With Truffle season in full swing, Mike Bennie runs the rule over what to drink with WA’s finest fungi.
Truffles are super fancy things. Accordingly, wine matching with truffles usually includes higher-priced, higher-profile drinks. It’s this weird idiom: benchmark food, benchmark wines. Don’t break the rules. You’ve got to put on your Sunday best to sit in the Rolls Royce. Or so it feels.
Typically, truffles command high prices, and righteously so for their seasonality, scarcity and difficulty to grow. Notwithstanding they don’t just pop up all over the place but need a matrix of tree types, soil and climate to come about. Out of the ground, the fungi have a precarious existence and the shortest of shelf lives. They demand a price point that rewards the patience and persistence of their growers.
The luxury tag means truffles get the best end of the wine list thrown at them. Champagne, premier and grand cru Burgundy, the finest of grenache-syrah blends (especially from Vaucluse in France, a spiritual home of truffles), and of course Barolo and Barbaresco, the great Piedmont nebbiolo wines of Italy (again, where truffles are endemic). It’s a double-down on the finery.
While I get the full luxe experience is part and parcel, with truffles and wine matching, I’m more about diversity, experimentation and a bit of good old-fashioned palate cleansing. Western Australia is a hotbed of trufferies and increasingly high-quality truffles, and grows a dreamy diversity of grape varieties to go alongside. Be it classic single varieties, stately things or intriguing blends, gaudy avant garde wine styles or things that sit somewhere in between.
Looking at the more tried and tested approach, I asked Si Paradiso’s chef Paul Bentley what his truffle food and drink vibe is. “I’m loving local truffles with gnocchi, fontina fonduta”, he says. “Pinot noir with some savouriness is the best thing alongside”. While Bentley cites great Burgundy as his go-to, he’s a huge advocate of local WA wines in his matrix of drinking.
While I get the full luxe experience is part and parcel, with truffles and wine matching, I’m more about diversity, experimentation and a bit of good old-fashioned palate cleansing.
When I think fancy Burgundy and truffles in the context of Western Australia wines, I’m diving for the old-school good-school of WA pinot noir. Bob Peruch from Batista in Middlesex (Manjimup) is in my sights. His vines are close to the source of some of the greatest of Australian truffles. He’s a lovely fella, determined and singular in his approach to winemaking. His quixotic vision involves near enough to off-grid wine growing (he just got his first mobile phone), mixed agriculture farming, charcuterie making, releasing wine when it’s ready. All this has led to some of the most distinct pinot noir wines in Western Australia – these are earthy, savoury reds of dried cherry and cranberry fruit characters with WA’s version of garrigue shot through them. The wines feel all dusted with woody and clove-like spice. They’re guttural and a little raw, and lovely for it. The Batista pinot noirs have the gravitas and depth to match superbly with local truffles.
Similarly, Picardy pinot noir fits the bill. The wine comes from Pemberton and the legendary Pannell family, pioneers of the wine industry in WA. Picardy pinot typically arrives in the glass with deep, inky concentration offering plum and ripe cherry characters, game meat and old spice cupboard notes and underlying mushroomy earthiness. They’re grippy, puckering reds of medium weight and silty tannins. Truffles beware.
Chardonnay is not often the go-to for truffles but when it’s fine and fancy it does the trick. You need weight and freshness, and a little chewy texture, perhaps. Bentley takes us down the white-wine path with his second suggestion: “marron roasted with black truffle, shio koji and any Meursault from [the Burgundy producer] Roulot”. While his mark might be France again, local wines from Margaret River including the likes of Si Vintners (saline to the max, nutty, bright), Pierro (ripe stone fruits, nougat, powerful, graceful and deep) and Cullen (elegance, precision, beautiful) work superbly.
Chardonnay is not often the go-to for truffles but when it’s fine and fancy it does the trick. You need weight and freshness, and a little chewy texture.
These wines seem to marry richness with the saline minerality that Bentley is alluding to with his selection. The local wines are righteous stuff in the upmarket stakes and deliver a complex, compelling experience when wedded to dishes with our balls of black gold.
On the other end of the spectrum, in the more unadorned, simpler wine zone, winemaker Ben Gould of Blind Corner in Margaret River takes a different tack. “Anything nouveau works for me”, he says. “Youthful, fresh reds, drunk with a light chill, crisp with acidity and fine in tannin. These kinds of wines reset the palate after each mouthful of truffley goodness, which is kind of ideal.”
Gould produces a nouveau syrah from his biodynamic, Margaret River vineyard. “It’s all red berries and green herbs and peppery spice”, he says. It works a treat with simple, truffle-draped dishes, bringing freshness and levity to the table. Kindred wines of this style will work a treat.
I’m into some of wine’s alt-expressions with truffle. I love mataro when it’s all game meat, bloody and red berried, dripping with sweet-earthy spice. Green Door Wines of Ferguson Valley do a ripper mataro (monastrell) raised in amphora, and their tempranillo, also raised in amphora, reeks and tastes like sarsaparilla, liquorice, fennel and white pepper. It’s another brilliant partner for truffle dishes. Wines like this almost work like an additional seasoning or flavouring.
Chilled it’s great news, and perfect with scrambled eggs under an avalanche of truffle.
Blended wines, meanwhile, bring early complexity to the table yet can deliver inherent freshness at the same time. Truffles and bright reds, crisp in acidity to cut richness of flavour, work ideally. Brave New Wine’s Rude Boy is a quixotic blend of red and white grapes with grenache, shiraz, vermentino and tempranillo brought together. It tumbles out of the glass with raspberry, liquorice and minty scents and flavours and feels sloshy, jolly and lively to drink. Chilled it’s great news, and perfect with scrambled eggs under an avalanche of truffle.
Similarly styled is Empirica by Castelli Il Mazzo, a curious mix of mourvedre with pinot noir and pinot meunier blended in. Original if nothing else, it’s a savoury red, sour-sweet in a way, refreshing to the palate and a perfect reset for richer, truffle seasoned dishes.
Wine isn’t the only deal with truffles, according to restaurateur-chef Amy Hamilton of the famed Liberté restaurant in Albany. Hamilton often shies away from convention, steering outside of usual paradigms and here gives us her personal ‘finishing condiment in a glass’.
“I immediately thought of marron tails with brown butter, smoked salt and freshly shaved truffle”, she says. “For this, an Old Fashioned cocktail alongside”, styled from as many local ingredients as possible.
The sweetish, potent cocktail delivers fine cherry and kirsch-like fruitiness in the warm booze hit, and in its way perhaps honours the cherry-ish characters of red wines made from nebbiolo. Any which way, a strong cocktail, cherry sweet and drying, reeks of originality in pairing and works imaginatively in dialling up truffles.
Stout and porter beer speak to me with truffles too – wine is so often the default, a function of conservative wine ideology and the inherent need to constantly amp up the truffle experience. The dark, chocolatey beers, sometimes smoky (ideal) and often brooding with malt richness and tang, seem to almost deliver a truffle-like character themselves. Roast chook with truffles stuffed under the skin, soft cheese packed with truffles, pasta laced with truffle – yep, brown beer.
Beerfarm Milk Stout from Margaret River is soft, malty and dark chocolatey, Nail Brewing Imperial Brown from Bassendean shows strong malt characters and a little floral lift, and Wilson Brewing Lost Sailor Dark Ale from Albany is potent yet freshening. These beers readily come to mind as foils for great truffle dining and join the brilliant chorus of diversity and distinction for Western Australia drinks in the matrix of truffle and drinks matching.
Truffles Unearthed tickets are selling fast. View the full program here.