Nebbiolo Paired With Smoky Mushroom Mac & Cheese

Matteo Correggia Roero and Idlewild Nebbiolo

Continuing our Alternative Nebbiolo Studies, beauties from Roero (Italy) and Mendocino (California)

More Fun With Nebbiolo
Here’s another great food pairing and a couple of enjoyable examples of Nebbiolo “beyond the B’s” of Barolo and Barbaresco. The high acidity and tannins in Nebbiolo make it a great partner for rich foods as the two balance each other nicely. Mac & cheese fills the bill nicely, and the addition of the mushrooms adds to the richness and contributes a nice umami earthy flavor.  If you have the ability to smoke the mushrooms, all the better.

Map of the Langhe and Roero, courtesy of Guild of Sommeliers

Map of the Langhe and Roero, courtesy of Guild of Sommeliers. Roero is on the north side of the Tanaro river, while the famous cousins are on the south side.

Where’s Roero?
The Roero region in Piemonte is just across the Tanaro river from the famous regions of Barolo and Barbaresco. The soils in the Roero are sandier than the soils found in the Barolo and Barbaresco regions, resulting in Nebbiolo wines with less structure. They are literally on the “wrong side of the tracks” when it comes to fame.  However, as a consumer, Roero wines are more affordable and more enjoyable in their youth compared to their famous relatives on the other side of the river. They are a particularly good way to learn about Nebbiolo with their combination of early enjoyment and reasonable prices. The only downside? They are a bit harder to find.  Note to Roero newcomers: there are both white and red wines labeled “Roero”. If you’re looking for Nebbiolo, pick the red Roero!

Matteo Correggia Winery
Matteo Correggia was a leader in developing the wines of the Roero region in the late 80’s. He died in 2001 in an unfortunate accident. His family carried on, however, and has remained a leader in bringing Roero wines higher recognition.

Matteo Correggia Roero - a bargain and always delicious

Matteo Correggia Roero – a bargain and always delicious

Matteo Correggia Roero 2011 ($18 at South Lyndale Liquors)
Eye: Clear, pale ruby red with an orange edge
Nose:  Clean, medium+ intensity, red fruit with an herbal/floral edge.
Mouth: Bone dry, medium+ acidity, med tannins (softer than typical Barbaresco or Barolo). Nice long tannic finish of red fruit and floral/herbs. You would never call this wine lush.  It appeals to someone who loves aromatics and structure, but still approachable and very affordable.

Idlewild Wines
Sam Bilbro comes from a California winemaking family, but his intent with his Idlewild Winery is all his own. He has a special affinity for the wines of the Piedmont (I knew I liked him!), and as fortune would have it, he found a grape grower in Mendocino county who shares that love, at Fox Hill Vineyard. Sam makes single varietal Arneis, Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo. He also crafts blends from these grapes. As a fellow lover of wines from the Piedmont, I’d say Sam gets it and is delivering wines true to their native home. Not copies, but true to the essential spirit of those wines.

Clean red fruit with just a touch of oak influence, not at all overdone.

Clean red fruit with just a touch of oak influence, not at all overdone.

Idlewild Nebbiolo Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino Cty 2012 ($35 at Sunfish Cellars)
Eye: Clear, pale ruby with a warm orange edge
Nose: Clean, red fruit, showing just a hint of vanilla edged oak.
Mouth: Dry, high acidity, high tannins. Less fruit in the flavor and finish, but plenty of tannins. This is a seriously structured wine that would happily age for several more years and only get better.


Both Nebbiolos paired beautifully with the smoky mushroom mac & cheese

Smoky Mushroom Mac & Cheese
There’s not much to say about mac & cheese – what’s not to like about pasta with copious amounts of cheese and cream?  Except that adding plenty of mushrooms contributes even more earthy umami flavors. And if you smoke the mushrooms, even better! The acidity and tannins present in Nebbiolo based wines just love to balance the rich cheese and cream, and the earthy mushrooms accentuate the fruit flavors in the wine. Enjoyable from start to finish, and a pairing I will definitely repeat.

Smoky Mushroom Mac & Cheese

I made this dish on my Primo ceramic grill and I started by smoking the mushrooms. You can easily make this dish in your oven, you just won’t get the smoky flavor.


  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (not needed on the grill)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and finely chopped
  • 1 lb. mushrooms (I used shiitake and baby portabella)
  • 10 ounces dry penne pasta
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz. Fontina cheese (or another soft, meltable cheese), grated
  • 8 oz. half & half
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • Smoking the mushrooms on the grill: Set the grill for smoke and indirect heat at 250° F. Spread the mushrooms out and smoke for 30 minutes. After smoking, move them to direct heat at 350°F, and finish off cooking them, about 15 minutes. After cooling, slice the mushrooms.
  • Kitchen prep: Slice and sauté the mushrooms in the butter for 5-10 minutes.
  • Fill a large pot with water, salt generously, and bring it to a boil. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than you would normally cook it. Drain and place the pasta in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the garlic and olive oil to the pasta and toss.
  • Preheat the oven (or grill) to 400°F
  • Butter a casserole dish or cast iron skillet large enough to hold all the ingredients
  • Place a layer of pasta on the bottom of the casserole, followed by a layer of mushrooms, then a layer of cheese. Repeat with pasta, mushrooms, and cheese until the casserole is full. Reserve enough cheese to ensure the final top layer is cheese.
  • Pour the half & half over the casserole full of pasta and cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  • Bake covered for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes uncovered.
  • Serve with a glass of Nebbiolo!

Smoky mac & cheese with Nebbiolo














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