Credits: Simone Rea
The tour, which covers about 89 km south of Le Marche region, in central Italy, starts from the coastal town of Pedaso and goes inland to the three delightful localities of Montefiore dell’Aso, Carassai and Montalto Marche. It continues through Castignano with its high-altitude vineyards and consequently great temperature range, this is one of the prime producers of Pecorino ending up in the wine-making capital of Piceno: the picturesque town of Offida.
The rather curiously named Pecorino cultivar (also called Uva Pecorina and Uva delle Pecore literally, the “sheep grape”) used for the DOC Offida Pecorino, certainly has ancient roots in Piceno, for it was grown mainly along the shores below Monte Sibillini, as we can see in the Bollettino Ampelografico of 1875. Here it is still called Vissanello, after its long-established use in the hills surrounding the lovely town of Visso.
The grapes are small, rounded, and very light in colour, the leaves medium-sized with few lobes, and the bunches of medium elongation, cylindrical in shape and often winged. The variety is found in limited areas of Umbria, very small areas of Lazio, and in most of wine-growing Abruzzo, but it enjoys its greatest success in the Ascoli area.
The origin of its name is shrouded in mystery. There are a number of theories, but the most likely and the one that substantiates its autochthony in the area seems to be one that links wine-growing to another great tradition of Piceno: sheep-farming. The transhumance generally started in the first half of the month of September along the ancient paths along the bare earth or over the grass, and through the woods and fields. The Pecorino grape, which matures earlier than other varieties in Piceno, was much loved by the sheep, which had to be restrained not without some difficulty by the shepherds.
But its fame was some time in coming. The 1970s and the early 80s introduced an inversion in terms of quality to the whole wine-making sector in Italy. Focusing entirely on quantity, this was unwise, and many highly prized varieties of which Pecorino is undoubtedly one remained out of the picture. Indeed, Pecorino was neglected even more than many other top-quality grapes.
This was true until the mid eighties, when Guido Cocci Grifoni realised the potentials of the native grapevines and, in a situation where the market preferred to promote International wines, he started to experiment with Pecorino, a grape variety that dates back to 1871 and that at that time risked extinction. Right from the beginning, the wine obtained from the Pecorino grapevines revealed exceptional oenological characteristics and, thanks to the efforts and farsightedness of Tenuta Cocci Grifoni, was awarded DOC recognition in 2001.
Since then, much water has passed under the bridge (or rather, one might say, much wine has passed from glass to lips) and Pecorino is now considered the star of Ascoli wine-making. So much so that it is the grape of the young DOC Offida certification as “Offida Pecorino” (though it can also be found under excellent labels such as the IGT “Marche Pecorino”). Fermented in steel or wood, and considered as a wine for early drinking or as an important white for ageing, it is certainly a true thoroughbred. It is capable of emanating a unique personality, with a very rich body, though one that never loses its freshness, and it has powerful fragrances of jasmine, cinnamon and resin. It is also out of the ordinary in terms of its pairing potential: its remarkable structure makes it ideal not only with fish but also with white meats (chicken, veal, turkey) and typical local specialities such as Ascoli olives and ciabuscolo.