Recognisable by its golden colour with subtle olive shades, it’s the Italian white wine that is making all the news. Pecorino had almost disappeared, but thanks to the passion of winemaker Guido Cocci Grifoni he now delights the taste buds of amateurs all the way to the USA.
For his part in the renaissance of this wine which pairs well with “fritto misto” (fried fish) enjoyed on the Italian beaches, Guido Cocci Grifoni, described by his daughters “a little crazy”, is considered a hero by his fellow winemakers.
On the nose, a good pecorino is distinguished by its aroma of tropical fruit, but also notes of honey and herbs, with a touch of acidity.
Pecorino - not to be confused with sheep milk cheese of the same name, which is sprinkled on pasta - is a grape variety typical of Marche and Abruzzo, in eastern Italy.
According to a legend, it is named after the sheep (“pecora”) grazing in the hills of the region near the feet of wild vine, and feasted on its grains.
“The pecorino is not just an exceptional variety, it is one of the biggest success stories of the twentieth century in Italy,” says Ian d'Agata, author in 2014 of a book on the indigenous grapes of Italy.
Victim of rural depopulation, the variety could have disappeared without the tenacity of Guido Cocci Grifoni who was, in the early 1980s, the only one to believe in its potential.
At the time, other local varieties such as Trebbiano and Malvasia were preferred to produce table wines distributed by cooperatives in the region.
“The pecorino is not a generous variety. However, in those days, producing in high volume was important because winemakers needed money,” says Marilena Cocci Grifoni, who now manages the family farm of ‘Arquata del Tronto, alongside her sister Paola, oenologist.
Their father had a brilliant intuition: with the variety almost forgotten, he bought a small plot at 1,000m altitude, to allow him to realise his dream.
After some experimentation, the first pecorino, fruit of the 1990 harvest, is sold as a modest table wine.
Gradually, Guido’s quality of wine begins to become known and recognised, and in 2001, pecorino produced in Offida gained a denominazione di origine controllata (DOC). Ten years later, it gained the status of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), just like a Barolo or Chianti Classico.
Although pecorino was resurrected by the Cocci Grifoni family in the Marches, it is now in the neighbouring Abruzzo where the bulk of production is done.
“The Cocci Grifoni rediscovered Pecorino, I’ve baptised it,” likes to say Luigi Cataldi Madonna, a wine-grower and professor of philosophy at the University of Saint Augustine.
For him, wine is not a “noble product” but above all “made for the people”: “I drink when I’m happy and when I want to spend time with friends, that’s why wine exists”
Pecorino is now found even on the shelves of British supermarkets and on the tables of fine restaurants in the United States.
With a production that exploded between 2000 and 2011, D'Agata, however, urges caution: pecorino must not become a victim of its success.