Mauro Cirilli on Five Italian Wine and Cheese Pairings

Mauro Cirilli of Perbacco hails from Padova, Italy, where he was introduced to the joys of wine at an early age, when he would visit his grandfather's vineyard in the Colli Euganei and join in the process of making wine for their friends and family. Mauro received his Sommelier Diploma from the prestigious Italian Association of Sommeliers in Firenze and worked as a sommelier at several renowned restaurants in Northern Italy. Shortly after moving to the United States in 2001, he worked as Lead Sommelier at Aqua. Eager to return to his Northern Italian roots, Mauro joined the opening team of Perbacco in October 2006.

Five Italian Wine and Cheese Pairings

If you are an Italian wine aficionado who enjoys the leftover red wine from dinner with some cheese, I have a few suggestions to try the next time you're home with a group of guests.

In Italy there are more than 600 indigenous grapes, and more than 400 cheeses, so there are a lot of choices to have fun with. My first suggestion is to forget the old idea that red wine is the only choice to pair with cheese, and open your mind to try something new.

It's always a good idea to follow a regional pairing. You might start with a light and very fresh cheese made with cow's milk, like mozzarella di bufala. This type of cheese is simple and delicate, and you will want to have a wine that enhances these qualities. Try pairing it with an elegant white wine, such as falanghina or a fiano di avellino, so not to overpower it. Both of these white wines and the cheese are from the region of Campania.

Have a young pecorino sardo (sheep's milk from Sardegna) with a white vermentino di Gallura (from the same island). This cheese has a soft and elastic texture with a slightly tangy flavor that will be a fantastic match with the zesty flavor of this wine.

If your cheese selection is a cheese made with goat's milk, like a fresh caprino with its classic pungent texture, consider a white wine that is lightly aromatic with good acidity, like a sauvignon blanc. Look for some producers from the northeastern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

One of my favorite Italian cheeses is parmigiano reggiano. Although you can easily pair this with a good glass of red wine, I like to pair it with a glass of spumante, the Italian sparkling wine that is made using the classic method, méthode champenoise. The stunning acidity and bubbles of this wine help to clean your mouth from the strong flavor of the cheese. Look for vintage spumante, which will show more complexity and balance, chosen from top producers like Ca' del Bosco, Majolini, or Bruno Giacosa.

One of the most famous Italian blue cheeses is Gorgonzola. Try to find Gorgonzola piccante, which has a stronger flavor because it has been aged longer. With such a flavorful cheese you need to have a wine of good complexity. I suggest pairing this cheese with Marsala, especially the Vecchio Samperi Vent'anni (20 years) from the producer Marco de Bartoli.

Unfortunately, Marsala has always been a mass-produced wine, with a lot of low quality available in the market. However, Marco de Bartoli is, without discussion, the top producer. Marsala is made like sherry, using the Solera system. This is a long aging process using a series of barrels over a period of several years, and results in unique flavors and textures. It shows nutty and caramel aromas with a light sweetness balanced by a beautiful acidity. This is just what you need to pair with Gorgonzola piccante.

And lastly, as I always suggest to my guests at the restaurant, do not forget to follow a progression, from a milder cheese with a lighter wine, to a bolder cheese with a fuller wine—this simple rule can really make a difference in your dining experience.

I hope that you will find these suggestions helpful for your next pairing and give you the opportunity to try something new.