Truffles, like caviar, are an acquired taste, but what an acquisition! Both are pungent, heady and aggressively flavored. Not everyone likes them, and for those humans so afflicted, much money can be saved. With prices of up to $2,000 a pound, even minimal consumption makes for a special occasion–a meal requiring time to savor, and a wine that justifies its presence in such distinguished company.

The magic of Perigord, or black winter truffles, the kind that Franklin Garland grows in Efland, is a bouquet and flavor ravenously sought throughout the world. Earthy, musky and inimitable, truffles are as hard to describe as the enigmatic qualities of pinot noir wine. France, Italy and Spain are the original sources for these delicacies, once only found growing haphazardly in the wild, sniffed out by sows and dogs, and more recently cultivated, with limited success, in the same areas. Italy is even more famous for its white truffles, which have defied commercial cultivation and can cost even more than than the Perigords.

The wines of France’s upper Rhone district and those of Italy’s Piedmont region are a perfect complement. With vineyards adjacent to where these underground fungi grow, their wines are laden with many flavor components that mirror truffle’s characteristics and naturally set off truffle enhanced food.

I remember seeing white truffles sold at the Saturday open air market in Biella, a town in Italy’s Piemont sector. They’re white on the inside, but on the outside they’re ugly, black irregular spheres–grotesque and dirt laden. Not very appetizing at first glance. So too, I recall the perfect risotto, garnished with raw white truffles and wild boar, cooked together with black truffles, being served at the local mountain trattorias. These out-of-the-way inns, inhabited mostly by hunters and locals, are a step back in time and sense of place. And what food! Ideal occasions to drink a fine Barolo or Barbaresco from vineyards located just slightly south of the region.

Wine selections

1998 Barolo, Montezemolo $39

Classic Barolo with earthy dry flavors and a dark penetrating bouquet.

2000 Nebbiolo d’Alba, Cascinotto $26

A great vintage for this fruit-laden “junior” Barolo.

1999 Satis, Conti Sertoli $46

From Valtellina, north and east of Piedmont, this mountain nebbiolo is called “Sfursat,” meaning “forced” in the local dialect. Similar to Amarone, but made with an intrinsically more interesting grape, the fruit, dried out on straw mats, produces a concentrated, full barreled, totally dry red. Fabulous.

1998 Per Bacco, Vietti $18.50

A blend of Piedmont grapes. Per Bacco means “for Bacchus”, but colloquially it means “holy s–t!” Delicious and fun to drink.

All made from the syrah grape.

2001 Cote Rotie, St. Cosme $52.50

Famous regional wine known for its exciting, opulent bouquet and intense, peppery-dry flavor.

2000 Cote Rotie, Guigal $52.50

Renowned producer of this famous red from the “roasted slope” (Cote Rotie)

2000 St. Joseph, Alain Graillot $25

Earthier than Cote Rotie and a thicker, fruitful sappy texture. Great producer.

2001 Crozes-Hermitage, Jaboulet $15

Junior version of the more famously dark and powerful Hermitage. This supplies a lighter texture but plenty of direct, no-nonsense flavors.

2000 Chateauneuf du Pape, La Gardine $40

A field blend of Rhone grapes that provides a “stew” of soft, earthy flavors and “sweet,” luscious fruit.

Many syrahs from America, and shiraz from Australia, would do very well as truffle accompaniments for drinking now. They include:

2000 Gibson’s Barossa Vale $40
Big and burly.

2000 Abundance Vineyards $21.50
Supple, fragrant and delicious.

2001 Penfold’s Bin 28, “Kalimna” $21.50
Intense, complex and concentrated.

2000 R.H. Phillips, EXP $14
Perfumed, with finesse and soft mouth feel.

Truffles are said to have “the smell of sex.” Amazingly, scientists have confirmed that they contain a pheromone, a chemical secretion, also found in the makeup of human beings. This makes the legend of the truffles’ aphrodisiac qualities all the more believable.

Try white truffles, uncooked, with simple pastas or on potato concoctions. Sample winter blacks cooked with scallops or fresh water trout. No matter what the medium, truffles will render their unique message.

Arturo Ciompi can be reached at