One of the foremost confusion when it comes to pecorino is the confusion that people experience upon hearing it. As anyone who is literate in Italian cuisine will expect, pecorino is a common name in Italy, named after ‘sheep’s milk cheese’, sine Pecora is ‘sheep’ in Italian.
However, there is also a grape with a similar name, Pecorino and it’s an overlooked variety in Italy, partly because it has never been a very high yielding popular grape among Italian grape cultivators.
Many ampelographers believe the grape to be of native origin in the Marche region, where the grape is still used today I Arquata del Tronto to produce DOCG authorised wines of FaleriodeiColliAscolani, ColliMaceratesi and Offida.
A typical Pecorino wine is mild and dry with straw-yellow colour and faintly spiced with hints of elements like liquorice.
It’s an old grape, although much of its past remains to be discovered. Its first records seem to go back just a century ago, around 1870’s, although the grape has been exiting in Marche for long.
The Pecorino’s past has either been completely erased or is yet to be found out by researchers and ampelographers alike.
What is known is that the grape’s first records are dated to 1871 with bibliographic references, so it was definitely known to researchers of that time. Surprisingly, the grape’s past can also be linked to sheep herding!
Sheep rearing is one of the oldest practices still in existence today and is quite prevalent in Italy too. What exactly led to the naming of this variety after the sheep is not really known, although the story goes around it because of their nibbling nature, used to bite on the grapes that were grown in these regions described above. Since the grape had no name, cultivators named it ‘Pecorino’ after the sheep’s favourite.
The grape however, became a popular wine grape only as recently as the 1990s. Before, the grape was facing a possibility of extinction.
In the late 1800’s with the beginning of the 20th century, winemaking in Italy became a primary economic practice and one of the main sources of income for the recently-born unified country.
Several farmers from Liguria to Sicily adopted varieties that were far more profitable than their local counterparts.
A lot of varieties lost contact with the world in this process, and Pecorino was one of them. The grape remained a near-extinct variety all through the 20th century, when in the 1980’s, a researcher named Guido Grifoni, visiting the eastern coast of Italy, stumbled on a tiny vineyard owned by an 80-year-old man, growing Pecorino.
Until then, the grape was pretty much an unknown variety, till the researcher took some of the seeds and started planting the grape personally.
Grifoni’s initial plantings weren’t very yielding, although consistent planting gave Mr. Grifoni good yields in the 1990’s.
He immediately started working on producing wines through this grape and successfully released some of these for public consumption.
Very encouraged by this direction, he campaigned for Pecorino to gain official status and in 2001; the grape was finally given the DOCG status.
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