Developing the taste of white truffle

Do you smell it? The faint smell of tuber magnatums, also known as white truffles, is starting to seep across the Atlantic and onto restaurant menus and gourmet food store shelves. From the Langhe region of Piedmont, which also has a wealth of fantastic, truffle-friendly wines, these stone-looking fungi are a seasonal delight.

Truffles are mushrooms that are grown below the ground’s surface. Historically, female pigs were used to locate them. However, these intelligent animals know a good thing when they smell it, and too many of the precious delicacies ended up in hogs’ stomachs, not foragers’ pockets. These days, trained dogs are preferred.

The truffle’s aroma and flavor is quite strong, so a little shaving goes a long way — a good thing, as truffles sell for anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 per pound. A less expensive option is truffle oil, which, like truffles, is generally used for finishing. There are also truffle-infused jellies and other truffle-flavored products that can be great with cheeses, pasta and other dishes.

Truffles can match a huge variety of wines. Monkfish with a truffle bordelaise is crying for Alsatian pinot gris, while duck breast with brandy, mushrooms and truffles is asking for pinot noir. Nothing says breakfast quite like scrambled eggs with shaved truffles and a glass of Champagne. Fresh pasta with pecorino and shaved truffles is meant for Tuscan sangiovese, and nothing really says “love” like a truffle-immersed mushroom risotto and an old barolo. I can go on and on, but am now pretty hungry and need to find something to eat.

Here are a few truffle-loving wines:

Schoffit pinot blanc Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes, 2007 (Alsace, France): Barnard Schoffit is one of the most consistent producers in Alsace, and this beautifully balanced wine is just a crack into the treasures that can be found in his cellar. Medium-bodied with honeysuckle, spice, a hint of banana peel and Alsace’s smoke-like terroir, this could pair nicely with the fish dish mentioned above.
Suggested retail: $22

Brovia barolo, 2004 (Piedmont, Italy): Not a great vintage, but Brovia always manages to pull it off. Though seemingly young, this wine is reasonably accessible. Made from younger and older vines from the Rocche, Villero, Garblèt Sue and Ca’Mia vineyards, it is a true barolo with licorice, floral notes, turmeric and loads of earth. Suggested retail: $55

Guy Brunot Champagne Grand Reserve Brut, NV (Champagne, France): Guy Brunot is a small grower and Champagne producer that was established in 1957 by Yves Brunot, Guy’s father. After four years of lees aging, this Chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier blend is disgorged. This wine is lean and has very bright acidity that elegantly carries a delicious sampling of toasted almond, cream and vanilla. Suggested retail: $42

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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