Wine Review: 2010 Umani Ronchi Vellodoro Pecorino

19 09 2011

When drinking on a budget, many people go for cheap wine.  Me, I opt for sheep wine.

Baa.

You are forgiven for thinking that Pecorino is only a sheep’s milk cheese, because I was convinced of the same thing until I was presented with an opportunity to buy this neon green, livestock-labelled bottle.  For the first and possibly last time in my life, the back label of a wine I owned proudly trumpeted that it was made from “the grape of the sheeps” (bad grammar not mine) — the word “Pecorino” comes from the Italian “pecora”, meaning “sheep”.  Apart from being delicious with crackers on an appetizer platter, Pecorino is also a little-known white grape indigenous to the central-eastern Italian wine region of Abruzzo.  It almost became extinct over the past few decades because it is a fairly low-yielding varietal that doesn’t lend itself to big money crops (and because wineries weren’t lining up down the block to plant sheep grapes), but large-scale producer Umani Ronchi recently began a crusade to revive it in an effort to keep regional grape varieties alive, leading up to the first vintage of this Pecorino in 2007.  Thanks to the palate-broadening encouragement of Brian at The Ferocious Grape (who was also behind my foray into Malvar a couple months ago), and because I liked the cute cartoon sheep on the label, it ended up in my glass.

This is a tough label to decipher, packed as it is with strange Italian words and with no obvious hints as to their meaning.  As best I can tell, Umani Ronchi is the producer, Vellodoro is either one of their proprietary sub-labels or the name of the wine itself (there seems to be one of these special names per bottle on the UR site), Pecorino is the grape (of the sheeps), and Terre di Chieti is the region, named for the town of Chieti, which is located almost due east of Rome near Italy’s eastern coast in Abruzzo.  It took me 3 websites, The World Atlas of Wine and The Oxford Companion to Wine to dig up all that information — nice work on consumer-friendly labelling, Italy.

Cork Rating: 2/10 (It is indefensible that there are no sheep on this cork.)

The first thing I noticed about the Pecorino as soon as it was pouring into my glass was that its pale, lemon colour had a distinct greenish tinge, something common to a number of young whites.  There were also a few bubbles in the glass, and not solely as a result of an overeager pour; the Vellodoro was aged briefly while in contact with its lees (the dead yeast cells that were used in fermentation — I fully agree that this sounds gross), which can lead to a slight spritz in the wine when the bottle is first opened.  It had a clean, tart nose of pink lemonade, mineral water, chlorine and a fairly prominent green/grassy note, and those aromas spelled out its flavour profile on the palate:  dry, sharp, and almost austere in its minerality.  The Pecorino was medium-bodied but in no way round or lax, with piercing acidity and cheek-puckering citrus fruit (grapefruit, lime) mixed with the malic crispness of underripe green apples (like the Sour Patch Kid version of a green apple), all leading into a crisp, tight finish.  There was nothing sheepish about it — it was a penetrating, almost angular wine.

If I had to compare the Pecorino to an international grape variety, it would probably be Sauvignon Blanc, but Old-World style:  even though there was a greenness to it that made me think a bit of New Zealand SB, its crisp, structured, mineral-driven delivery was more reminiscent of old school SBs like Sancerre from France’s Loire Valley.  If you’re a fan of that type of wine, that’s probably a ringing endorsement, since this bottle cost me less than $20.  For me, it’s not exactly my thing, but I can definitely still respect its freshness and bright acidity and give it a thumbs up for being a well-made affordable white.  And for giving the sheeps their rightful due.

87 points

$15 to $20 CDN 

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