Body: Medium to full
Dry / Sweet: Dry
Acidity: Medium to high
Age: Drink within two years of release, but the best wines need a few years in bottle to fully develop and can improve for up to ten years.
Aka: Also known as Arquatanella, Arquitano, Mosciolo, Pecorina and Vissanello.
Pecorino (peh-koh-REE-noh) is an old grape variety, believed to be native to the Marche (mar-kay) region on the east coast of central Italy. Having the same name as the famous Italian Pecorino cheese can cause some confusion, but the two are unrelated – the name Pecorino derives from the Italian word for sheep pecora and it is thought that the grape obtained its name because sheep liked to graze on the bunches as they moved between high and low pastures in autumn.
As with so many lesser-known grape varieties, Pecorino was virtually extinct by the 1970s. Its amazing survival is due to the efforts and foresight of one man, Guido Cocci Grifoni. Already a renowned winemaker at that time, Guido was concerned about the quality of white wines in the mountainous province of Ascoli Piceno, in the south of Marche. The widely grown Verdicchio grape did not thrive there. To find a solution Guido researched the native white grape varieties of the region and discovered references to a grape that ripened at high altitude, called Pecorino.
Further investigation led him and some colleagues to a tiny, almost abandoned, vineyard high in the hills where, remarkably, some Pecorino vines still survived. Guido then planted cuttings in his vineyard and, after producing his first vintage of Pecorino wine in 1981, became convinced of the great potential of this old grape variety. Initially, winemakers in the province of Ascoli Piceno were not interested in Guido’s discovery, but in the neighboring region of Abruzzo the grape variety was welcomed and widely adopted.
Pecorino is quite a hardy grape variety and is naturally low yielding. Yields can also be inconsistent from year to year, which may explain its fall from favour in the past. Perhaps its most important attribute in the vineyard, and the reason for its revival, is its ability to ripen at higher altitudes. This is particularly important in the Ascoli Piceno province of Marche and in neighboring Abruzzo, to the south.
The dominant characteristics of Pecorino are high acidity levels and a high sugar concentration in the grapes. The latter results in elevated alcohol levels, but also helps to keep the wine’s acidity in balance. This combination gives Pecorino the ability to age for a period of up to ten years or more, and as it does so it becomes more complex and refined as the acidity mellows and the flavors evolve.
These wines have a lovely soft texture and can benefit from contact with oak, either during fermentation, or the aging process, although many see no oak at all. If the wine is left on its lees (dead yeast cells and grape pulp at the bottom of the fermentation tank) you can expect a richer and deeper flavor profile. Aromas of acacia, jasmine, lemon blossom, yellow fruit and nuts are followed by flavors of apricot, peach, pear and lemon, with a mineral edge and sometimes a slightly spicy finish. Occasionally, these wines can display more tropical fruit flavors (e.g. pineapple) and if oak is used you can expect notes of vanilla.
The best Pecorino wines are produced in the Offida DOCG in the Ascoli Picerno province of Marche. This is reflected in the fact that Offida is the only Pecorino appellation to be awarded DOCG status – the highest quality classification in Italy. Generally the Pecorino wines from Marche are richer and more concentrated than those from neighboring Abruzzo, as regulations require yields of no more than 70 hectolitres per hectare, compared to 110 permitted in Abruzzo. As a result wines from Abruzzo can be more Crisp, rather than Rich, in style. Nonetheless, there are many fine producers of Pecorino in Abruzzo.
Tiny quantities of Pecorino are produced in other Italian regions – such as Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria – but most are from Marche and Abruzzo.
Most Pecorino wines should be consumed within two years of release, but more serious examples can age well and need a few years in bottle to fully develop.
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