Monday, December 1, 2014

Wine and Truffle Pairing

By Liza B. Zimmerman

What do you pair with the most expensive mushroom in the world? While truffles are grown all over the world, some of the best white ones come from the truffle market in Alba in Northwest Italy. What grows together goes together is never a bad rule and at a recent lunch in New York Celebirty Cruises’ executive chef John Suley paired a $20,000 hunk of mushroom with a handful of Piedmontese classics: Arneis and a 13-year old Barolo.

The funk and earthiness of Piedmonte reds always work well with the layered umani flavors of truffles. Barberesco would also stand up to the challenge, while it might be a spicier match, as would Dolcetto. Chef Suley will have time to play around with the pairings, as the remaining truffles will be featured on a handful of upcoming cruises.

Creamy dishes, like the stellar risotto chef Suley made at lunch, need those somewhat acidic wines to cut through the lushness of the truffles. Aged wines or those not too tannic to begin with would also be my first choice. Oftentimes the best pairings with Italian food are simple, notes Suley, so there’s no need to overthink it.

French Pairings
Truffles, more black than white, are also found in the South of France. So hearty and tannic wines like Cahors and Madiran will stand up to truffle-strewn dishes. Black truffles, according to Suley, are a little earthier. These classic Southwestern wines will also highlight the depth and intensity of meat-based dishes, such as veal cheeks or beef stew. I might also go well with a rougher grain like Polenta, which is generally served in cooler climes in Italy.

These rougher and more intense flavors of the black verisons can stand up to a younger wines with a more tannic flavor profile. Powerhouse Bordeauxs, Suley adds, are good for both black and white truffle pairings.

A California Twist
Truffles have been grown stateside for a number of years, in places like Oregon and the Napa Valley. Both the European classics and the up-and-comers are featured every year in the epicurican bacanal that is the Napa Valley Truffle Festival.

So a handful of domestic wines can also highlight the flavors of both black and white truffles. Chef Suley says in terms of Califonria wines, he would start with Pinot Noir and scale up into Pinot Noir. The funky, earlier Pinots from California with a more moderate alchol level would do the trick. A good example would be Heron’s delicate and balanced Pinot Noir with an alcohol by volume of 13 percent.

I often find California Cabernents’ tannins to be too strong to work well with delicate umani flavors that come from truffles. California Bordeaux-style blends, with the added softness of a touch of Merlot or the dustiness of a hint of Cabernet Franc can help soften the wine’s style so it supports, rather than overwhelms a truffle-inspired dish. Washington’s Cabernet Sauvignon and those coming out of Chile at a higher-price point would also do well with the aromatic profile that truffles lend to dishes.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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