A sniff of Pecorino, but no cheese in sight

Hands up if you thought Pecorino was only the name of a cheese?

(*puts hand up*)

I only very recently discovered I was wrong. Until that moment, the name Pecorino was firmly established in my mind as the unfortunate cause of the  unpleasant aroma of mature cheese that wafted around the otherwise stunningly beautiful town of Pienza in Italy where I stayed with my well intentioned wife some years ago.

What made it particularly bad was that I hate cheese.

And this was the world capital of smelly pecorino cheese.

And the only hilltop town in Tuscany that made no wine of its own.

But was, thankfully, well endowed with underground wine cellars serving delicious wines from neighbouring Montalcino along with boar salami.

But that, as they say, is another story.

Pecorino is also the name of a largely unknown grape grown in the Le Marche region of Italy (the upper calf muscle area of Italy’s boot shape geography). It hardly registers at all in any wine reference guide I own, except to say that it has a “mineral character”, that it was hard to grow so was largely abandoned, but is making a comeback as it is recognised as having more character than some other local alternatives. Not very helpful, but it shows that there is still so much to learn. [updated 27/10/2011

I enjoyed a particularly nice example of a wine made from the grape version of Pecorino in Hardy’s Restaurant on Dover Street with my friend Mark Priestley the other day.

Hardy’s has a very decent wine list, with lots of unusual wines and interestingly, highlighting the natural wines they list too. As we were both fans of Italian wine, Mark selected a few options and the helpful, and enterprising, waitress offered us a taste of the Pecorino as it was available by the glass. Well done!!

The Ciu Ciu, Le Merlettaie Pecorino, DOP Offida 2009 turned out to be a delicious wine for our lunch. All the wonderful acidity you might expect from great Italian wine, plus a little extra lively ZING!, a fresh citrus flavour of ripe grapefruit and lemon, a touch of fresh flowers to keep you smiling, a nuttiness to tell you this is a serious wine, and a hint of honey to round it all out and leave you wanting more. This one’s a winner!

It matched my dish of salmon and pistachio mayonnaise, and Mark’s chicken dish equally well. 

Pecorino is definitely a grape I need to learn more about, and Mark’s a great guy to help you find some unusual Italian wines to try.

Here’s to more of the same!