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Pecorino - Cheese or Wine?

Well the short answer is yes, however, if you Google Pecorino it is clear that this Italian name is best known as a family of hard Italian cheeses made from ewe's milk.  In fact Pecorino is from the Italian Pecora for sheep.  You will have to navigate your Google result list to well down on page two, after restaurants of the same name and countless recipes using the cheese, before you can locate the first reference to a little known indigenous Italian white grape.  Yes, Pecorino is indeed both a cheese and a white wine grape.

Pecorino calls the Marche (pronounced “mar-kay”) region in central Italy home, but plantings can be found in the Abruzzo, Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio regions of Italy.  As of 2000, there were a mere 215 acres of Pecorino vineyards.  Tracing its roots to the Roman Empire, Pecorino has withstood wars, changes of regimes, and most recently a push to replace the low yielding vines with the more prolific Trebbiano.  In fact, was it not for the efforts of Guido Cocci Grifoni in the 1980's, the grape may have met its demise.  Grifoni was researching native grape varieties with the goal of preserving rare indigenous species.  He found a small vineyard of old Pecorino vines in the hills above Ripatransone , took some cuttings and grafted them to newer rootstock, giving Pecorino a new lease on life.

The DOCG Offida Pecorino is the only DOC devoted exclusively to Pecorino however the grape is also a permitted grape variety in the DOC wines of Falerio dei Colli Ascolani, Colli Maceratesi, and the sparkling wines of Controguerra.  In the DOC of Colli Masceratesi Pecorino is limited to 30% of the blend while in Falerio dei Colli Asconlani no more than 25% is permitted.  The remainder of these blends are made using varying combinations of Trebbiano, Passerina, Verdicchio, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Grechetto. 

Pecorino Styles

Pecorino is a light skinned white grape that yields a medium to full bodied straw yellow wine.  Aromas often include the perfumed honey of the flowering acacia tree, and jasmine.  Adding to the complexity are fruit aromas – lemon, peach, pineapple – and a touch of minerality on the finish.  Varietal Pecorino from the Offida Pecorino must be 85% Pecorino grapes and contain no less than 12% alcohol by volume.  Most single variety wines are 13%+ ABV, which when combined with the fruits natural acidity, complex aroma profile, and stainless steel aging, results in a wine that is a delightful alternative to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

There can however, be a problem in the United States with Pecorino - finding it.  There are only a handful of importers that distribute Pecorino into a somewhat reluctant group of wine shops around the country.  Some of the larger producers include Cataldi Madonna. Saladini Pilastri, Velenosi, Ciu Ciu, and Clara Marcelli.  Trying a single variety Pecorino is however, well worth the hunt.  The wines produced from this grape are unique, complex, and for the record – pair well with Pecorino cheese!

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