Pecorino is a light skinned grape found in the central Italy regions of Marche and Abruzzo along the Adriatic coast. These regions have been known for sheep farming for generations. The grapes of Pecorino are low yielding and one of the first to ripen in the vineyard, making it a real problem that it was a favorite of sheep that would graze. The Italian word for sheep is pecora, which is quite possibly where the wine got its name. It has a long history of being cultivated in Italy but just like we’ve heard many times before, this grape variety was thought to be extinct in the middle of the 20th century. Just like a romantic wine movie, a wine producer heard a rumor of some Pecorino vines growing in an overgrown vineyard in the 1980s. When he went to investigate, he got some cuttings which were propagated. A few years later, when he had enough to produce the first vintage of wine from these vines, he found it made a delicious wine of significant quality. Word spread and the number of plantings increased, resulting in the resurgence we see today.
Umani Ronchi winery was started in 1957 by Massimo Bernetti on a small farm in the medieval town of La Marche. Over the years, their production grew but they maintained a focus on wines from the regions of Marche and Abruzzo, like Verdicchio, Montepulciano, and Conero. They focus on producing wines in an environmentally responsible way by practicing such things as organic viticulture, using thinner glass bottles to reduce emissions in shipping and using sugar cane derived corks. In the winery, they also use some more traditional methods of making wine like using the much more neutral Slovenian oak botti. Botti are much larger barrels than the standard oak you’re used to seeing, 600 liters versus 225 liters. Today, it is Massimo’s son Michele that operates the business. In 2020, Umani Ronchi was selected as one of the top 34 wineries in Italy by Wine Spectator.
When I purchased my first bottle, I had no idea what to expect, and I definitely didn’t ask any questions. This bottle of 2019 Umani Ronchi Pecorino was from the recognized wine area of Vellodoro IGT in the Abruzzo region of Italy. The wine was a deep straw color with slight petulance (bubbles) that collected on the base of the glass. I noted floral aromas of honeysuckle, gardenia, jasmine, mixed with stone fruits, like apricot and pear. There were also obvious aromas of citrus fruits such as lemon and white grapefruit. It was a bright, youthful wine. This highly acidic dry wine had a moderate level of alcohol and a significant level of body. High levels of acid like this wine contains, typically would create a light bodied wine. In looking at the production data from the winery, they noted this wine gets aged in stainless steel for 4 months. During this time, the wine is also on its lees, or dead yeast cells. This is a common wine making practice, especially in Champagne, to balance the sharp acids while adding texture to the wine as the yeast cells break down over time. In the instance of Champagne, it creates flavors of bread or biscuits in the wine. They sit on their lees for a minimum of 9 months, so they have a considerable amount more time to develop those flavors than seen with this wine. Pecorino is a good one to try if you love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and its refreshing style.