Did I want to go on a truffle trip to Spain at the end of January? Balmy Barbados seemed like a better option but since that wasn’t on the cards and the enquiry came from an old friend I said yes. The 2 day visit - the annual Viñas del Vero ‘Days of Wine and Truffles’ in Somontano would include an outdoor picnic in the foothills of the Pyrenees (eek), a truffle hunt and - the clincher - a multi-course truffle menu by one of the region’s most talented chefs followed by a gastronomic brunch. “Bring the Gaviscon”. my friend sagely advised.
I’ll be writing about the truffle hunting in due course so let’s concentrate on the dinner at Bodega Blecua which was the best truffle experience I’ve ever had. It kicked off in style with a selection of truffle-flavoured canaps including truffle flavoured macarons, parcels of truffle threads in lambs skein (sic), tartlets of pigs trotters and truffles (awesome) and best of all, truffle flavoured truffles of the satiny consistency of the best chocolate truffles. These were served with Tio Pepe (also owned by Viñas del Vero’s owner Gonzalez Byass) and V de V’s fragrant Gewürztraminer which I’m not sure I didn’t marginally prefer, to my surprise. (The 2009 is currently on offer at £6.49 at Majestic)
The first proper course was a glassful of truffles served with a hot broth which transformed it into truffle consommé followed by ‘Royal de Trufa with egg yolks and passion’. Fortunately this turned out not to be passion fruit as I had feared but a sumptous blend of truffles and pork fat of the consistency of creamy mash, scattered with yet more truffles. (I hadn’t thought of the combination of pork fat and truffles before but it’s a winner, let me tell you). With that we drank the 2010 Viñas del Vero Clarion, a rich, structured white about whose components they were curiously reticent but which seems to be Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Chenin Blanc.
That was followed by one of my favourite dishes of the meal, cardoons with oysters and almond sauce topped with a truffle shaving. Again a really imaginative and delicious combination of ingredients. This was served with a 2008 Clarion in magnum which suited the dish better than the younger fruitier vintage would have done.
They then brought on a potato ‘mushroom’ with ceps, a mound of fluffy truffle-infused mash moulded into a ... well, not a mushroom, more like a potato but fantastic anyway and a good match with the Blecua 2004 served in magnum.
Blecua is the flagship wine of Viñas del Vero - a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Garnacha, and Tempranillo from seven different parcels and possibly one of the best wines you've never heard of. It has more warmth and generosity than many Bordeaux and more finesse and complexity than most Spanish reds. The '04 also went perfectly with the next course, a truffle infused risotto topped with an outrageous amount of truffles.
By this stage even I was almost truffled out but just about found room for a mouthful or two of veal shanks with truffle sauce and chestnut purée (particularly good with the richer, more complex Blecua 2005) and some local truffled cheese.
And I didn’t make much impact on either of the two interesting desserts - a semi-frozen cylinder of something faintly ice creamy with amaretti crumbs and ‘snow truffles’ on muscovado cream, a truffle-inspired but, to some relief, not truffle-flavoured finale.
The general conclusion? That truffle dinners could be a lot more inventive than they generally are, that Spanish cuisine, dare I say it, has a lot to teach the French and that truffles can take younger, fruitier wines than you might imagine. Quite an experience.
The event I went to was a private one but If you want to sample chef Carmelo Bosque’s cooking go to his restaurant La Taberna de Lillas Pastia it’s in Huesca. It specialises in truffles and has a Michelin star. Tel: +34 974 211 691.
I attended the dinner as a guest of Gonzalez Byass.