Pecorino From Abruzzo – The Next Great Italian White Wine – Forbes

Pecorino from two Abruzzo producers: Cirelli and Civaolich

If I asked a group of consumers what they think about Pecorino, they’d probably tell me how much they enjoy this cheese. But if I asked them if they like the wine, they might look at me funny.
That may not be the case in the near future, however, as Pecorino has become a wine in demand over the last half-dozen years, especially by wine directors and sommeliers in top restaurants. Clearly, these individuals – many of whom are looking for something new and trendy – are fascinated by the distinctive flavors of Pecorino, which tend to offer aromas of orange zest, tropical fruit and yellow flowers along with hints of green herbs; this as opposed to many unoaked Italian white wines that can be characterized by lemon, apple, pear and melon perfumes.
Pecorino the grape was supposedly named for the fact that shepherds would eat some of these grapes when they were ripe in September while they were transporting their sheep across Abruzzo; as payment for eating these grapes, they would give a piece of Pecorino cheese to the grape growers. Whether true or not, it’s a neat story and adds to the charm of this wine. It is grown in other Italian regions as well – Marche is also an important region for Pecorino – but Abruzzo has become something of a signature home for this varietal.
Most versions of Pecorino from Abruzzo are fermented and aged in stainless steel or cement tanks; this to capture the exotic fruit aromas of the varietal. These are wines that can be enjoyed upon release, which is typically within 8-10 months after harvest; for the top examples, they can be enjoyed five to seven years after the harvest date. These wines often display a touch of minerality or sapidity in their finish, making them wonderful partners for most seafood or poultry. Recommended producers include Mazzarosa, Fosso Corno, Collefrisio, Ciavolich, Cirelli and Emidio Pepe; this last producer, most famous for their Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, added Pecorino to their portfolio over the past few years.

Francesco Cirelli in his cellar with amphorae
Lately, a few producers in Abruzzo wishing to explore greater possibilities with Pecorino (as well as other local varietals such as Trebbiano and Montepulciano) have begun to craft their Pecorino in amphora (plural, amphorae). These are typically terra cotta vessels that have their origins more than 5000 years ago in the country of Georgia; today there is a significant renaissance of producers using amphora in the cellar in numerous regions throughout Italy.
Among the Abruzzo producers that make an amphora-aged Pecorino include Vinum Hadrianum, Ciavolich and Cirelli. At this last estate, Francesco Cirelli is enthusiastic about amphora in the cellar; “it’s a neutral container that expresses the authentic taste of the grapes.” His amphora version is much richer than his other example fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, as the amphora offering has a much deeper color, as well as a richer texture, and displays greater complexity than the steel-aged version. This is rich enough to accompany lighter game as well as roast pork or veal loin and can drink well for at least eight to ten years.

Here are notes on a few highly recommended versions of Pecorino from Abruzzo:
Emidio Pepe Pecorino 2019 – Cloudy, medium-deep yellow; aromas of papaya, grapefruit and melon with a distinct smokiness. Quite rich on the palate, there is very good acidity, excellent complexity and a powerful finish. Another year in the bottle will help round this wine out; peak in 5-7 years. (92)

Francesco Cirelli – Pecorino “La Collina Biologica” 2021 – Francesco Cirelli has two lines of wine; one treated in amphorae, and this, the La Collina Biololgica, from organic grapes. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. Bright, medium yellow; aromas of orange blossom, green tea and papaya. Medium-bodied with a layered mid-palate, there is very good acidity, good persistence, lovely varietal character and notable freshness. Relatively straightforward, but Cirelli has made an elegant wine that has impressive texture. Enjoy over the next 2-4 years. (91)
Abruzzo Pecorino 2019 – This is the amphora-aged Pecorino from Cirelli. Deep, medium-intense yellow with golden tints; aromas of lemon custard, butter cream and dried yellow flowers. Medium-full with a rich mid-palate, very good acidity and notable persistence; the finish displays notes of lemon zest and orange peel. There is a beautiful creaminess here, and the complexity is first-rate. Enjoyable now, but this should reveal more character over the next few years, with peak in 7-10 years. (93)

Ciavolich Pecorino “Aries” 2021 This is the steel-aged version of Pecorino from Ciavolich, an outstanding producer from the small village of Loreto Aprutino. Medium-deep yellow; aromas of apricot, fusel oil and pineapple. Medium-full, this displays ripe, lush tropical fruit notes, a delicate creaminess in the mid-palate, very good acidity and notable persistence. Although this is very young, the complexity is impressive and there are mineral notes in the finish, along with hints of orange peel and grapefruit. Approachable now, but this will surely offer greater complexity in another 2-4 years, peak in 5-8 years, perhaps longer. (92)
Ciavolich Pecorino “Fosso Cancelli” 2018 – This is the amphora-aged Pecorino from Ciavolich. Medium-intense deep golden yellow; aromas of yellow peach, nectarine, honey and golden poppy. Medium-full with a rich, layered mid-palate. Very good acidity, there is excellent persistence, a pleasant creaminess, very impressive varietal character and outstanding complexity. This is a highly distinctive Pecorino with great subtleties, as well as notable richness; there are notes of pear and sunflower oil in the finish. Enjoyable now, this will evolve beautifully over the next 5-7 years, perhaps longer. (95)

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