With respect to those who don’t drink alcohol for health reasons or by choice, nobody can deny that wine – and its rich history and traditions – is a fascinating product loved by many.
Behind every bottle there’s an entire universe to discover, and the best way to do that is with the help of a sommelier.
Being a sommelier is not just a profession, it’s a passion: a passion for wine which has culminated in years of studying and continuous training.
Mattia Antonio Cianca – who was crowned Best Sommelier of Australia 2017 – says he ended up in his field thanks to a series of “coincidences”, which others may call fate.
Cianca was born and raised in the Montesacro district of Rome, before moving to Rieti to study hospitality.
He’s proud to note that his grandmother has Sabine origins.
In 2008, a 21-year-old Cianca embarked on an adventure to Australia, touching down in Perth first.
He got a job at the restaurant Galileo Buona Cucina, where he worked until 2012.
Cianca is grateful to the restaurant for not only sponsoring him to stay in Australia, but for also allowing him to determine which career path he wanted to take.
In 2013, he spent a short stint in Italy to complete a sommelier course in Florence, before returning to Australia.
Upon his return, he decided to move to Melbourne, where there were more career opportunities and where he could or obtain a diploma.
Cianca’s career accelerated when he took a job at Attica, which has been named the best restaurant in Australia, and one of the best in the world by many prestigious rankings.
He was hired as a waiter, then became assistant to the head sommelier, Banjo Harris Plane, before assuming the top job himself in mid-2015.
Despite all his years of experience, Cianca didn’t feel ready to take on the position; but he soon realised that “we’re never truly ready, but we have to take the leap anyway”.
Outside of his many professional commitments, Cianca began to compete in various contests.
Before he knew it, he’d won the prestigious La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Australian Young Sommeliers Competition in 2015.
A few months later he came third in the international competition for the same title.
Through networking at different national and international competitions, Cianca met Loic Avril, head sommelier at another esteemed Melbourne restaurant: Dinner By Heston, owned by British chef Heston Blumenthal.
Avril invited Cianca to become his assistant... and he accepted.
Cianca continued to hone his skills with Avril, and was crowned Best Sommelier of Australia 2017 by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (A.S.I.), the largest sommelier community in the world.
Cianca didn’t sleep for three nights following his victory, as he came to terms with the magnitude of the recognition he’d received.
Once he’d processed it all, he began preparing to compete at a regional level at the Best Sommelier of Asia Oceania, held in the Japanese city of Kyoto, in October 2018.
Cianca made it to the finals, placing him among the top nine sommeliers in the region.
This status allowed Cianca to travel the world representing Australia and provided many (or provided him with many) opportunities to further his professional and personal development.
For example, he won a scholarship to complete an intensive course in Montreal last November, which was offered exclusively to the top 23 sommeliers from 20 different countries.
The course also included an unofficial competition, and Cianca finished in the top three.
This January, the talented sommelier returned to Italy, to work in a wine bar in the northern ski resort, Cortina d’Ampezzo.
We asked him a few questions.
What inspired you to become a sommelier?
I’m not exactly sure... But I know that my constant desire to expand my knowledge of wine made me study more and more.
This led first to a good experience, then a great one, and finally and unforgettable one.
It’s the details that distinguish a great restaurant from an exceptional one.
Can you describe the role of a sommelier?
You have to be able to communicate on the same level with people of different ages, backgrounds, social classes and cultures, creating a universal language between sommelier and client.
What food and wine combinations do you recommend?
I recently paired lightly-smoked 24-month-old prosciutto with the Marco De Bartoli Vecchio Samperi Quarantennale, a marsala which started its ageing process in 1978 using the Solera method, and was recently bottled.
Why is Prosecco so popular in Australia?
Prosecco became popular due to its origins, as Italian products are sought after around the world.
Another important factor is the price range: Prosecco is fairly reasonably priced and you get good value for money.
Australians consume a lot of champagne and other sparkling wines, and Prosecco is an affordable option.
How does the rest of the world view Australian wines?
Not very well, unfortunately, because exported Australian wines are either cheap and produced at an industrial level, or extremely expensive.
It’s a real shame because Australia produces some spectacular wines.
It’s the only country in the world where I’ve found Chardonnay similar to Borgogna in terms of quality, but at a much lower price (in the Yarra Valley, Victoria).
What wines are trending in Australia?
At the moment, aside from the global craze of “natural” wine, Australians are going for wines that are easy to drink, like light reds which can also be refrigerated.
An example is Jura wine from the small French region located between Burgundy and Switzerland.
They’re also drinking wines with low percentages of residual sugar, like German Riesling varieties.
Consumers are becoming more adventurous with their choices, focusing more on the type of wine than its origins.
Where do you see yourself living in the future, and what’s on the horizon for you?
My options are pretty open at the moment.
I have a few projects in mind that would be based in Australia, or I might move overseas again to work – I’m not sure where though.
Whatever I do, I’d like to maintain my ties with Australia, perhaps by connecting Australian producers with Italian distributers.
This is the first time I’ve returned to Italy and not missed Australia; I hadn’t come back to work, but now I’m working here.
Eleven years ago, I didn’t move to Australia with the intention of staying, but I stayed.
My next goal is to pass the Master Sommelier exam... the rest will work itself out, as it always has so far.