It’s truffle season. One of the world’s most expensive food items, truffles can present some big issues for pairing with wines. There are several factors to consider when choosing the appropriate wine including the type of truffle that is being served (black or white), the flavor profiles of the wine (earth versus fruit), and other ingredients of the recipe in which the truffle appears which might affect the wine choice (e.g. fat).
First, let’s start with what type of truffle. All truffles have a wild, musky, earthy flavor. Because of this truffles of any type can quickly overwhelm a delicate wine. White truffles, the more expensive, are far more aromatic and pungent than the black varietal. White truffles require a complex wine to match their robust flavor profile. For example, an aged red wine that has time to develop tertiary aromas of earthiness works well with the intense savory character of the white truffle. An older Bordeaux or Barolo can pair beautifully as their fruit profiles are subtle and their earth flavors (e.g. leather and cigar box) have had time to develop.
Black truffles, on the other hand, have less intense musky flavors than their white counterparts. Nonetheless, even black truffles need a wine that has some age. Young wines (either red or white) with intense fruit flavors will not pair well as their strong fruits compete with the delicate black truffle. Instead, serve black truffles with a wine that will mimic the truffle’s gentle earthy profile. Think, for example, a Pinot Noir with some bottle development. Floral wines of any type overwhelm black, as well as white truffles, and should be avoided altogether.
One of my favorite white truffle dishes is risotto. Rice acts as a sponge absorbing every nuance of the ethereal white truffle’s complex savory flavor. A creamy white truffle risotto needs a complex, creamy wine. One great pairing is a lightly oaked, older Chardonnay (too much oak would interfere with the truffle and the older wine would have a less intense fruit profile.) Another possible pairing for risotto is a dry Riesling with a little age. A creamy sparkling wine with good acidity is another option, however, its fruit needs to be a background note, as do any yeast flavors that can compete with the delicate white truffle flavors and aromas. A crisp sparkling wine also can help balance the richness of the risotto.
In addition to risotto or pasta, truffles can also complement meat, poultry, fish or seafood. Keep in mind that when truffles are cooked they loose their flavor, thus, truffles should only be shaved on the top of the dish just before serving. Use the same principles as with the risotto when pairing wine with these dishes: choose earthy wines and stay away from florals.