The Pecorino grape is an indigenous Italian white wine varietal that is grown in the Marche, Abruzzo, Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio regions of Italy. Ampelographers believe that the grape is likely native to Marche where it is still used today in the DOCG wines (Offida Pecorino DOCG), and the (DOC) wines of Falerio dei Colli Ascolani, Colli Maceratesi and Offida as well as in Abruzzo and Marche IGT appellations.
Experts believe that the Pecorino grape is a very old varietal that likely originated as a wild grapevine growing in the Sibillini Mountains that was eventually cultivated for wine production. The Pecorino grape reputedly was brought back from the brink of extinction, found growing wild in a narrow gorge in Italy’s Marche region.
Cuttings were taken, and eventually identified as the Pecorino variety. A few local growers took up the challenge of re-establishing the variety as a missing piece of the local viticultural history. The grape's name stems from the Italian word ‘pecora’, meaning sheep. The origin of its name is still debated, but the most local story is that the varietal was a favourite snack of sheep, often driven through vineyards on their way to lower pastures.
Pecorino is an early ripening variety that tends to naturally produce low yields even without severe winter pruning. The variety is moderately productive, and its yields are inconsistent from season to season, growers abandoned it in favour of more prolific vines like Trebbiano. The variety does not have many viticultural hazards with a strong resistance to downy and powdery mildew. Pecorino has a lengthy history, and in 2010 there were 1228 hectares of Pecorino vines planted in Italy, mostly in the Arquata del Tronto region of the Ascoli Piceno province in Marche.
In addition to be grown in Marche, plantings of Pecorino can also be found in the Chieti, Pescara and Teramo areas of Abruzzo where it is used in the sparkling wines of Controguerra and in several IGT wines of the region. Plantings can also be found in Liguria, Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria. In the commune of Macerata in the Marche, Pecorino can be used in the Maceratino-based white wines of the Colli Maceratesi DOC provided that it does not exceed 30% of the blend along with Trebbiano, Verdicchio, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Grechetto and Incrocio Bruni 54. The wine can be made in a still, sparkling spumante or passito dessert wine. Any Pecorino used for DOC wines must be harvested at a yield no greater than 15 tonnes/ha with the finished wine in all styles with a minimum alcohol level of 11%.
In Controguerra, up to 30% of Pecorino in combination with Verdicchio and Chardonnay can be used in the Trebbiano-based sparkling wines. Yields are limited to 14 tonnes/ha with the finished wine a minimum alcohol level of 11%. Within the Falerio dei Colli Ascolani DOC, up to 25% Pecorino can be used along with Pinot Blanc, Passerina, Verdicchio and Malvasia (limited to 7%) in the Trebbiano-based wines of the region. Offida DOCG, Pecorino can be made as a varietal wine, provided it is at least 85% of the blend, with grapes limited to a yield of 10 tonnes/ha with the finished wines having an alcohol level of 12%. However, unlike Passerina which is also grown in the DOCG, Pecorino is not currently allowed to be used in the DOC's 'Vin Santo' style wine.
Until it was approved - the first commercial wines featuring the Pecorino grape were sold as ‘Vino de Tavola’. Several leading wineries campaigned for official recognition and received it in 2001 as Pecorino was finally allowed into the Offida DOC zone. It is a fairly thin-skinned grape that performs best at a slight altitude. The grapes can be naturally quite high in sugar, which may help explain their attractiveness for the wandering sheep, and the wines produced from them are frequently in excess of 13% ABV. Luckily the grape is also naturally high in acidity which helps to keep the alcohol in balance. In the past this grape variety, thanks to its high aromatic concentration, good alcohol content, and even more thanks to its wonderful acidity which is the most distinctive characteristic of Pecorino, was used to improve the quality of wines produced with other varietals.
Pecorino varietal wines pair well with seafood, risotto dishes and poultry cuisine and also not surprisingly pairs quite well with many types of sheep cheeses, especially softer styles.