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Oregon’s tremendous truffle pairings

Piedmont and Périgord may top gourmands’ lists when it comes to pairing wine with truffles, but Oregon’s Willamette Valley is catching up fast.

Just like wine, truffles reflect their terroir. Oregon truffles specifically love damp weather and unlike other truffle species, they only grow wild in forests, upon the roots of Douglas fir trees.

“Truffles, much like our wines, are all about where they come from,” says chef Javier Santos, owner of Subterra Restaurant in Newberg, Oregon. “I have discovered truffles with unique aromas and flavours, depending on the area where they were foraged.”

Oregon currently counts four types of native truffles. These include Oregon winter white, Oregon spring white, Oregon black, and the elusive Oregon brown truffle.

Average prices fall between US$30-$50 per ounce (28g). By contrast, white Italian Alba truffles fetch several hundred US dollars for the same amount.

Peak Oregon truffle season runs from January through March. During this time, fungi fans flock to annual events like the Oregon Truffle Festival and Taste Newberg Truffle Trail. Activities range from truffle-themed fairs and educational classes, to truffle hunts, and truffle hound training.

Simple, yet sublime

Local truffle-centric tasting menus also abound, with chefs coveting Oregon white truffles for their delicate aromas, and Oregon black and brown truffles for their earthy characteristics.

To celebrate this versatile gastronomic gem, Santos creates a “Truffle Shuffle” menu at Subterra each truffle season.

“Pairing Willamette Valley wines with truffles is about bringing out the best in both,” he says. “It’s about celebrating the uniqueness of each of our AVA’s alongside the nuances of truffles, creating a dining experience that’s both simple yet sublime.”

Dave Specter, winemaker and owner of Bells Up Winery, also in Newberg, believes that “the inherent earthiness of Pinot Noir is an absolute bang-on match for the earthiness of truffles.”

Specter teams up with Black Tie Tours and Cabellero’s Catering for a seasonal Bougie Truffle Tour and Winemaker Luncheon.

“To decide which Pinot to pair with each dish, I first consider what the other ingredients are involved, then decide if the best pairing is a lighter, brighter Pinot, or a more savoury, spicy Pinot,” says Specter, who produces four different Pinot Noir styles at his 700-case micro-boutique winery.

His Bells Up 2021 Jupiter Estate Pinot Noir with medium body, supple tannins, and an elegant finish goes especially well with a wood-fired cabbage salad, served with shallot, creamy truffle vinaigrette, and truffle pecorino.

For Billy Brownlee, head chef at Rex Hill winery, a stint in Piedmont inspires many of his truffle and wine pairings.

“When I worked in the Piemonte, we would store our farm eggs in a sealed container with local truffles, and “truffle” the eggs in their shells,” he says.

Those eggs figure prominently in Brownlee’s wild mushroom hash and fried egg with truffled potatoes, which he pairs with vintage and new release Rex Hill Pinot Noirs.

“The 2011 Rex Hill Shea Pinot Noir is a natural compliment to the truffled hash,” he explains.

“Over half the fruit for this vintage was whole cluster fermented, and you can taste the secondary layers of fermentation on the long, opulent tannins still present. The whole cluster fermentation lends a strong layer of earthy brown baking spices and tobacco that serve as a perfect segue to the forest floor flavours of the mushrooms and truffles.”

Conversely, the 2021 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir proves “instantly mouthwatering, with its youthful acidity and pretty layers of strawberry, plum and pomegranate. The richness of the egg yolk in the hash lifts these red fruit flavours to the mid-palate, and the beautifully balanced minerality cuts right through the runny yolk, bringing a long finish of slate and sugarplums.”

Chardonnay also plays a part. Alongside the Rex Hill 2019 Jacob-Hart Chardonnay, Brownlee composes truffled deviled eggs filled with pureed, dry roasted winter chanterelles, black trumpet mushrooms, Oregon black truffle, truffle oil, bacon chip topping, and a fillip of shaved black truffle.

“The minerality in this Chardonnay is so vibrant, it’s the perfect foil for the complex flavours of roasted wild mushrooms, fatty bacon, and earthy truffles,” he says.

By contrast, restaurateur Santos sources wines valley-wide. He also draws upon his Guatamalan heritage to add unique flavours and textures.

For the first course of his Truffle Shuffle menu, Santos likes to pair Corollary Namaste Brut 2018 Sparkling wine with double fried truffle fries and lemon-garlic aioli.

“Crisp acidity and precise structure, with hints of lemon curd, complement the earthy and umami flavors of the truffle infused fries,” he says. “And the lively bubbles cleanse the palate, each new bite of fries is as vibrant as the last.”

He prefers Ayoub Chardonnay 2022 with the flavourful, second-course mushroom paté with toast points and walnuts, shallot, herbs, white truffle and guava paste garnish.

“Great acidity and minerality, with notes of spices and citrus, together with the sweetness of the guava paste on a toast point, brings a refreshing contrast to the earthy, nutty flavours of the mushrooms and white truffles,” Santos says.

The ultra-rich third course risotto with wild mushrooms, marscapone, parsley, and fresh shaved white truffles calls for Cramoisi Sofia’s Block Pinot Noir 2019.

“With high acid and soft red fruits, this wine is perfect for deepening the flavours of the white truffles and the porcini mushroom powder that are the base,” says Santos. “As well as to balance the sharp pecorino and creamy mascarpone of the dish.”

Finally, Santos opts for Anam Cara Nicholas Estate dessert Riesling 2021 for his Black truffle ice cream with truffle shavings and finishing sea salt.

“Luscious, with bosc pear, apples, and peaches,” he says, “It complements the nutty, malted flavor of the black truffle ice cream with its hints of flaked salt and fresh truffle shavings.”

Clearly, delicate Oregon truffles and Willamette Valley wines prove a compelling pairing.

“Wine and truffles are a celebration of terroir, craftsmanship, and the bountiful treasures of the Willamette Valley,” concludes Santos. “And the Pacific Northwest.”

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