Pecorino: The Red that Dresses as a White

Pecorino: The Red that Dresses as a White

“In this spectacle of nature, man can merely work to preserve the natural health of the grapes and the aromatic character of the varietal so that… the result is a fresh wine, with clear aromas of the Pecorino varietal, robust & flavorful, vertical and horizontal, full-bodied and long lasting, that you drink and drink again, [a wine] which you remember.”                                                                                                                         -Emanuele Dianetti, Winemaker


It’s June, and the days are getting hotter. Well, here in SoCal, you could say we’re getting back to normal weather. The 4 year drought has made it summer for just about the entire year. I’m not bragging, it’s not exactly a good thing to have no water. But that’s neither here nor there (drop the lawns people).

With the the real summer coming, it’s time to delve into your favorite white wines. For me, that means something dry, fruity & crisp. For me, that means luscious Marche Pecorino. In today’s post, I’ll be giving you the ins and outs of the once-rare varietal, and pass along recommendations for some of the wineries who do it best.

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Photos courtesy winecompass.blogspot.com

Rio Maggio & Centanni Wines available in california via ZGR Imports


When many folks think of Marche wines (those who actually know about the region), they go straight to Verdicchio. That tasty white from the north of the region has been the dominating force throughout the history of the Marche wine. I’ll be covering that wonderful grape in future posts.

Another grape that was once thought to have been lost to extinction is now thriving as a premium varietal in the Marvelous Marche. I’m here to tell you Pecorino is the next star of Italy.

“Pecorino? Isn’t that a cheese?”

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Yes indeed, a delicious sheep’s cheese to be exact. Pecora is the Italian word for sheep, and thus they produce a cheese called Pecorino. In the Central Eastern regions of Italy, Pecorino also happens to be the name of a native grape varietal that originated high at the base of the Sibillini Mountains.

Nearly lost to the history books, farmers of the past chose not to plant the vine because of its low yield. Back then, you only wanted high-yielding varietals. This caused it to nearly go extinct. That was until Guido Cocci Grifoni rediscovered the grape’s potential in the early 1980’s, feeding the evolution of the Marche’s wine industry. Today, it thrives in the southern Ascoli Piceno (As-co-lee Pih-chay-no) province.

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So why the name?

The story goes, many many years ago, shepherds were taking their sheep out to graze in the fertile grasses under the Sibillini. There the sheep found the grapes growing wild, and started nibbling on the sweet fruit. Apparently even the sheep have excellent palates in Italy. The shepherds saw them munching on the golden-green orbs and exclaimed “Ehi! Pecorino”! 

Pecorino is a hearty grape, quite unlike many others.  It naturally grows at a higher elevation, where the air is thinner and cooler, something you don’t normally find in a white grape. Winemaker Emanuele Dianetti of Cantina Dianetti says “the Piceno hills are the ideal home for this variety thanks to their ample sun exposure and nightly breezes that come down from the Sibillini. The unique soil allows for Pecorino’s interesting balance and ‘extreme’ numbers for a white wine: high sugar content usually around 22-24 brix (which corresponds to roughly 13-14.5% alcohol), acids around 3pH and exceeding 8g/L, and a net dry extract exceeding 24g/L“.

The reason it can grow in such unusual conditions? Thick skins & high brix (sugar content). The low yielding vines make for grapes with highly concentrated sugars. This leads to a full-bodied white, upwards of 14.5% alcohol. Higher alcohol is a must for the grape to show a full expression of its flavors.

These characteristics mean the dynamic Italian can be aged longer than your average white wine, often upwards of 10-12 years. The Marchigiani (say it with me now, Mar-kee-gee-aw-nee) call it “the red that dresses as a white”.

“A long-lived wine, powerful because it is rich in energy, pleasantly flavorful because it is rich in mineral salts, ash and acid”.                                                                       Emanuele Dianetti

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Despite the full body, the wines are quite refreshing. Now, I’m not talking about your butter-bomb, oak-encrusted Chardonnay. Pecorinos tend to have flowery aromas and tropical fruit flavors like pineapple and melons. With a generally high acidity, you can count on your Pecorino being nice and crisp. Mmmmm.

If you’re one of those people with the “I don’t drink whites” mentality, try some Pecorino and tell me you still don’t like white wine. I can tell you with complete honesty, I’ve had quite a few converts. Too chicken? C’mon, I dare you. Bawwwk bawk bawk bawk.


 

In the Marche, Pecorino grows and shows the best. Read on to learn about some of the top labels. 

Pecorino grapes are used for a few different appellations within Le Marche. Grown mostly in the southernmost province of Ascoli Piceno, and some in the Fermo province, you will often find it in the Falerio DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin), either as a single varietal or blended with Trebbiano & Passerina, or as the Offida Pecorino DOCG (Denomination of Controlled Origin Guaranteed). DOC & DOCG are indicators that a wine is following a specific set of rules and regulations to be classified within a category.

Winemakers are also known to follow their own rules, classifying some of their Pecorino labels as Marche Bianco IGT (Indication of Typical Geography). IGT is the denomination for wines that aren’t made by traditional means, and allows for wineries to experiment and explore outside the lines with different vineyard practices, winemaking techniques and/or blending with other varietals.


Alrighty, down to brass tacks. Which Pecorino wines should you try? Here’s my list of 6 recommendations. Some are available here in the US. Others you’ll just have to travel to the Marvelous Marche to find (send me a message for trip information!). This list is not a ranking, each of these wines are top-notch in their own fashion.

riomaggio_ColleMonteverdeTenute Rio Maggio – Colle Monteverde Pecorino             Falerio Pecorino DOC

Winemaker – Simone Santucci

100% Pecorino

Straw-colored and full of Old World flavor. Hints of apple and melon on the nose, and a smoky, melon flavor that finished strong. Pairings include seafood pastas, four-cheese pizza and seafood tempura.

Harvested by hand in 20 kg boxes maximum.                             Fermentation at 64-68 *F in stainless steel barrels, then aging on the lees for 5-6 months. Bottle aged 45-60 days.

Available in California, New Mexico, Idaho & Missouri.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ilborgoCantina Centanni – Il Borgo                                           Falerio DOC

Winemaker – Giacomo Centanni

25% Pecorino, 25% Passerina, 50% Trebbiano

A light, easy sipper not unlike a Pinot Grigio with a light, golden color. Citrus and flowers on the nose. Light body with lemon and pineapple notes and a slight effervescence upon opening. Pair with light appetizers and white sauce pastas.

Available in California, New Mexico, Idaho & Missouri.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pecorinoCantina Centanni – Pecorino                                          Offida Pecorino DOCG

Winemaker – Giacomo Centanni

100% Pecorino

Full-bodied and rich in flavor with a light yellow color. Pleasant bouquet of tropical fruits, honey and melon. Perfectly balanced with notes of pineapple and honey. Multiple winner of Best Wine for Fish. Also pairs well with full, hearty dishes.

Available in California, New Mexico, Idaho & Missouri.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AURAIPS (Paolini & Stanford) Winery – Aurai                         Offida Pecorino DOCG

Winemaker – Raffaele Paolini & Dwight Stanford

100% Pecorino

Only 3000 bottles on average of Aurai are produced each year out of PS Winery. Their translation of the Pecorino comes out as another big white, with ripe flavors of peach and tropical fruits.

Available in Missouri.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bottiglia-orgilla-Fiorano1Agribio Fiorano – Donna Orgilla                                       Offida Pecorino DOCG

Winemaker – Paolo Beretta

100% Pecorino

A classic Pecorino, grown on just 3 acres of vines. Grapes hand-picked in crates and crushed & stemmed immediately. Light pressing of the bunches, must at the controlled temperature around 50 °F. Cold maceration for less than 18 hours. Matured with lees in steel stainless tank with indigenous selected yeasts for 6 months, refined in bottles for 2-4 months.

Available in Le Marche, Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

002Cantina Dianetti – Vigna Giulia                                         Offida Pecorino DOCG

Winemaker – Emanuele Dianetti

100% Pecorino

“A wine that comes from the earth. 10-year-old vines at 150 meters above sea level. Exposure that leads to 2 simultaneous types of maturation: one allowing for higher sugar and extract levels on the southern side, and the other which gives the acidic freshness and strong fragrance of the fruit on the western side. The common denominator is the soil, mainly composed of silt & sand with some clay and enriched by the limestone giving its high mineral content. The microclimate that develops in this vineyard, surrounded on the north and south sides by a forest and on the west side by a ditch, is conducive to organic farming. In the hottest period of the year, from the ripening until the full maturation of the grapes, the winds blow from the sea bringing notes of sea salt to the grapes from noon until evening; then they turn back and the air, first chilly and then nearly cold at night, cools the grapes fixing their aroma.

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