Truffle and wine moments — Canberra Times truffle dinner 13 August 2013

I love wine. But I’ve never felt a wine moment as profound as that first encounter with truffle. In winter 2009, local truffle grower, Wayne Haslam, arrived at Chateau Shanahan, beaming with a secret knowledge. He knew the coming effect on me – and a day later, on the Food and Wine team – of the knobbly black nugget inside the clip-lock bag he held.

I can’t describe that first sniff better than Elizabeth Luard did in Truffles (London, 2006), “I breathe deeply. The fragrance almost overpowers me, filling my nostrils with a scent so exciting, so overwhelming, so astonishingly familiar that my head swims and I have to sit down on a tree-stump… What exactly is it that makes the scent of a truffle so thrilling? Well. The chemists tell us it’s the pheromones, the stuff that tells Noireau [her companion’s truffle-sniffing dog] that the neighbour’s bitch is on heat. There’s no other way to explain the effect. It reminds some of us – not all, no doubt – of those nights when we held our first lover in our arms and learned, once and for all, what this thing they talked about in books was all about. Sex, actually – but all new-minted and carrying with it none of the baggage of later years. I breathe deeply again. These words spring to mind: sweet almonds, ripe grapes, thyme, rosemary, juniper, the scent of heather-roots, bonfire embers after rain”.

That sweet, pungent, earthy, sometimes cloying, sexy, power of the raw, fresh black truffle subsides to greater or lesser degree in food. But wherever the black truffle appears, it’s too exotic and expensive to be anything but centre stage.

Therefore the wine selection for our coming truffle dinner, doesn’t compete with the food. Pairs of wines with each course offer comparisons of Australian and imported styles that should sit comfortably with the food.

We selected local wines from the list at pop-up restaurant, 10 Yards, added Bryan Martin’s Ravensworth sangiovese, at Food and Wine editor Kirsten Lawson’s request, and then brought in an imported equivalent to accompany each.

The wine pairings place a local wine against wines from the homes of those varieties – sangiovese from the Chianti Classico zone Tuscany, Italy; a viognier-roussanne-marsanne blend from the southern Rhone Valley, France; and a sweet riesling from the impossibly steep slopes of the Goldtropfchen vineyard, opposite the town of Piesport on Germany’s Mosel river.


Centenary of Canberra Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvee Centenary
In 2008 a group of local winemakers produced a shiraz and a riesling for release in Canberra’s centenary year, 2013. Then in 2011, the group decided to add a sparkler to the list. Our local bubbly specialist, Greg Gallagher, made and blended the wine with Jeir Creek’s Rob Howell. It’s an excellent wine, getting better with age and makes a good starter for the truffle dinner.

WHITES – a Canberra Rhone-inspired blend and an original

Collector Lamp Lit Canberra District Marsanne 2011
Alex McKay’s marsanne a pleasing and sophisticated wine – savoury, richly textured (but not fat) and underpinned by a gently, citrusy varietal flavour, subtly meshed with a pleasing character derived from barrel ageing on yeast lees. The slightly fuller and rounder (but now sold out 2010) indicates benefits from bottle ageing – and that this could be a slow and graceful evolution. McKay says both wines underwent full malo-lactic fermentation, adding texture, and the 2011 contains a splash each of viognier and roussanne.

Cotes du Rhone Blanc (Guigal) 2009
Leading wine producer, Guigal, makes a fresh and fruity style by fermenting this blend at low temperature in stainless steel tanks. While Guigal, like McKay, also uses viognier, roussanne and marsanne, viognier, rather than marsanne, leads the blend. And, of course, there’s no oak influence.

REDS – sangiovese from Canberra and Tuscany

Ravensworth Le Querce Canberra Sangiovese 2012
Le Querce is packed with the black-cherry wholesomeness of Italy’s ubiquitous red grape variety, sangiovese. The vibrant cherry-like varietal flavour comes with attractive herbal, spicy, savoury notes. A combination of acid and fine, persistent tannins provide vibrance and structure to the medium body.

Chianti Classico Peppoli (Antinori) 2009
Here the 600-year-old producer Antinori presents a modern face of Chianti Classico. The fruit’s bright and fresh and the inclusion of merlot and shiraz with the local sangiovese adds flesh and ameliorates Chianti’s savoury-to-firm tannins. A couple of years bottle age adds to the contrast between Peppoli and the fresh, young, screw-cap sealed Ravensworth.

Barton Estate “Elva” Late Picked Riesling 2008
In the cool, moist mornings of a Canberra autumn Barton Estate’s riesling developed noble rot. Ultimately the uber-ripe, shrivelled berries made the estate’s first luscious dessert wine.

Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Auslese 2005 (Reichsgraff von Kesselstatt)
Compare a Canberra “auslese” style with the original from Germany’s Mosel river. This is probably as close as we’ll get to truffle-like experience with wine. The south and south-east facing Goldtropfchen vineyard slopes steeply away from the Mosel on one of its extreme bends, near the ancient town of Piesport. President John F Kennedy reportedly enjoyed the 1959 vintage kabinett at a 1963 breakfast in Berlin. And in June this year Berliners presented President Barack Obama with a bottle of Reichsgraff von Kesselstatt estate’s 2011 spaetlese riesling from the same vineyard.

See good food for details of the dinner and how to book.

Copyright Chris Shanahan 2013
First published 31 July 2013 in the Canberra Times and