Truffle hunting in Piedmont, Italy, for the world’s most expensive culinary treasure – the white truffle

Ever wonder where that elusive, $300 truffle being shaved onto pasta comes from? I took a trip to Piedmont, in north-west Italy to forage for one of these buried treasures. Giani, a veteran trifulau – who found his first truffle at age 5 – took me to one of his secret spots with his trusty dog, Lady, and a puppy in training, Lila. (watch the video where you will see how crucial these dogs really are to the whole endeavor.)

Our guide distracts the dogs with a few pieces of bread to keep them from eating the truffles
Our guide distracts the dogs with a few pieces of bread to keep them from eating the truffles

Hailed as the “diamond of the kitchen”, the white truffle from Alba is among the most expensive in the world, commanding up to $700 per 3.5 ounces depending on the quality of the supply. While the black truffle, the more common variety, is used in cooking, the rare white one should be served raw–never cooked. At most restaurants, I had it shaved over a simple bowl of pasta in butter.

The Italians enjoy white truffle raw--never cooked.
The Italians enjoy white truffle raw–never cooked.

As for what to pair with white truffles, Barolo and Barbaresco are the most prestigious wines of Piedmont (and mighty delicious). For a less expensive alternative, Barbera is a fine choice and it doesn’t require aging. These wines are medium-to-full bodied with aromas of strawberries, violets and sometimes minerals or tar.

Like a lot of Italian reds, they can have prominent acidity and/or tannins, so be sure to have your bowl of tagliatelle pasta with butter and shaved truffles at the ready.

For more on Italian wine and food pairings, grab a copy of my book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire, and check out the video to see what I dug up!

Dandy Warhols, Bargain Bordeaux, Critter Labels, Ancient Minerals, and Money Shots

Dandy Warhols, Bargain Bordeaux, Critter Labels, Ancient Minerals, and Money Shots:

In honor of the new cinematic masterpiece “Social Network,” Mark visits Harvard to discuss why you shouldn’t overlook bargain Bordeaux. In doing so, he riffs on critter labels, ancient minerals, money shots, and the ingenious way the Dandy Warhol’s Courtney Taylor-Taylor sources his bargain Bordeaux.  Click here.


the dandy warhols

Report from the 2009 Aspen Food & Wine Classic

Food & WineThe Aspen Food & Wine Classic last week was once again one of the most promiscuously flavorful weekends of the year.

I also had the good fortune to visit with other illustrious speakers, including cheese-goddess Laura Werlin, wine-goddess Lettie Teague, the perfectly pocket-squared Brian Duncan, and the smartly-sweatered Tony Giglio. There truly is no better pairing than food & wine.

Another highlight of the weekend was the Best New Chefs Dinner, which featured delectable creations such as the a crab cocktail shooter from Bryan Caswell of Houston’s Reef, pork meatballs from Nate Appleman of San Francisco’s A16, and a grilled pimento cheese and bacon sandwich from Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch.  I practically feel to my knees in bliss sampling the succulent pork belly sandwich topped with kimchi from Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of LA’s Animal.

My own seminars at Food & Wine this year were entitled “Hard to Say, Easy to Drink” and “Outsmarting Wine 101”.  To select the final twelve wines from 186 contenders, I once again employed a tasting panel of wine-passionate friends.   On a mild Saturday night this March, we diligently swirled and spit around a table in the techno-cool offices of my pal Mark Hernandez’s electronic interior design company, Cliqk.   After the evaluative part of the tasting, the evening somehow transformed into a raucous rager with dozens of thirsty friends somehow finding the stamina to help us drain those 186 bottles.

Food & Wine

The twelve winning selections that I included in my Aspen Classic seminars were:

“Hard to Say, Easy to Drink”
Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru NV ($70, France)
(Egg-lee Oo-ree-ay)
Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli 2008 (Spain, $22)
(Sho-MEEN Ex-TAN-ess Choc-oh-lee)
Boutari Moschofilero 2007 (Greece, $11)
Feudi di San Gregorio Aglianico “Rubrato” 2006 (Italy, $17)
(Ah-LYAH-nee-koe )
Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2005 (Portugal, $65)
(Tou-REEGA Nah-shu-nal)
The Black Chook Sparkling Shiraz NV  (Australia, $15)
(hard Ch, rhymes with “hook”)

“Outsmarting Wine 101”:
Adriano Adami Prosecco di Valdobbiadene 2007 (Italy, $23)
Te Kairanga Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough 2008 (New Zealand, $19)
Plantagenet Unoaked Chardonnay 2007 (Australia, $18)
Erath Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Estate Selection 2006 (Oregon, $32)
Gundlach Bundschu Merlot Rhinefarm Vineyard 2005 (California, $30)
Justin “Isosceles” Paso Robles 2006 (California, $55)

The Biggie Show: Aspen ’08

Once again, the Aspen FOOD & WINE Classic proved itself a gastronomic Shangri-La — a confluence of sips, sustenance, and setting of Mr. Roarkian wondrousness.


My seminars this year were “Rosé Renaissance” and “ABC’s of Wine”.  To ensure that each wine was worthy of the Classic’s illustrious attendees (including my sister), I again enlisted the palates of my Manhattan-based “Civilian Tasting Panel,” a circle of discerning but non-professional tasters organized by my buddies Mark Hernandez and Judge Kirby.  After sampling close to 90 wines this winter, these winners emerged:

Rosé Renaissance:
1) Delamotte Rosé Brut NV (France, $90)
2) Domaines Ott, Chateau de Selles, Rosé 2006 (France, $38)
3) Domaine de la Mordorée, “Dame Rousse,” Tavel Rosé 2007 (France, $28)
4) Tablas Creek Rosé Paso Robles 2007 (California, $22)
5) Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé Of Malbec 2007 (Argentina, $12)
6) Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rosado 1997 (Spain, $28)

ABC’s of Wine:
1) Mionetto “Sergio MO ” NV (Italy, $22)
2) Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2007 (New Zealand, $20)
3) Beringer Chardonnay Private Reserve 2006 (California, $35)
4) A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2006 (Oregon, $19)
5) Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2004 (California, $50)
6) Peachy Canyon Zinfandel Paso Robles Westside 2006 (California, $29)

Being at the Aspen Classic also affords the opportunity to visit with various superheroes of food and wine, including, this year, Gail Simmons, the irresistible judge from Bravo’s “Top Chef.”

Finally, I offer a grateful knuckle-knock to the Aspen Daily News for their kind words in this Monday’s issue:

“Mark Oldman had to be the most entertaining wine speaker of the weekend.  In his seminar, Rosé Renaissance, the wine author managed to incorporate some Biggie Smalls lyrics while discussing a $90 bottle of French champagne; led a little chant and dance on how to taste wine; and shared his method of pouring undrunk rosé into a Gatorade bottle when unable to finish a bottle of the pink stuff in a restaurant.  While his seminar slightly overlapped the Saturday Grand Tasting, very few looked as though they wanted to leave as the volunteers signaled that his time was up.”

Chinon and the Chevelle: French Wine, American Thunder

Chinon and the Chevelle: French Wine, American Thunder: Pairing Loire wine with the wheels of Dirty Harry.

french wine american thunder

After teaching Chinon as part of my “Looks Like Red, Acts Like White” seminars at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic in June, this Loire Valley red has become a new passion for me.  Its medium weight and zesty berry taste makes it blissfully versatile with food, a fine bedfellow for both lighter and richer dishes.  Comprised of the Cabernet Franc grape, Chinon’s subtle “green” flavor – often manifesting itself as green olives, green pepper, or even pine needles — gives it a uniquely punchy personality that can be invigorating during interminable, sleep-inducing dinners.

It is no surprise, then, that I resolved to take Chinon to my relatives’ home for the mother of marathon meals, Thanksgiving.

Cue needle screech.

French wine on the most American of holidays?!  Homeland Security could cart me away for such an unpatriotic transgression.

So to balance things out, I was left with no choice but to borrow a ’67 Chevy Chevelle SS muscle car from the good folks at the Classic Car Club of Manhattan.  At least my ride would be unambiguously American.

On Thanksgiving Day, I loaded my wine bag with Chinon and the other treats listed below – and jumped into this brilliant blue thunder-chariot.  There’s no better way to feel like a Duke of Hazzard than to ride the rumble of 350 horses, emanating from an overpowered 396 “Big Block” V8 engine, a symbol of the halcyon, if smoggier, time before oil crises and politically correct Prisuses.  Like a growling volcano, this beautiful barbarian felt like it could blow at any time, which must be why it came equipped with a fire extinguisher near the gear stick.  We set off more than a few car alarms roaring out of the city.

My family was pleased with both my transportation and the wine, even if the former made the latter arrive a bit shaken and stirred.  It was the kind of cross-cultural match that France’s new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, would surely admire: French wine, American thunder.


Chinon: She-non
Chevelle: She-vell

The Chinons:

Domaine du Colombier Chinon Cuvee Vielles Vignes 2004(France, $17)
A medium-weight charmer that shows essences of dried currants and spice, with a hint of martini olives on the palate.

Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2003 (France, $30)
A smooth, light-to-medium bodied sip with aromas of black cherries, tobacco leaves, and freshly-tilled soil.

Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 1989 (France, $44)
The rare older Chinon in stores now, it offers a pretty perfume of cranberries and plums, joined by notes of cedar on a smooth, enduring finish.

Also in tow:

Villa Sparina Monferrato White Montej 2004 (Italy, $13)
From Italy’s Piedmont region, this fascinating blend of Chardonnay, Muller-Thurgau, and Sauvignon Blanc displays considerable complexity for the price, with a swirl of grapefruit, pineapple, and almonds that stays refreshing to the end.

Domaine Jean Chauvenet Nuits St.-Georges “Les Vaucrains” 1er Cru 2002 (France, $70)
A show-stoppingly gorgeous red Burgundy—smooth and silky, showing blackberries, coffee, game meats, and a vapor trail of violets.

EOS Estate Vineyards Petite Sirah 2004 (California, $18)
A complex mix of wild berry and cassis greets the nose, with hints of mocha and sweet spice, which becomes a rich (but not heavy), spicy, highly-likable sip on the palette.  A good example of a less familiar varietal (Petite Sirah) prospering in a rising-star region (Paso Robles).

french france french american