Even though Marche is one of Italy’s 20 regions it doesn’t elicit the recognition that Piedmont or Tuscany or Sicily does, and in fact more often than not, telling folks about wine from Marche elicits a blank stare. So it should come as no surprise that talking with a little more specificity about Marche’s Offida appellation can cause puzzlement even amongst grizzled winos. And it does.
The Offida region, which is surprisingly classified as a D.O.C.G. appellation, rests geographically east of the small city of Ascoli Piceno, west of the Adriatic Sea, and just north of the border with another one of the 20, the neighboring region of Abruzzo. There are only three principal grape varieties that grow in Offida: the great and ubiquitous east-central Italian red variety Montepulciano, a semi-obscure white vine called Passerina, and another semi-obscure white variety somewhat confusingly named Pecorino, and it is from this variety that this evening’s wine was made.
Obviously, this Pecorino is not in any way the cheese of the same name, but it is a coincidence that bears an explanation. Some folks swear that the name is in fact connected with the cheese, with this contingent claiming that there is some olfactory similarity between the local sheep’s milk cheese and the wine made from the grape. I demur, and frankly most others do too. There are two etymological theories that do seem to hold water, however. One maintains that because Pecorino’s fruit bunches are often fuller at the bottom than near the stem as is the case with most other grape varieties, the fruit clusters resemble a sheep’s tail, hence the name. A second theory holds that because Pecorino thrives on high rocky ridges that are traditionally also home to flocks of sheep who seem to have as much a taste for the vine’s fruit as they do for grasses and lichens…well, you can fill in the rest.
Though Pecorino is now firmly and officially ensconced in a D.O.C.G. appellation, only as recently as the early 1970s this grape was not being cultivated by any grower anywhere to make even one liter of wine, and in fact, it was nearly extinct. Some of the very earliest examples of this vine brought into formal cultivation were recovered from a semi-feral state from some of these remote mountain trails. One taste of the bold wines made from Pecorino, and you’ll thank the wise viticultural “shepherds” in Offida for not being sheep themselves and planting row on row Chardonnay, and having the courage and pride to lead the flock, and resurrect this fine vine.
Coincidentally (0r perhaps not so coincidentally) Pecorino pairs beautifully with cheese, so cheese it was in terms of the evening’s menu – three in fact: Taleggio from Lombardia, made from cow’s milk, a three milk (cow, sheep, and goat) cheese called La Tur from Piedmont, and – you guessed it – a Pecorino from Marche’s neighbor Tuscany, with bread, sliced apples and pears, and walnuts.
Saladini Pilastri Offida Pecorino 2011
Greenish, medium golden color. Intense and expressive nose of apricot, citron, and melon fruit aromas, with strong supporting notes of dried wildflowers, sandalwood, sour cream, vanilla bean, and honey. In the mouth the wine is full-bodied, big, and bold, but still very fresh with mouth-filling flavors of peach jam, grapefruit, and apple fruit harmonized with notes of malted grains and sea salt. The wine finishes long with a pleasantly bitter taste of tonic water.