Pecorino. No not the cheese, although the reference to sheep is apt (Pecora means sheep), we are talking about the grape variety which finds its home further north than the cheese.
It gets its name from the fact that this would be the first eaten by sheep as they descended down the hills towards the coast on the Adriatic sea. This relatively unknown grape, to most people, is now the second biggest selling white wine behind Pinot Grigio in the highest quality tiers of Italian wine production (the DOC and DOCG level).
Plantings declined by nearly 90 per cent between 1970 and the early 2000s as the desire for high-yielding grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc etc. were favoured over the native varieties that were both harder to grow and ultimately sell to a national and international audience.
The current wave of vignerons and winemakers – who have been looking to history and tradition for inspiration – have been replanting native varieties and working towards producing the best example of each grape variety in its given environment.
Pecorino is becoming one of the most exalted white varieties along with Verdicchio, Garganega, Fiano that have established themselves as grapes with the potential to produce world-class wines that are capable of aging and developing in the bottle as well as any of the well-known cellared whites (think Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc).
To find the best examples we have to venture a little inland from the Adriatic coast in the Abruzzo and Marche regions of Italy.
Next we have to go up in to the mountains where there is both ample sunshine and cooling night-time temperatures to help in retaining sufficient acidity. While it has ample natural acidity, and in the right areas can have the acidity typically seen in crisp varieties such as Riesling, as well as reaching quite high alcohol levels for white wines around 13-14 per cent at full ripeness.
The result is a wine of substantial body and ripe flavours that can touch on tropical, whilst retaining a crisp ‘mineral’ structure and textural depth. Varieties such as Pinot Gris, Viognier and Gewurztraminer can get too sweet, rich and intensely flavoured for some, whilst the oak and buttery notes of full bodied Chardonnay can put others off some whites.
Pecorino is the perfect option to try if those varieties have failed to excite you, yet you enjoy a fuller-bodied and flavoured wine built on ample fruit whilst remaining fresh and lively.
Barone Valforte Pecorino – $20
As an entry-level example of the grape, this is produced from fruit grown in the IGP of Colli Aprutni which is closer to the coast than the best areas but its elevation and northerly aspect help to retain acidity. Subtly floral and stone fruit driven aromas continue on to the palate.
The flavours are ripe and fleshy, whilst the acidity is ample enough to give the wine a sense of minerality and freshness which carries the wine through to a savoury finish. Plenty of interest and refreshment for warmer days and fresh seafood.