Truffles and Italian reds

Truffles are a romantic food. (Photo: Lifestyle Asia website)

Why do truffles and Italian red wines made from nebbiolo and sangiovese go so well together? Is it simply that we are likely to encounter truffle dishes in Piedmont and Tuscany, where we’re also likely to wash them down with Barolo and Chianti?

Aromatically, there is a symbiosis between truffles and these kinds of wines.

This was discussed at a seminar I recently hosted at the 3 Winos & A Providore trade day in Sydney (the ‘3 winos’ are wholesalers World Wine Estates, Combined Wines & Foods, and Winestock).

The chef at the Four Seasons Hotel’s restaurant, Paola Toppi, did splendidly to get four piping-hot dishes of mushroom risotto out to each member of the 60-strong audience. The four dishes were based on the same porcini risotto, but each had a different truffle component: Italian truffle oil (Tartufi Jimmy Italy), Australian truffle oil (Great Southern Truffles), Italian black truffle, and Australian winter black truffle.

The oils were added to the risottos at the end of the cooking; the truffles were shaved on top. All four dishes were sensational to eat, the differences between each dish minor, and all went similarly with the wines. But not all the wines suited the dish, in my humble opinion.

Joining me on the panel were Josh Rea from Gourmet Life Edgecliff, which sells the Tartufi Jimmy Italy products, and Adam Wilson of Perth-based Great Southern Truffles. Truffles are a romantic food, and each member of the panel was full of stories about their most memorable truffle eating experiences. Mine were mostly at various restaurants in Piedmont, my first and most memorable being at Osteria dell’Arco in Alba; another was at Beaugravière restaurant in the southern Rhône.

We cross-tasted the risottos with four wines: Sam Miranda Myrhee Estate Sangiovese 2015 from the King Valley, the sangiovese-based Tenute Rossetti Tino Toscana Rosso IGT 2013, Pizzini Coronamento Nebbiolo 2008 from King Valley and Cordero de Montezemolo Falletto Barolo 2013.

To my taste the Pizzini was far too concentrated, big and oaky for this dish; astonishing, statuesque wine though it is. And the Rossetti – also a wonderful wine – was also a little too full-bodied and would be better suited to a steak. But the Barolo and the Miranda were lighter and finer-boned, less tannic and more compatible with this lighter-bodied aromatic risotto.

So that’s the body-weight compatibility; what about the aromas and flavours? A big tick there, too: although the wines were very different, they both did the trick.

Aromatically, there is a symbiosis between truffles and these kinds of wines. They share a certain earthiness, a savouriness, a fungal, forest floor, sometimes (in the wines) a stony, rocky, mineral note. These wines – especially the Barolo – are not ‘fruity’; their savouriness enables them to partner foods of many kinds, but especially the terrestrial flavours inherent in fungi, of which porcini and truffle are kings.

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