White Truffle Just Sold for an Astonishing $87,000

In Alba, Italy, today, I witness a white truffle sell for a price of a Range Rover Sport.

WHITE GOLD

In his rousing hit “Uptown Funk,” Bruno Mars declares, “This hit, that ice cold…Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold.”

The still-stunning screen goddess, whose Hollywood debut seared itself into pop culture the moment she stepped into that glass elevator in the movie Scarface, is not the only avatar of “white gold,” however.

The tartufo bianco d’Alba – or white truffle of Alba, Italy — is another rare commodity known as white gold. Today at the 18th administration of the World Truffle Auction in Alba, Italy, it lived up to its sobriquet. I witnessed a trio of white truffles, a total of 480 grams of the knobby mushroom perched on a velvet red pillow, be purchased by Hong Kong mogul Eugene Fung for the eye-popping sum of $87,000. Proceeds benefit a local hospital in Italy.

A TOUGH SEASON

Suffering from an unseasonably dry and hot summer and early fall, Italy’s Piedmont region has endured one of the worst seasons for white truffles on record. Prices for the coveted delicacy have accordingly doubled to at least 6000 euro per kilogram, placing it out the reach of many restauranteurs and diners.  Undaunted, Mr. Fung bid from Hong Kong via satellite link, dogfighting with other bidders for about eight minutes and ultimately emerging the winner of the enormous cluster of white gold.

If he chooses to enjoy his white truffle as it is traditionally done, he will be shaving the funky, earth fungus raw over buttered noodles or scrambled eggs, the customary vehicles for what many consider the world’s greatest culinary delicacy.

An Italian model stuns the audience with the 480 grams of white gold.

 

World’s Best Dessert Wine with a Twinkie?

Described by 90-year-old wine legend Michael Broadbent as his first ever “top wine” and featured in the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service, 1937 Château d’Yquem is the world’s best dessert wine from arguably its best ever vintage. In Kingsman, Colin Firth’s character flippantly recommends to the villain played by Samuel L. Jackson that they pair “Twinkies with a 1937 Château d’Yquem”. Inspired by this exchange, I gave it a go:

Truth be told, I waited to introduce the Twinkie until there were only a few gulps of Yquem left. This is because the menu that preceded the pairing was nothing less than epic (see details below), lovingly prepared by my gastronaut friends Evan and Laura at their stunning Chelsea flat. At the table was one of America’s most generous and discerning wine collectors, who shares extraordinary wine as freely as a mother Robin doles out worms to her hatchlings. (In his company over the years, I have been fortunate to drink Yquem from 1995, 1989, 1988, 1983, and even an 1893). Of the hundreds of Yquem bottles he has tasted, his all-time favorite, he once told me, was the 1937.

So when I saw a 1937 Yquem come up at an auction last month, I pounced. This was perhaps the most illustrious single bottle I have ever invested in. Even as wine fraud becomes an ever greater concern, this particular bottle came from uncommonly clean hands — namely, those of collector Tawfiq Khoury, who is known to have purchased much of his legendary collection in the less counterfeit-happy times of 1970’s and 1980’s.

The ’37 Yquem did not disappoint. In fact, it was the most exquisite dessert wine ever to pass these lips. On first sniff, this dark-copper-colored exilir showed trademark Yquem scents of apricot and orange marmelade, joined by astonishingly delineated notes of coffee, brown sugar, and black tea. The wine also had a bracing freshness that reminded me of being on a ski slope, a compelling intensity that evoked cold air and pine needles. This minty vigor was countervailed by the taste, which was an instruction manual in unmitigated voluptuousness, extra-virgin smooth with a multifaceted finish that kept surprising the senses minutes after the wine was swallowed.  

  

THE MENU: Dom P, La T, Chateau Y, and a Twinkie

Fromage et Jambon.
Pierre Peters, Rose for Albane NV.
Dom Perignon 2002.
——
Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Figs.
Leflaive Batard Montrachet 2012.
——
Baby artichoke tartlet.
——
Sous vide Beef tenderloin with red wine sauce.
Cauliflower “mashed potatoes”.
Roasted sweet tomatoes.
Spinach Salad with chocolate tomatoes.
DRC La Tache 1996.
DRC La Tache 1959.
——
Baked Pears with honey and chocolate, yellow raspberries, and homemade marshmallows.
Chateau d’Yquem 1937.
Twinkie.

The Secret Way to Win an Award

It’s a strange thing to travel all the way to Kentucky for an award you do not think you will win. This occurred to me on the empty Saturday night flight from New York to Louisville for the annual conference and awards ceremony of the IACP, the International Association of Culinary Professionals, whose imprimatur is among the most prestigious in all of food media.

In fact, when I was choosing the publishing house for my latest book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire: Mastering Wine with Joie de Vivre, Regan Arts’ swashbuckling publisher Judith Regan exulted in another of her books, Zachary Golper’s gorgeous paean to artisanal bread, Bien Cuit, garnering an IACP nomination. It did not win, but I was mighty impressed, though such recognition then seemed like some faraway peak that I would never scale.

Then in March, a forwarded tweet caught me off guard, informing me that How to Drink Like a Billionaire had been named a finalist for the 2017 IACP Cookbook Award in the wine, beer, & spirits category. This was the second stunner of the winter, as weeks before Billionaire had won the Gourmand World Book Award for best drinks education book in the U.S. and was then shortlisted in that category for “best in the world,” to be decided in China later this month.

I was infinitely grateful for these votes of confidence, but hesitant to travel all the way to Kentucky for an award I figured I was unlikely to win. In my warped view, the quickest way to guarantee a loss would be to make the public and strenuous effort of actually traversing the 750 miles to the ceremony. It somehow seemed a bit presumptuous and anti-karmic, like preordering Dom Pérignon or preparing a victory speech.

But then, I reasoned, I might never get to go to another ceremony at which I am actually nominated for something. And it was such an honor to be named an IACP finalist that traveling there was worth suffering the potential jinx. So I convinced myself to book a hotel room, hop a plane, and, the night before, take myself to the bar of a dark, clubby Louisville landmark called Jack Fry’s. There I distracted myself with sublime shrimp and grits, a juicy burger, local Willett Distillery bourbon whisky, and a fine view of the bar’s vintage photographs of native son Muhammad Ali.

The ceremony the next day was at the Louisville Palace, a resplendent old theater with Spanish Baroque architecture and lush colors that seemed lifted from an Eggleston Kodachrome. As the program progressed, co-host and The Chew personality Carla Hall summoned to stage a veritable conga line of food media luminaries, including the New York Times’ Sam Sifton, who happened to be seated across the aisle from me, Spanish super chef José Andrés, and Deep Run Roots’ Vivian Howard. At some point during this time, while sitting alone in the dark of the audience, I had kicked off my constricting wingtips, confident in the assumption that I would not be called to the stage.

And then, I was. When they called my name, I stomped into my still-tied shoes and shuffled on to the stage in these makeshift slippers. I had no acceptance speech prepared, of course, so my remarks were mercifully brief, but I did start by pulling out a piece of paper and pretending to read from a prepared speech.

IACP Cookbook Winner

“My thanks to the members of the IACP…the International Association of Police Chiefs,” I began. (A Google search the night before had revealed to me that this was the other famous IACP.) Knowing laughter ensued, and I soon exited stage right.

Looking back now, I think that having my shoes off must have clinched the victory. It neutralized the jinx.

The lesson is clear – the next time you are nominated for an Oscar or an Obie or a turn as PTA treasurer, if you are going to risk showing your face at the announcement, there is a way to spin the wheel of Fortuna in your favor: slip off your damn shoes.

Mother’s & Father’s Day, Graduation

Speaking of How to Drink Like a Billionaire, I might be biased, but I think it would be an ideal Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or graduation gift.  A full-color hardcover brimming with original illustrations and photographs, Billionaire contains 120 snackable chapters that empower readers to approach wine with a billionaire’s unapologetic confidence and discernment. Named a “book you should read now” (Julia Vitale, Vanity Fair), the “ultimate guide from the best in the business” (Dane Neal, WGN Radio), “one of the most approachable and essential wine books to date” (Lauren Glendenning, Aspen Times), it has been featured in Forbes, the New York Times, Maxim, and on Bloomberg TV.

So please consider the book for those in your life who are inclined to wine or those who should be. In fact, I’ll take off my shoes in hopes that you do.

Austin Down, Aspen Bound

Last weekend was another wonderful spin in that sizzling city of music and flavor, Austin, Texas, where I had two sold-out events and a book signing at the wonderful Austin Food & Wine Festival. Here is the wine line-up for both:

DRINK LIKE A BILLIONAIRE
1) Piper Heidsieck “Rare” 2002
2) Pahlmeyer Chardonnay 2013
3) Belle Glos Pinot Noir Las Alturas 2015
4) Chateau Gruaud Larose 2012
5) Masi Amarone “Costasera” 2011
6) Chateau Rieussec Sauternes 2007

BREAKING THE RULES

1) Schramsberg Brut Rosé California Mirabelle NV
2) Trefethen Riesling 2015
3) William Fevre Chablis Champs Royaux
4) Infinite Monkey Theorem Red NV (in cans)
5) Frog’s Leap Zinfandel 2014
6) Osbourne Pedro Ximénez Sherry NV

Catch me next month at the Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic, which is my 12th straight year appearing at this fantasyland of feasting. I am doing a book signing and a full five appearances, including three focusing on the best modestly-priced wine (“You Say $20, I Say $200”) and two exploring the most delicious special occasion bottles (“Wine for Zillionaires”).

It’s Raining La Tâche: Five Vintages of DRC La Tache (i.e., Wine Porn Par Excellence)

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Last week in sunny Palo Alto, it was cloudy with a chance of rain. And rain it did, in the form of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache, with five vintages of impeccable provenance from a collector whose proclivity to sharing is unmatched. Let’s get to the report (cue 70’s porn music):

1990 La Tache: The nose was a heady mélange of ripe, sweet red fruit permeated with notes of mushrooms, truffles, and La Tache’s unmistakable perfume of Asian spices. The rich-but-not-heavy taste penetrated every pore and lingered forever on the kaleidoscopic finish; you don’t need wine expertise to sense how sexy and astonishingly intense this wine is. Having been fortunate to canoodle with the 1990 several times over the years, I found this to be its best, most expressive showing.

1996 La Tache: If the 1990 was a buxom Burgundy-born pin-up, then the 1996 was Tippi Hedren — elegance and mystery, with a smoldering sex appeal that shows itself only when it decides it is ready. After about a half hour in the glass, it opened up to reveal layers of red fruit, soy sauce, and mint joined by seductive, powdery tannins which coat the tongue like the finest velvet.

1999 La Tache: Although Burgundy specialists regard the 1999 as near “perfect”, this bottle was a bit more reserved than expected and its muscular tannins and tart acidity were a bit too insistent. But the makings are there for future greatness, with its foundation of ripe plum, spice, and that know-it-when-you-smell-it earthiness the French call sous bois (“under brush” or “forest floor”).

2001 La Tache: The great surprise of the night: undeniably gorgeous, with a perfume of rose petals and minerals, with every structural element — acidity, tannin, fruit concentration, and alcohol — in balletic equipoise. The 2001 demonstrates how a top winery can make a masterpiece even in a relatively disappointing vintage year.

2002 La Tache: Started with an odd, flowers-and-cedar scent and sharp acidity, a woody dissonance that suggested spoilage. It was even more disjointed after an hour. Oxidized bottle.

2005 La Tache: A rare specimen of beauty, its dense black fruit showing hints of exotic spice coupled with a pleasing whiff of earth and beef bouillon. Its finish lingers like long, high clouds across a summer sky. But it is still young and tightly wound, with noticeable tannins. All signs point to a legend in the making that will get more nuanced and silky in the years and decades to come.

1990_La Tache

Valentine’s Day Wines Under $25 (for Self-Seduction)

Valentine’s Day Wines Under $25 (for Self-Seduction)

Valentine’s Day is here, and whether you will be with your loved one or plan to seduce yourself, you’ve got to have appropriate juice on hand. Your local wine store is sure to have these moderately-priced picks.
valentine's day wines
A visit to Williams-Sonoma’s San Francisco headquarters the other week involved the perfect exercise in finding moderately priced yet maximally alluring V-Day-ready bottles. In preparation for a presentation I was giving to WS staff, Williams Sonoma’s Director of Culinary Amanda Haas asked me to join her at local supermarket and select seven Valentines Day-worthy wines – all under $25 – in under 20 minutes. We were all pleased with how these Valentine’s Day wines turned out, and here they are for you:

Roederer Estate Brut NV ($19-$22) – A perennial overachiever, owned by the same parent company that makes Cristal.

St. Supéry Oak-Free Chardonnay 2015 ($20-$25) – A stunner with oysters, which are of course known to be a potent aphrodisiac. Medium bodied and lemony bright.

Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir 2014 ($20-$25) –  I call Pinot the Juicy Berry Kiss and this version is no exception, with its strawberry-and-flowers perfume, medium body, and crisp acidity.

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier White Blend 2015 ($11-$15) – A sexy duality: smells sweet, tastes dry. A secret love of wine pros. Viognier puts you in the mood for romance.

Minuty M Rosé Cotes de Provence 2015 ($10-$15) – Gorgeous raspberry fruit with a lemony lift. And its bottle is curved like Sophia Lauren.

Campo Viejo Rioja Gran Reserva 2010 ($20-$25) – If a smooth, plummy Spanish red weren’t sexy enough, the gold fishnet adorning the bottle creates glamour and intrigue.

Prieuré d’ Arche Sauternes 2008 ($15-$20) – For drizzling on your pancakes, then on your lover.

For more on affordable wine alternatives and the best wines to bring to a date or party, check out my latest book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire.  Leave an Amazon review in the month of February (and notify alf@markoldman.com) and we will send you some Oldman schwag!