Most of us know Pecorino as a salty sheep’s cheese from Italy. It’s available in your local supermarket and is often used as a substitute for Parmesan, grated over dishes as a finishing touch.
But perhaps less well known is the fact that Pecorino is also an Italian grape variety that has enjoyed a revival over the past couple of decades. In fact it is one of around 380 grape varieties currently grown in Italy.
It produces a crisp white wine that is an ideal match for pasta, seafood or risotto. It’s also a light, refreshing drink on its own. Pecorino has been described as a bit like Sauvignon Blanc but a little less aromatic. It also has similarities to Pinot Grigio although Pecorino tends to have more body.
There are various claims over the link with the sheep’s cheese. Pecora is Italian for sheep and the most common tale is that the shared name came about because sheep liked to eat the grapes which grew in the wild.
The story goes that Pecorino had fallen out of favour and was virtually extinct when it was rediscovered in in the Marche region. Local growers decided to plant it in recognition of the area’s winemaking history.
The grapes tend to reach ripeness earlier than many other varietals and yields can be a bit inconsistent, but it’s worth a taste if you like to try good wines that you won’t find on many supermarket shelves.
A fine example of Pecorino comes from Ciu Ciu. This organic white from the province of Ascoli Piceno is made by brothers Massimiliano and Walter (pictured) Bartolomei at the Ciu Ciu estate, which was originally founded in 1970 and sits in the Piceno hills above Offida in the Marche region. Some of the poorer examples of Pecorino wines are a result of them being planted at the wrong altitude.
That’s not the case with the Bartolomei brothers who grow their grapes in ideal conditions. Ciu Ciu is organic and makes a range of wines using a natural wine-growing ecosystem. However, we are particularly keen on the Pecorino. It combines a grassiness with fruit and nuts, and we love its balance and crispness.
And, if you are planning a trip to Italy, the brothers will be happy to share their passion and expertise. For a small fee, visitors to the area can enjoy a tasting session at their office in Offida, sampling the Pecorino together with their sparkling and red wines and nibbling some bread, meat and cheese – not surprisingly Pecorino wine goes well with sheep’s cheese!