Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Truffle and a Bottle of Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 1997

Stephanie and I were doing our normal weekend shopping at Treasure Island, Chicago's best grocery store, when I spied a half dozen truffles in the display case in the deli. After much debate, Stephanie convinced me to take one of the little tubers home. It was about the size of nutmeg (or is it a nut of meg?) and cost $10. We agreed that we had to prepare a special meal for it and choose some large lamb chops. I pan roasted the lamb and created a decadent red wine sauce from the fond. I also made risotto finished with a healthy dollop of whipped cream and shavings from about a third of the truffle. The truffle was dry as a rock and difficult to grate, but it added its characteristic aroma to the meal. Was it worth the $10? At that point I wasn't convinced, but after Stephanie grated some into scrambled eggs the next morning, it most certainly was.

Stephanie also convinced me to open a bottle of wine from the cellar for the occasion. I chose one of my two remaining bottles of Allegrini's "Super Veneto" wine. As in much of Europe, the grapes that go into wines from the Veneto are regulated by law. In order to call a wine Valpolicella or Amarone, winemakers can only use certain specified varietals. The folks at Allegrini don't like being told what to do. They add a small percentage of sangiovese, a Tuscan grape, to this blend and are forced to label it "IGT" (Indicazione Geografica Tipica). In a nod to regional tradition, however, thirty percent of the grapes are allowed to dry on mats for months before being fermented (this is why Amarone tastes the way it does).

I loved this wine when it was released and decided to put a few bottles in the cellar. Recent vintages have gotten equally lavish praise, but I have found them increasingly ripe and unbalanced. Accordingly, I was anticipating trying this wine to see what had changed, the wine or my palate. As it turns out, my palate was in excellent shape. Coincidentally, the wine gave off opulent truffle aromas upon being opened and decanted. It was medium bodied and dry, showing some expected fading in color. At nine years old, the original fruit flavors had all but vanished to be replaced by mature, dried berry notes. My inclination with the last bottle is to give it a few more years to hope these mature flavors develop further. It was certainly no worse for wear, and I'm interested to see what may yet happen. Wines like these prove that you don't have to spend a lot of money for age-worthy wines. This one only costs $17.

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