Although the summer weather is fighting to hang on through the final few official days of the season, the low 40-degree nights earlier this week were a definite reminder that fall isn't too far away. While it's always sad to see summertime slipping away, I love the change of the seasons, and they're one of the primary reasons I live in Vermont. Aside from the gorgeous fall foliage, and the reminder that ski season isn't too far away, I love fall because it marks a return to heartier cooking.
The crisp, cool air that crept in earlier this week certainly gave me a chill, but it also reawakened my seasonal craving for mushrooms and truffle oil. To me, no fall season would be complete without copious numbers of dinners that featured these flavors, and since the cooler weather offered a sneak preview of fall, I decided to capitalize on the change in temperatures by sneaking in an extra mushroom and truffle oil dinner before fall's official arrival on Saturday, September 22nd.
Knowing that I had a pork tenderloin begging to be used in my refridgerator, I searched for a recipe that featured truffle oil and tenderloin. The recipe I found, on Epicurious.com, called for beef tenderloin, and so I had to modify the recipe slightly to suit my purposes. I substituted my pork tenderloin for the beef tenderloin, and used chicken stock (as opposed to beef stock) to accomodate the lighter meat. I also created a butter/oil mix using white truffle oil, instead of the black truffle butter that was called for in the recipe. (If you'd like to recreate my variation on this great recipe, please feel free to write in with any questions). Although the recipe is somewhat labor-intensive, if you're looking for a nice fall dinner, I highly recommend giving it a shot.
However, I'd be failing in my duty to you, if I didn't elaborate on the wine component of the meal. My choice of wine wasn't very difficult, especially considering it was my first mushroom and truffle oil inspired meal of the season. Before I began cooking, I hastily raced to my wine rack, and perused my stock of Nebbiolo-based wines. Nebbiolo is the most highly regarded grape in Italy's Piedmont region. Most notably, it is the only grape used in the production of Barolo and Barbaresco. It is also responsible for the wines of Boca, Bramaterra, Carema, Fara, Gattinara, Ghemme, Lessona and Sizzano - to name a few other Piedmontese appellations where the grape is grown. In some of these locales, Nebbiolo is referred to as Spanna. Nebbiolo is often compared to Pinot Noir, given that it is a thin-skinned grape, and is very difficult to grow. Yet, while Nebbiolo can produce light-bodied wines of elegance, restraint, in the vein of a Grand Cru Burgundy, comparing Nebbiolo to Pinot Noir doesn't do justice to either grape. Both are capable of producing phenomenally compelling wines, but there is nothing that compares to the wholly unique character of a great Barolo or Barbaresco. Even Nebbiolo based wines from the other Piedmontese appellations listed above produce wines that can be vastly different than Barolo or Barbaresco, and outside of Italy's Piedmont, Nebbiolo is found in very few regions of Italy, let alone the rest of the world.
Like its Piedmontese neighbor, Barbera, Nebbiolo is very easily influenced by its climate, and the winemaking techniques that are applied to it. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are more structured, tannic wines, aged in wood (Slovenian oak casks or French oak barriques are most common). Barolo must be aged for 3 years before sale, while Barbaresco is only aged for 2. As such, Barbaresco is considered the more feminine of the two wines, although both are wines with tremendously complex aromas and flavors, simultaneously intermingling floral and earthen notes with suggestions of elegant red fruit, and a strongly acidic backbone. Both are great food wines, and are capable of aging for a long time. However, due to the inherent difficulty involved in growing Nebbiolo, the relatively small acreage of the appellations, and the lengthy aging requirements, both Barolo and Barbaresco tend to be very expensive wines.
The other appelations within Italy's Piedmont region produce a range of outstanding Nebbiolo based wines, but in general these are softer, less tannic wines, that display brighter fruit and floral notes. Still, they have a character that has yet to be replicated elsewhere in the world, although there has been experimentation with Nebbiolo is currently underway in California, Washington, and Australia. Prices for these wines vary, but in general, they are less expensive than most top-notch Barolos or Barbarescos. A good way to go, if you're trying to experience Nebbiolo for less than $20 is to look for a Langhe Nebbiolo, which is not subject to the lengthy DOC aging requirements, and allows producers to source their Nebbiolo grapes from all over the Langhe region of the Piedmont. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are smaller DOC zones that fall within the Langhe. Another good sub-$20 Nebbiolo option is Nebbiolo d'Alba. If you're confused, write in with a question, or a request for a recommendation, or ask your trusted wine retailer to provide a recommendation for you.
Given the prominence of truffles in Piedmontese cuisine, it makes sense that the wines of the region have evolved to become the signature pairing for the delicacy. Naturally, Nebbiolo is king among these. Nebbiolo's signature character that blends earthiness, floral notes, and subtle red fruit make it a knockout pairing for dishes that feature earthy flavors, like mushrooms and truffles. As I was cooking on a Monday night, and my girlfriend was out of town, I opted for a less expensive Nebbiolo option to pair with my Porcini Crusted Pork Tenderloin with White Truffle Mushroom Sauce. Although they are rare, some Nebbiolo is produced in Italy outside of the Piedmont, and my choice of wine, the 2010 Arnad Montjovet from the La Kiuva cooperative, fit that description. Located in Italy's Vallée d’Aosta, in the Alps about an hour north of Piedmont, Arnad Montjovet is a tiny DOC whose named after the two villages it is situated within. The local name for Nebbiolo in Arnad Montjovet is Picatendro, and unlike Barolo and Barbaresco, the wines of the Arnad Montjovet DOC do not have to be entirely made from Nebbiolo. The wine is 75% Nebbiolo, with the remaining 25% consisting of local grapes such as the local grapes including Gros Vien, Neyret, Cornalin and Fumin. While no one would mistake this wine for Barolo or Barbaresco, it was delicious, and a great compliment to my meal. It showed classic Nebbiolo aromas of violet and red fruit, with spicy red fruit flavors and lively acidity on its light-bodied palate. Best of all, given that I purchased it for around $18 (BRIX Wine Shop - Boston, MA), it was a wine that was a reasonable splurge for a Monday night.
It's 81 degrees here in the Burlington, VT area today, and I'd highly encourage everyone to crack open a rosé, and enjoy the summer weather while it lasts. There's officially a week of summer left, but the 40 degree nighttime temperatures in this weekend's forecast are hinting that fall could be trying to make an early arrival. While it's always sad to see summer go, hopefully dinners of nebbiolo, mushrooms, and truffle oil can make the transition an easy one.