Hard to believe it, but once again, it is truffle time. These dear little fungi fetch a pretty penny, so this year, many of us might be relegated to the joys of truffle salt or olive oil infused with truffles instead of the real thing.
Truffles are meant more as an accent to dishes than as a dish in itself, so it is not the end of the world to use the next best thing. Even truffle salt can bring pasta to life or add a whole new meaning to eggs, and truffle oil can create the most ethereal sauces. Known as tuber magnatum, the Latin word for fungus, they are sniffed out of the ground by trained dogs in Piedmont. Truffles can be found elsewhere, but the most coveted come from Alba.
In Piedmont, barolo and barbaresco would be the wines you ideally would savor with a truffle-laden meal, but since we are going on the cheap this year, our wine budget is also affected. There are other wines from Piedmont that will do the trick, and if we venture across the border we can also find a slew of other great choices.
Belisario Verdicchio di Metalica DOC, Vigneti del Cerro, 2009 (Marche, Italy): Verdicchio gets richer with age, a little-known secret, so you would not know this wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Belisario is an agricultural cooperative that was founded in 1971 and today is the largest producer of Verdicchio di Metalica. Full-bodied with Meyer lemon, lemon meringue and nuts, it is perfect with truffle risotto. Suggested retail: $19.99
Fenocchio Langhe Freisa, 2009 (Piedmont, Italy): Freisa was an important grape throughout northern Italy in the 18th and 19th centuries. It fell out of favor but has been resurrected in the past decade or so, perhaps a result of public curiosity. Traditionally, it was often made into frizzante-style wines that sometimes had a drop of residual sugar, but the new wave is finding it makes fine still wines that share some qualities with Nebbiolo. This family-run estate makes gorgeous wines, with the Freisa leading the way. Moderately tannic with red fruits, anise seeds and a sensational midpalate that teeters on bitterness, this terrific wine can stand up to and complement an array of truffle-influenced dishes. Suggested retail: $19.99
Le Boncie Chianti Classico, Le Trame, 2007 (Tuscany, Italy): Tuscany has truffles of its own, and the wines, most of which are Sangiovese-based, make splendid accompaniments to truffles. This Chianti Classico, not exactly the kind that comes in a straw basket, is multifaceted. Laden with anise, tobacco, peppercorns and chewy red currant fruit, it continues to unravel in the bottle and on the palate. Suggested retail: $47
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.