Unless you are a cognoscenti of Italian wine you probably haven’t heard of Pecorino, at least not as something packaged in a bottle. Just like the cheese, the name comes from the Italian word for sheep, pecora. No, the wine isn’t made from sheep’s milk—in this case the connection is that sheep are said to have been fond of nibbling the super-sweet Pecorino grapes off the vines as they passed through the vineyards.
Pecorino is one of the many hundreds of grape varieties indigenous to Italy. It is naturally low producing, an attribute that promotes rich flavor development with a minimum of vineyard management. However, for much of the 20th century economic forces led Italian grape growers to emphasize quantity over quality, replacing lower yielding classic varieties with much higher yield strains, and Pecorino was one of many varieties that gradually disappeared.
Guido Cocci Grifoni, a grape grower and winemaker in the province of Marche in Italy, is credited with Pecorino’s re-discovery in the 1980s. Disappointed with the wines coming from the popular varieties planted in his vineyards, he researched native grapes of the region that had fallen out of favor to find new alternatives. One of the grapes that attracted his interest was Pecorino.
No producers were actively working with this variety any longer, but he was able to track down a few remaining vines in a small nearly abandoned vineyard. He brought cuttings back to his property and grafted them onto rootstock in his vineyards. After tasting the first vintage, he was sure that he had found his new grape.
Pecorino wines tend to have tropical fruit or citrus flavors supported by minerality that can run to saltiness. The sweetness of the grape means higher alcohol levels (for a white), which is well balanced by the Pecorino’s natural acidity. The wine’s structure and acidity also mean that it is one of the few white wines able to improve with age.
It’s a combination that has been successful. Pecorino from the Offida area was granted DOC status in 2001, followed by DOCG status in 2011. During that same period, the acreage planted to the grape quadrupled, making it one of the fastest growing grapes in Italy.
When you taste it, you’ll find out why. Pecorino is typically a medium bodied white wine that is an excellent match for things like pasta with vegetables, seafood, chicken, and even pork. For a classic regional treat, try Olive Ascolana (stuffed and fried olives).
And, yes, Pecorino wine can go with Pecorino cheese as well.