PECORINO has long been familiar to lovers of Italian sheep's milk cheese, but later this year we will be able to drink Hunter Valley white wines of the same name.
The variety is widely planted in the Piceno province of the Italian Marche region and the Abruzzo region of southern Italy and is prized for its early ripening, thick skins and resistance to mould and its herbal, stone fruit flavours.
Several brands of pecorino are imported to Australia and one of them, the $20 Illuminati 2019 Pecorino, is reviewed below. It comes from the Controguerra area of Abruzzo, inland from the Adriatic coast, halfway up the boot of Italy.
Pecorino is derived from pecora meaning sheep - an appropriate link because of the cheese and the fact that sheep are often allowed to graze among the grape vines.
During this 2021 Hunter Valley vintage, pecorino grapes have been harvested and made into wine for the first time. It is being grown in the Hunter at Broke, Pokolbin, Lovedale and Belford and one of the spearhead producers is Suzanne and Ian Little's Little Wine Company.
Suzanne says she expects to release the 2021 Little pecorino next May. The bulk will be unoaked but she has experimented with a small portion matured in old French oak hogsheads. It's a technique adopted by the Italian Illuminati winemakers, who fermented about 10 per cent of their 2019 juice for four months in oak barriques.
The Littles are getting pecorino grapes from two sources - a 0.4-hectare planting made in 2019 on Phil McNamara's Mount Broke vineyard on Adams Peak Road, Broke, and from a 1.2-hectare plot on Newcastle surgeon Bruce Caldwell's Brycefield vineyard in Lovedale.
The vine rootlings came from the Chalmers family nursery vineyard at Mildura, which has propagated lots of the alternate variety vines introduced to Australia. It produces Chalmers label pecorino wines, with the current-release 2020 selling for $31 a bottle on chalmers.com.au.
The De Iuliis family wine company will also put a 2021 pecorino on sale later this year. It comes from a 0.6-hectare planting of Chalmers-propagated vines made in September 2019 on the De Iuliis Steven vineyard in Pokolbin. Winemaker Mike De Iuliis says he will be interested to see how the wine turns out but, he jokes, "it will be the best pecorino I've ever made".
David Hook is another trail-blazing Hunter pecorino producer, having established 0.4 hectares of vines on his Belford vineyard. No crop was harvested this year but he expects to produce a 2022 pecorino next vintage.
WITH 13.5% alcohol, theIlluminati 2019 Controguerra Pecorino is lime green-tinted straw in the glass and shows honeysuckle scents and zippy kiwifruit front-palate flavour. The middle palate has apricot, marzipan and herb characters and citrusy acid refreshes at the finish. It is at Dan Murphy's stores and danmurphys.com.au
DRINK WITH: salt and pepper squid.
AGEING: three years.
RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 6)
FINE MAIDEN BARBERA
THE first barbera from Leeton's Fiumara family, the Lillypilly 2019 Barbera has 14% alcohol, ruby hues, lavender scents and spicy black cherry front-palate flavour. The middle palate shows plum, dried cranberry, herb and savoury oak and the finish ferric tannins. At lillypilly.com, the Lillypilly Rd, Leeton, winery and bottle shops.
DRINK WITH: lamb koftas.
AGEING: six years.
RATING: 4 stars
ITALIAN AWARDS CHAMP
THIS Briar Ridge 2020 Wrattonbully Fiano was 2020 Australia Italian Varieties Awards champion and best white and is straw-hued, orange blossom-scented and has vibrant ruby grapefruit front-palate flavour. The middle shows gooseberry, nashi pear, ginger and minerals and a slatey acid finish. At briarridge.com.au and the Mount View winery.
DRINK WITH: scallops.
AGEING: four years.
RATING: 5 stars