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Vail wine: Barolo wine and Alba truffles

Sean Razee
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –On the climb up the hill to work this afternoon, I noticed the first Vail Valley aspen trees turning to a brilliant yellow-green. The color of the trees and the cool evening air instantly transported me to the beginning of winter in the mountains. Although most locals in the valley would probably be keen to sharpen the edges on their skis or snowboards and wait for the first luxurious white snow fall to blanket the slopes, I began to muse over another form of one of late fall’s most divine pleasures, the rare white truffles of Alba.

Each year in October and November the beautifully fragrant truffles of Alba, Italy, are harvested in the early morning by specially trained dogs, skilled in locating the small fungus, which grows on the roots of local oak trees. The rarity and cost of harvesting the truffles enable the truffle traffickers to charge steep prices for these delicacies. Although truffles can be grated over meat dishes, pastas, white pizzas and even infused into scrambled eggs, my favorite combination is the simple truffle-laced risotto at Spago.

The truffle’s perfume is best matched with a wine from the same region, Nebbiolo, the Barolo. In my mind, the Nebbiolo grape of Piedmont, Italy creates the pinnacle of food-and-wine pairing when matched with the local truffles. The aromatic, perfumed, earthy flavors of the wine and the truffles complement nearly perfectly the contrasting textural components of the two (the risotto being rich and coating, the wine being cleansing and mouth-watering).



Previously, Barolos were hard, mouth-drying wines that assaulted the imbiber’s gums in a full-frontal tannin and acid attack. Today, the wines are achieving better ripeness and tannins with less ageing in the barrel and more time in the bottle, which maintains the grape’s freshness.

As in all great wine regions, o achieve ripeness from the late-ripening Nebbiolo grape, vineyard location is of paramount importance in Barolo. But the region’s famous “terra bianca,” or white earth, also plays an important role. The particular subdivisions within the Barolo district can further enhance the wine’s power or length, as do the Helvetian soils to the east, or its finesse and delicacy, as demonstrated by the Tortonian soils to the west.



Wines from the Barolo district are required by law to be made from 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes. The law also stipulates a minimum of five years of age prior to release, presumably to tame the grape’s aggressive tannins. In my experience, the wines achieve greatness only after 10 years. For those of you not willing to wait 10 years, you can try lighter and less expensive versions of the same grape bottled as Nebbiolo d’Alba.

Sean Razee is the beverage director and sommelier for Spago at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch on Beaver Creek Mountain. He currently holds the Master Sommelier diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Razee is one of 96 Master Sommeliers in the United States and the only person in the Vail Valley that holds the distinguished certification.


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