When we think of drinking Italian wine how do we not think about Italian food and what we can pair with it. After all, they say “what grows together goes together”. I attended a wine and cheese pairing event hosted by Gordon's Wine & Spirits in Waltham and the event was led by local wine, cheese and food expert, Adam Centamore.
Adam is of Sicilian heritage and holds a Masters in Gastronomy. He also authored his first book that was published in September 2015 called “Tasting Wine & Cheese: An Insider's Guide to Mastering the Principles of Pairing”. In addition to his academic background he has worked in the industry managing the well-known cheese specialty shop, Formaggio's Kitchen, and currently is a wine purveyor at the wine shop, Bin Ends, in addition to teaching wine and food lovers like myself.
Adam's passion was evident through his presentation of the wine and cheese pairings of the night with his relaxed, easy going, comical personality that took the snobbery out of understanding food and wine. The first tasting of the night was a wine from the Alto Adige region of Italy. This region is tucked in the north eastern part of Italy. The wine selection was from the known producer, St. Michael-Eppan and was their 2014 Pinot Grigio. Personally, I found this pinot grigio to be too light bodied for my personal preference, but the cheese pairing went together well with it. Adam chose a tronchetto al capra. This is a 100% goats cheese from the north western region of Piedmont. The cheese was topped with sicilian oranges in syrup. Yum!
Even though that was the only Italian wine and cheese pairing of the night I found Adam's book to provide a number of great suggestions to pair with a variety of Italian wines. You'll find sparkling wines including moscato, lambrusco and prosecco. For white wines Adam features the grapes pinot grigio, trebbiano and verdicchio. Categorized under the red wines you'll discover grapes including barbera, frappato, nebbiolo and sangiovese. Lastly, for those that love dessert wines, you'll find brachetto and vin santo. Are some of these grapes new to you? It's a perfect way to start learning about them and double the enjoyment by seeking out the cheese accompaniments. I've enjoyed a lot of pleasures with these pairings and by playing around with these tastings it helps demonstrate how an Italian wine can change by sampling it alone and how the nuances change when combined with the right suggestion.
I would like to provide a wine and cheese sample in each of the different styles of wine mentioned above with recommended cheeses from Adam's book to give you a feel for some of the regional delights from a variety of regions within Italy.
Sparkling Wine – Prosecco
Prosecco is the top imported sparkling wine from Italy hailing from the Veneto region and it's a wine made up of the glera grape. Prosecco comes in different styles from sweeter versions to dry styles. Adam recommends a a hard, sharper cheese like parmigiano reggiano from the Lombardy region which is opposite the softness in the bubbles of the prosecco, but put them together and watch the changes unfold.
White wine – Verdicchio
Verdicchio is a white grape primarily found in the Marche region in central Italy that typically has higher acidity and citrus characteristics. Adam recommends cheese with “semi-firm texture and nutty flavors” and suggests a cow's cheese from the way northwestern part of Italy in the Aosta Valley.
Red wine – Frappato
This grape originates on the island of Sicily and produces lighter bodied style red wines, but you may find it blended with other grapes of the island. Adams recommends a delightful pairing with ricotta salata, which is a sheep's milk from Sicily. His suggestion is to cut strawberries topped with sugar and a splash of frappato, refrigerate overnight and then add on top of the ricotta salata. Sounds like a combination to die for.
Dessert wine – Vin Santo
The wine enjoyed after many Tuscany dinners, vin santo, is a blend of dried trebbiano and malvasia grapes that are then aged in oak barrels. I've always enjoyed the typical dessert of Tuscany, which is vin santo with biscotti, but Adam recommends ricotta topped with citrus blossom honey where the honey compliments the flavors of the wine and the citrus blossom draws out the vanilla of the oak in the vin santo. Can we say a perfect ending?
These are all just samples, but shows you how much fun you can have experimenting with Italian grapes from all over Italy and finding some Italian cheeses for pure satisfaction.
You can find my monthly column, Italy Uncorked, in the Bostoniano magazine, Boston's Italian American voice where you'll find this and many other articles. We appreciate your subscription and support.