Monday, July 14, 2008

Abruzzo Mistaken Wine Identity, Case #1: Pecorino

As I mentioned in my first post about wines from the Abruzzo region, some of them have a bit of an identity problem. Some of the grapes used are masquerading as wines--or even cheese--from other parts of Italy. In the Abruzzo, no doubt they will tell you that it's the Tuscans and Romans who are stealing from the Abruzzese. Take today's wine from Abruzzo: Pecorino. Type it into The Oracle (i.e. Wikipedia) and all you will get is the Roman cheese. You have to specify "Pecorino Grape" to get it to cough up some viticultural information. And if you are looking for information on the grape, I'd skip the 1-line Wikipedia entry entirely and head to this article at Wine Library Terroir.

If you head to that article, you will discover that the variety was thought to be extinct until it was found growing wild in Le Marche, that sheep liked to snack on it which may be why it's named Pecorino, and that it's now grown mostly in Le Marche and Abruzzo.

This was my first Pecorino, but I can assure you right now that it won't be my last. It was made by Cantina Tolla, an Italian wine cooperative founded more than 40 years ago that now has 1200 partner growers and makers involved in producing a wide range of wines.

The 2007 Cantina Tollo Pecorino was clear straw yellow in color with a slightly greenish tinge that made it very summery in appearance. ($18, Bion Divino; unfortunately, I haven't been able to find it online elsewhere) Fresh aromas of Crenshaw melons and white nectarines continued the summer appearance of the wine into the aromas, and these elements were echoed in the juicy flavors of melon, peach, and nectarine. The wine picked up a briney, saline note in the aftertaste that really carried the wine over from very good into excellent QPR territory. The wine had all the medium-body and fresh citrus flavors that I was led to expect given the varietal characteristics, but that little saline kick at the end made it the latest example of a charming yet surprising Italian whites.

We had our Pecorino with a cheesy pasta dish made not with Pecorino but with goat's cheese dreamed up by Mario Batali: orecchiette with hazelnuts and goat cheese. It combines those little ear-shaped pasta with olive oil, goat cheese, parsley, a pinch of red pepper flakes, some toasted hazelnuts, and some toasted breadcrumbs in a dish that is so fast, so comforting, and so easy that it should be in everyone's repertoire for "what's for dinner" emergencies. Basically, it's like the best mac and cheese you've ever had, and for 20 minutes I considered becoming vegetarian and eating this every day. The salty goat cheese and that saline note in the wine were divine together, and the hazelnuts and breadcrumbs picked up a little bit of a nutty note in the wine that I hadn't noticed before. The fresh melon and summer fruit flavors cut through the richness of the cheese and the wine's medium body kept it from being overwhelmed by the pasta or tasting too sharp in the mouth.

I'm sounding like a broken record, I know, but in January I was not prepared for the delicious diversity of Italian white wines that I've encountered so far this year. I've just had my 7th Italian white and I know that they are in my wine cellar to stay--even if I have to get rid of some Italian reds to make room for them.



Anonymous said...

"I was not prepared for the delicious diversity of Italian white wines that I've encountered so far this year."

Ha! Just imagine if your blog was titled, "Very Good Wine for More Than $30".

Italian Wine Blog said...

What a shame it wasn't a Pecorino/Pecorino food-wine match. How simple would that have been. Drat

Dr. Debs said...

Hi, Jack! The palate is willing, but the pocketbook is not. I couldn't find the right Pecorino/Pecorino match, Italian Wine Blog. Besides, this pairing was soooo good.