Tuesday, April 19, 2005

And they call this little wine, "sheep"

If you find yourself one day traversing the Marchigiani hills between Offida and Ripatransone, a majestic stretch of midieval hilltowns, vineyards and farms about 15 km in from the Adriatic coast of Central Italy, keep one name handy: Guido Cocci Grifoni. Guido is a master oenologist (or, enologist if you prefer), bringing into the world a gem of a white wine, a wine that has become one of my all-time favorites.

Why so special? This wine is based 100 percent on a very curious grape called the "pecorino". We've all had pecorino cheese, which is made from the milk of the pecora, or sheep. How the sheep got around to spawning a grape I will never know. I will spare you the meaningless wine descriptions. Suffice to say this lovely little vintage is smooth and dry with a much more flavorful bite than you get from the Le Marche region's other well-known white, the Verdicchio (which can be found in just about every liquor store in the world). The pecorino is versatile. It tastes great with anything, particularly fish (of course), but I've had it with Mario's (local butcher extraordinaire) spare ribs too, and again afterwards with dessert. It pleases every time. And, at 13.5 percent alcohol, it's a white that packs some power. Particularly good is a pecorino we had over Easter that was 14.5 % alcohol, but incredibly smooth. Rarer still, I will not tease you with details.

I mention the pecorino here because of its relative obscurity. I haven't found much written on the cultivation, nor the etymology for that matter, of this grape. But I do know it's confined to select valleys, in select wine-growing regions of Italy. The only region I'm familiar with (and I confess my research into the topic consists of peppering the enoteca managers with inane questions) is in Offida, which is to say a quiet stretch of the Le Marche region of Central Italy (just north of Abruzzo) in the Ascoli Piceno provincia. Still curious? It's just inland from the Adriatic coastal town of San Benedetto del Tronto. You'll need to know these details because Guido and his neighbors produce a relatively small number of barrels -- primarily for local distribution, which encompasses a scattered chunk of the Ascoli Piceno region. (I've had no luck finding an overseas exporter). But if you ever run across this curious grape in your local wine shop, or rarer still, spot a bottle of Guido's finest, I recommend splurging.

By now, you're no doubt muttering that this is the least useful wine tip ever published. But my intentions, I promise, are good. I hope it will spur further suggestions on wine favorites, both obscure and plentiful. Cin Cin, amici.

No comments: