I swung by Bottega Rotolo the other day looking for some cool black salt they sell and decided to have a look through their wine selection in case there was something interesting. I walked out with a mixed half-case, and while I won’t write about them all, I’m certainly going to go into some detail about at least a few over the coming weeks.
Today is something that’s rare, even in its home country of Italy, the Tiberio Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT 2009. As is often the case in this blog, the name of the wine really needs to be unpacked a bit to have a better understanding of what we have here. Tiberio is the producer, Pecorino is the grape, and Colline Pescaresi is the region. Not one of these names was familiar to me before I found this bottle, though Italy is diverse enough that sometimes there are aspects of it that are unfamiliar even to the experts. Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator had a similar level of unfamiliarity when presented with this wine a couple of years ago, as detailed here, and he’s what I would regard as very much an expert.
(Funnily enough, some other blogger really didn’t like the article, and seemed to think Kramer was unhappy with unfamiliar regions, varieties and producers – exactly the opposite as to how I read the original article, as I thought Kramer was celebrating them and drawing attention to them. As for me, I hope my regular readers will know that I take great pleasure in trying new varietals and learning about new regions and producers.)
Italy though I find particularly challenging, and I mean that in a good way. If you take a map of France and colour in the wine regions, you have a relatively manageable collection of blobs, typically discretely set apart from one another into clumpings, with areas not under vine between them. So while the Loire Valley is quite extensive as far as subregions pushed together, in order to get from there to Chablis to the east or south toward Bordeaux (or even Cognac), you have an area in between which is not a wine region. On the other hand, in Italy it is possible to go from the heel of the boot to Turin in the north, covering over 1000km, without leaving wine country. Granted, it’s not a straight line, and the mountainous spine of the country does not feature vines very often, but still, a wine map of France is a collection of different regions, while a wine map of Italy is a map of Italy.
What drew me to this bottle is the grape, Pecorino. When I said it was unfamiliar, I wasn’t quite truthful. Pecorino is a word I know, but it’s unfamiliar as a wine grape, but rather better known as a type of Italian cheese, coming from the root pecora which is “sheep” in Italian but “cattle” in Latin (according to Google Translate). So what is this grape, and why is it named after cheese or livestock?
The facts online are somewhat sparse, but what’s worse somewhat contradictory. The grape itself is white, early ripening, with thin skins, medium sized bunches and mid density of grapes on the bunches. It typically produces medium to full bodied wine, with medium acidity, and while it is secondary to the fruit, minerality is a widely mentioned tasting note. It’s presently grown in the center of Italy, primarily in Marche and Abruzzo on the east coast, Umbria in the center and Lazio on the west coast.
It’s widely agreed that Pecorino is an Italian grape with a long history, but and that it’s been recently rediscovered in Marche after having fallen out of commercial production. What’s not clear though is why it fell out of production. One source cites low productivity, while other sources describe the variety as giving moderate to good yields. Another source says that the wines were considered too astringent. Whatever the reason for it falling out of fashion, I’m glad that it’s back, and not just in the “diversity is good” sense, but more in the “I like this grape” sense. As to why it’s named after a cheese or livestock, your guess is as good as mine.
While there is an appellation for the grape called Offida Pecorino in Marche, this wine in particular is Colline Pescaresi IGT in Abruzzo, the next area to the south. Colline means hills, and Pescara is a town along the coast, so while I can’t find many details, I am guessing the region is in the hills of the surrounding area. Vines intermingle with olive trees, oak groves and of course, sheep farms. The soil is largely red clay, with some grey and bits of limestone here and there. The climate is classic Mediterranean, with moderating influences from the Adriatic Sea.
The Tiberios are a family with a long tradition in the wine and grape growing trade, though working for others until the present generation’s Riccardo Tiberio planted 31 HA of native varieties in 2000. Working with the University of Bologna, and oenologist Dr Riccardo Cotarella, they aim to bring back and improve local varieties that have all but disappeared. They produce six wines, a Chardonnay / Sauvignon (Blanc?) blend, two Montepulciano D’Abruzzo reds, a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Rosato, a Trebbiano D’Abruzzo, and this Pecorino. Their vineyards are at approximately 300m altitude on average, and their winemaking seems much more modern than traditional. This wine in particular was grown on limestone, fermented in steel, and bottled without malolactic fermentation.
(I did first stumble across another Tiberio that produces wine in Italy, but they seem to be a relatively small producer in Tuscany, they don’t list a Pecorino, and their labels look nothing like this bottle, so I kept searching.)
In the glass, this wine is medium lemon green – a bit darker than your standard white wine. There was a veritable diamond mine of crystals at the bottom of the glass on the final pour, so I’m guessing this wine was not cold stabilized. The nose was fairly intense with aromas of lemon and toast – a very savoury nose, with some development. On the palate I found more lemon, lanolin, lime, and grapeseed oil, with a waxy finish. It was dry, with a rich texture and full bodied, with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity, medium minus length.
I really liked this wine – it had the good qualities of a rich Chardonnay or possibly a white Rhône blend. While it wasn’t hugely complex, it had excellent texture and mouth feel, and the flavour profile was lovely even if not overly complicated. I can’t find any examples of wine made from this grape outside of Italy, but I do hope that changes as I think it certainly can make a good drop and may have potential in other parts of the world.