Pecorino | Native Italian white wine grape, currently fashionable, found mainly in the Abruzzo and neighbouring Le Marche regions on Italy’s Adriatic coast. It is also found in Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria. Low productivity saw the vine facing extinction until it was revived in the 1980s by Guido Cocci Grifoni of the Cocci Grifoni estate in what is now the Offida DOCG in Le Marche (Cocci Grifoni’s Pecorino wine was labelled Colle Vecchio). The Abruzzo producer Luigi Cataldi Madonna of the Cataldi Madonna estate is credited as sharing knowledge about the variety as well as being the first to put the Pecorino name on the bottle label (D’Agata, 2019, p227).

The name | The name derives from the shepherds who would eat the grapes whilst tending their flocks, ‘pecora’ meaning sheep in Italian. Pecorino is also a Calabrian synonym for Greco Bianco (Oxford Companion, 2015, p540). Other names | These include Vissanello, from Visso in Macerata province, which testifies to Pecorino’s adaptability to cooler inland areas due to its its early ripening and ability to give profound structure to white wines.

Biotypes | Ian D’Agata says three main biotypes of Pecorino exist, marked mainly by differences in the form of the leaf and bunch (D’Agata, 2019, p.227).

Morphology | Round small leaf, few indentations. Fairly tight grape cluster of medium-small dimensions, a small wing and a prominent residual pistil in the grape.

Viticulture | Naturally resistant. Prefers cool, mountain weather microclimates (over 400m) and clay-rich soil rather than low lying plains (Italian Wine Unplugged). It retains its acidity when ripening – high acidity is Pecorino’s hallmark (Italian Wine Unplugged). However, in hotter, lower altitude areas its ripening cycle changes, nullifying Pecorino’s USP, its high natural acidity (of which more below) and it becomes a sugar pump giving far less interesting wines (D’Agata, 2019, p228. Italian Wine Unplugged). 

Yields | Pecorino is naturally low yielding due to sterile basal buds, so it needs vigour-inducing rootstocks like 5 BB Kober and 1103 Paulsen (D’Agata, 2019, p227).

Where grown | Mainly in the foothills of Ascoli Piceno province in Le Marche, and in Abruzzo, with minor plantings in Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria (where it is called Dolcipappola).

DOC regions | Colline Pescaresi DOC (Abruzzo). | Offida DOCG (Marche). | Terre di Chieti (Abruzzo). 

Vineyard area | 2000 87ha (Oxford Companion, 2015, p540). | 2010 Over 1,110 ha/2,740 acres (Oxford Companion, 2015, p540). | ‘Well over over 300ha,’ (D’Agata, 2019, p227).

Winemaking | The use of skin contact (giving high extract) is more likely in the Marche than in Abruzzo where the wines are lighter and fresher (Italian Wine Unplugged). Cool fermentation in an anaerobic environment promotes Pecorino’s lemony aromatics due to high levels of thiols in the juice, but at the risk of wines which ‘age less well,’ says D’Agata (2019, p228).

Wine style | Pecorino’s hallmark is high acidity (high levels of malic acid), which some producers try to reduce, a move traditionalists find both puzzling and unnecessary (D’Agata, 2019, p228)‘Generously alcoholic whites likened to Viognier,’ (Oz Clarke, 2015, p198). Rich mouthfeel. Shows the following flavours: apple (crisp), balsamic nuances, herbs, melon (green), mint, peach (white), pear, rosemary, sage, thyme (Italian Wine Unplugged). It can produce Sauvignon-like fig and herb notes with reductive, cool ferment winemaking but, compared to Sauvignon, Pecorino has more body and richer texture.

Key producers | Cataldi Madonna (Abruzzo). | Cocci Grifoni (Marche). | Tibero (Abruzzo).

Bibliography

Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p124. 

Oxford Companion to Wine 4th edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Oz Clarke 2015, Oz Clarke Wine A-Z (Pavilion, 2015). 

Dr Ian d’Agata, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs (University of California Press, 2019).