all work brilliantly. Detect a theme here? Yes, “old” is very much the key when thinking about wine and truffles.
Recently a friend, invited to a dinner party, offered to bring truffles. Was I likely to decline? So off he went to Urbani on Manhattan’s far West Side – don’t get lost David! – where he picked up 74 grams of Alba truffles, just right for six people.
They were subsequently grated over linguini in a creamy sauce of fontina, the cheese of Italy’s far northwest Val de Osta. You find this delectable combination all over Piedmont.
With it I served three what I hoped were sufficiently old wines.
First up was Bollinger’s always wonderful La Grande Année, this the 2004 Rosé.
La Grande Année is one of the best, most under-rated, tête du cuvées on the market – I love the way it combines Bolly’s distinctive full-bodied, toasty, Pinot-Noir-dominant style with sophisticated aristo polish. These attributes are even more prominent in the Rosé, and the age was just the right – at 12 it still had a lively, red-cherry vivacity but time had given those tertiary characteristics of hazelnuts and well-toasted baguette the opportunity to emerge.
This is the essence of pairing wines with truffles. You need wine with finesse – blunderbuss California Cabs just don’t work, nor great Bordeaux’s. But Pinot and its cousin – stylistically if not genetically – Nebiolla, have this perfect steel-fist-in-velvet-glove magic to pull off this most delicate of food/wine pairings.
So I followed the Bolly with a Grand Cru Burgundy, Louis Jadot’s Chapelle-Chambertin 1998.
Here again, age had worked its wonders on a brilliant wine. There was a definite brown tinge but the nose was still brightly vivid and the palate seemingly acidic and ungenerous. Was it ever going to come around?
My apprehension was misplaced — given two hours to breathe it opened up magnificently. The edginess was still there but now layer upon layer of Pinot’s beguiling, silky seductiveness appeared, along with the autumnal elements that remind me of a stroll on a misty fall afternoon through the Tuileries Gardens, the smoke from roasting chestnuts wafting over the damp leaves.
Ceretto’s Bricco Rocche Barolo 2001 was more obviously generous, bigger and earthier than the Chambertin, offering a pillowy sensuality reminiscent of the soft, rolling hills of its home, Piedmont.
Yes, age is the secret for picking wine for truffles. With all other food it’s possible, even fun, to discover an inexpensive alternative to le grand vin (see my columns on inexpensive whites and reds) but not with truffles; they demand the earthy complexity that’s only comes when long years work their inexorable but slow-moving magic on a great wine.