For five years now, white truffles have made their way from Italy to Grand Cayman in the autumn to be served as part of a wine dinner hosted at different restaurants by BlackBeard’s Beers, Wines and Spirits in cooperation with the Batasiolo Winery. The appeal of the white truffle has led to other local restaurants hosting their own dinners, but on Nov. 23, the Brasserie restaurant showed why the BlackBeard’s/Batasiolo White Truffle Dinner is still one of the premier annual culinary events on Grand Cayman.
White truffles are basically mushrooms that grow underground, and mushrooms are a type of fungus. But as anyone who has ever smelled and tasted them can attest, white truffle ain’t no ordinary fungus. Intensely pungent with an aroma that is hard to identify, the white truffle is one of the world’s rarest culinary delicacies.
Although the white truffles grow in pockets of forest in several countries in the world, the most prized ones – sometimes fetching US$2,000 per pound or more – come from the Piedmont area of northwestern Italy. Perhaps not coincidently, some of Italy’s best wines, including Barolo and Barbaresco, come from the same area near the city of Alba in Piedmont.
Every autumn, Grand Cayman gets to experience the truffles and wine symphony that is known as the Batasiolo White Truffle Dinner, which was held at the Brasserie restaurant this year.
The wines of Piedmont
Pretty much all winemakers in Italy will say that their wines are made to pair with the cuisine of the area in which they are produced. It is therefore not surprising at all that Piedmont wines, with their strong showing of terroir, seem to pair so well with white truffles. However, with the exception of Barolo, and to a lesser extent Barbaresco, many wine drinkers in North America and the Caribbean are unfamiliar with Piedmont’s other major wine varieties, including reds like Barbera, Dolcetto, Brachetto and Langhe Nebbiolo, and whites like Roero Arneis and Gavi.
Historically, the export of Piedmont’s wines to North America concentrated on relatively expensive Barolo and Barbaresco in reds and relatively inexpensive Spumante and Moscato in whites, so finding the other wines from the region in retail outlets was a challenge. Three companies, Beni di Batasiolo, Giowine Giovanni Cardullo Inc. and Cayman Distributors Group have helped make sure the Cayman Islands has plenty of Piedmont’s fine wine varieties.
Batasiolo is a winery in the Barolo wine valley and owned by the Dogliani family. Its current managing director, Fiorenzo Dogliani, returned to Cayman for the third time this year for the fifth annual Batasiolo White Truffle Dinner. Dogliani explained that his family has owned the winery for three generations and that it now owns nine vineyards, totaling about 250 acres, throughout the Piedmont, making it one of the larger producers in the region.
Several things differentiate Batasiolo from most of the other wineries in Piedmont. One is the size of its portfolio, as it produces more than 30 different wines. The other is the cost-to-quality ratio of its wines. For the quality of its well-made Piedmont wines, Batasiolo offers tremendous value, something Dogliani says the company strives to do.
Making good quality wines at affordable prices and then shipping them overseas and still having them priced reasonably is a challenge that many Piedmont wine producers face. But Giowine, working with Batasiolo and Cayman Distributors Group, and eventually BlackBeard’s Beers, Wines and Spirits, provides a direct link between the Piedmont winery and retail stores in Cayman, keeping the wines from attracting broker premiums.
The man behind Giowine is Giovanni Cardullo. While he was pursuing his doctorate in agriculture, Cardullo worked in a winery for five years, which piqued his interest in the wine industry, but not so much from the technical side of it.
“I was more intrigued by the sales and marketing aspect,” he said during an interview at the West Indies Wine Company the day before the White Truffle Dinner.
After gaining experience working for a variety of companies, Cardullo found an opportunity working for a company that marketed Riunite wines in the United States.
“It was really an incredible experience for me and helped me learn so much,” he said. “For me, that was my real starting point.”
Eventually, Cardullo had an opportunity to take over the marketing of the Riunite brand of wines in the Mexico and Central America. He founded Giowine in 2000 and he now sells more than a half-million cases a year of Riunite wines.
“I tell people it’s my bread, butter and prosciutto,” he said with a laugh.
His good sales of the inexpensive Riunite wines allows Cardullo to also carry quality brands that don’t have as high of a volume of sales.
Working on a commission basis instead of on a brokerage basis, Giowine is able to bring high- quality wines at good prices to 38 countries in the Mexico, Central America, South America and Caribbean region. He admits that selling high quality Italian wines in many of those countries can be difficult, but he has made good contacts with distributors and restaurateurs who appreciate what he does throughout the region.
“One of my customers in Costa Rica calls me the Italian wine ambassador in Central America. I think that’s really good; that’s what I like to do,” he said. “My company will never be a multimillion-dollar company. It’s more of a service and [the wine producers]…they are all my friends.”
Brands sold in Cayman
In the Cayman Islands, Giowine sells to Cayman Distributors and BlackBeard’s is one of its retail outlets. Giowine supplies most of its brands to the Cayman Islands, including Maxi, Fontanel, Mazzei, Chichi, Planet and Batasiolo, the featured wines of the White Truffle Dinner. In addition to the many Piedmont wines, Giowine provides high-quality Chianti, Brunel, Amar one, Super Tuscans, and many more types of wine, all of which make great Christmas gifts. During the white truffle dinner, guests were able to try five of Batasiolo’s wines, including the Roero Arneis [retail: $19.59], Barbaresco [retail: $30.59], Moscato D’Asti [retail: $19.09] and two of the winery’s Barolos, including the exquisite 2005 Cerequio [retail: $64.59] and the 2004 Riserva [retail: $42.59] that would be a welcome holiday gift for any wine lover.
For those looking for wines that will go with holiday meals, try one of Batasiolo’s Barberas, which are extremely food-friendly red wines at very affordable prices, or, for outdoor gatherings, something like the Roero Arneis, a fresh, fruity and easy-drinking white wine that is perfect for Cayman’s climate, night or day.