Cooking to the Wine: Tiberio Pecorino & Saffron Chickpea Stew with Seafood

In my last post, I shared an interview with Cristiana Tiberio, the badass winemaker of Azienda Agricola Tiberio. Today we’re going to take a closer look at one of her wines –the Tiberio Pecorino Colline Pescaresi 2016 – and we’re bringing it home to the table.

Pecorino is one of those white wine grapes that I realize most people don’t know, but it’s very much in line with what many people are looking for in a bottle of white wine. It’s crisp, it’s minerally, it’s refreshing. It also has the ability to be really interesting. . . and it has a great comeback story.

It’s not surprising that it’s not that well known. Let’s be honest, I know a lot of you are thinking ‘Pecorino? I thought that was a cheese.’ I’m pretty sure I had that same thought the first time I heard of it. You’d also be right, there is a cheese called Pecorino – and I couldn’t resist including it in today’s recipe. However, it is also a wine grape that is grown predominantly in Italy’s Marche and Abruzzo regions. According to Ian D’Agata in Native Wine Grapes of Italy, the grape got its name from sheepherders who ate them off the vines as snacks while accompanying their flocks around the countryside. Other sources suggest that the sheep themselves ate the grapes. Either way, it seems there is at least a thin thread linking the wine with the cheese. (Sorry guys, it’s hard for me to resist a cheesy tangent.)

The grape’s obscurity has largely to do with the fact that it nearly went extinct. It’s an ancient grape that had been grown for hundreds of years. However, it’s not a very productive grape and many growers replaced it with far crappier varieties that gave higher yields. However, Pecorino’s weakness is also its strength. The fact that its vines don’t produce that many grapes also means that the grapes that are produced tend to have higher flavor concentration.

All the same, growers ripped up most of these vines and Pecorino was commonly thought to be completely gone by the middle of the 20th century. Then a few remaining vines were discovered in the 1980s and the grape made a pretty remarkable comeback. The grape can largely thank two producers as its heroes for bringing it back from the brink of death – Guido Cocci Grifoni of Cocci Griffoni in the Marche and Luigi Cataldi Madonna of Cataldi Madonna in Abruzzo.

The Tiberio family happened to be good friends with Cataldi Madonna. In 1999, Cristiana and Antonio Tiberio discovered a few rogue vines mixed in with others on their property. Once they figured out what they actually had on their hands, Cristiana went to Cataldi Madonna and learned everything she could from him about the grape. The Tiberios began cultivating the grape and Cristiana eventually developed her own style with the wine.

Cristiana with her Abruzzese Shepherds Quarmari and Frida in the vineyards. Photo courtesy of Cristiana.

In my conversation with Cristiana for my last post, I asked her what customers could expect from a bottle of  Pecorino.  She noted it’s often likened to a fuller-bodied Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s also very much its own grape and very evocative of the Mediterranean. She shared, “I love its energy, with beautiful depth balanced by the minerality. An authentic Pecorino has herbal flavours of sage, thyme, rosemary, and always a little zest of lemon.” You might also find apple and pear flavor, as well as light floral notes, and lots of minerality. Pecorino will also tend to be high in alcohol, and it is also high in glycerol, both of which add to the body of the wines, but all of this is balanced by high acidity as well.

Tiberio vineyards. Photo courtesy of Cristiana Tiberio.


Cristiana noted the Pecorino is generally a very food-friendly wine, but when I asked for her pairing recommendations to go with the 2016 bottling of her wine, she had a great recommendation: “My favorite food pairing for my Pecorino, especially for an aged vintage is a chickpea soup with saffron. Pecorino has a long creamy texture able to support and to match the flavour of saffron and the legumes expanding the length of these flavours and at the same time to add lift with its minerality.”

On the day we opened the wine, Greg and I picked up notes of pears, apples, and lemon. There were savory herbal notes, as well as tasty hints of cheese rind. The same notes continued on the palate along with some fleshier stone fruit notes, and even some faint tropical fruit notes of pineapple as it warmed in the glass. The wine gave a savory impression overall, with lots of herbs (Greg likened it to sourgrass), that hint of salty cheese, little white flowers that are just starting to dry, and hints of toasted almond skin.

Cristiana had mentioned that Pecorino tends to not be super aromatic, but will be more complex and full-bodied on the palate. Pretty much echoing this sentiment, Greg commented that the “depth of flavor is bigger than you’d expect on the nose.”

I suspect that several of these flavors, like the cheese rind and toasted almond skin, were coming from the fact that this wine was now a few years old, but I found them to be very attractive and added to the complexity. I’d be curious to age a bottle further to see where it goes.

Since Cristiana’s pairing recommendations sounded so delicious, we kept them in mind as we tasted the wine and built our pairing around it. The complexity of flavors and the body and texture of the wine also suggested it could handle quite a mix of flavors. What we ended up with was a kind of deconstructed seafood stew. Rather, it was a stew with seafood served on top. I opted for a simply prepared combo of cod and shrimp.

The breadth of flavors was really concentrated in the stew coming from first from saffron and herbs. I also happened to have some bits of ham and salami hanging around that I thought would work, so I tossed them in. This is totally optional, so to my pescatarian friends, feel free to leave it out. For my vegetarian friends, go ahead leave off the seafood – the stew is plenty flavorful on its own. 

That salty cheese note made it so that I really couldn’t resist the temptation to incorporate some Pecorino cheese into the pairing as well. Moreover, it is a pairing recommendation I saw more than once for Pecorino wines in general. As you might guess, the region does have a tradition of making this class of these cheeses known as Pecorino Abruzzese. Hey, “what grows together, goes together.”

It was a delicious combo, with flavors in the food and wine mirroring and rounding each other out. The wine was a really refreshing counterpoint to the food, while simultaneously matching the richness of the stew. I think this would be a great option for a dinner party because you could easily make the stew in advance (it’d probably taste even better), and just make the seafood right as you’re about to serve. Feel free to swap in other seafood options as well –– pretty sure this wine would easily match whatever you decide to swap in.


The importer’s website also recommends pasta, legumes, white meats, cheeses. Other recommendations I found include steamed white fish with ginger and chicken thighs with roasted red pepper and onion. This article I found about Pecorino cheese includes recipes for cacio e pepe and fava con pecorino – I think they’d all work beautifully together.

If you’re looking for other wines to pair with this dish, look for full-bodied white and rosé wines with savory notes. Options such Soave Classico, Pinot Bianco, or Lugana could work nicely. If you’re making the stew on its own or a less delicate fish like salmon or trout, savory light-bodied reds should work as well.

Maybe grab one from each category from Tiberio’s line-up and report back!


Tiberio farms sustainably and all of their wines are made with free-run juice and native yeasts.

The Sorting Table’s website
(importer) has a very detailed tech sheet for this wine. Here are just a  few of the basics:

Grape Variety:  100% massal selection Pecorino
Total area under vine:  3 hectares
Altitude:  350 meters a.s.l
Soil composition:  Limestone with marly-gravel subsoil
Average vine age: 16
Vinification:  No press, just free run juice
Alcoholic fermentation:  In stainless steel tanks
Malolactic fermentation:  None
Aging:  Six to eight months in tanks and another three to four months in bottle. (Per
Technical Information
Alcohol:  13.5%

If you really want to geek out and take a closer look at Pecorino, and its progression in Tiberio’s vineyards, I highly recommend checking out this article by Ian D’Agata for By total coincidence, I happened to attend a seminar he was giving in SF over the weekend (so in between these two posts). It struck me that he mentioned Tiberio’s wines several times throughout the day even though the day’s topic didn’t have anything to do with Abruzzo. More specifically related to this article, in Native Wine Grapes of Italy he notes her as an expert on the Pecorino grape and highlights the Tiberio, Cataldi Madonna, and Cocci Griffoni as the three best examples of the wine in Italy.


I believe I got my bottle from They currently have the 2018 available for $24. (The average price across all vintages on is $21.) I think that’s a great price for such a thoughtfully made bottle that also happens to be a benchmark for the variety, making this wine an absolutely Solid Value and probably an Overachiever as well. 

Saffron Chickpea Stew with Pecorino

Saffron Chickpea Stew with Pecorino

Yield: 4 to 6
prep time: 10 Mcook time: 50 Mtotal time: 60 M


  • ⅓ to ½ cup of diced ham or salami (optional)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 oz can of chickpeas (including liquid)
  • 2 cups of stock of your choosing (chicken stock used here)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 or 3 sprigs of thyme
  • Pinch of saffron (feel free to substitute turmeric)
  • Pecorino cheese rind or about ⅓ cup grated cheese, plus more for serving
  • About 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper


How to cook Saffron Chickpea Stew with Pecorino

  1. (Optional) Heat a little olive oil a large pot. Once the oil is shimmering, add the ham or salami, if using, and lightly brown. Transfer out of the pot to a plate.
  2. Deglaze the pot with a little stock (a splash of wine or water will also work), then add more olive oil to the pot if needed. Add the onions and sweat over medium heat until starting to turn tender. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so, then add all the ingredients before the tomatoes. Season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Bring the soup to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 15 minutes, but ideally longer to let the flavors blend together.
  3. After the soup has simmered and the flavors have had a chance to marry, remove the thyme sprig and the cheese rind (if using). Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until you have some creamy texture, but the soup isn’t completely smooth –– it should still have some whole chickpeas for texture. Alternatively, you can also blend the soup in a regular blender by pulsing to achieve the same effect.
  4. Add the tomatoes and the ham/salami (if using) back to the pot. Allow it all to simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Keep warm until ready to serve. Serve topped with cod and shrimp (optional, recipe follows) with extra grated Pecorino cheese on the side.

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Cod with Shrimp and Cherry Tomatoes

Cod with Shrimp and Cherry Tomatoes

Yield: 2 to 4
prep time: 5 Mcook time: 10 Mtotal time: 15 M


  • 2 to 4 portions of cod fillets (about 3 to 5 ounces/portions dependent on appetites)
  • ⅓ to ½ cup of flour for dredging (I used Wondra Flour)
  • ½ lb to 1 lb of shrimp, peeled and cleaned
  • 3 to 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 3 to 4 sprigs of thyme
  • About ½ cup cherry tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice (optional)
  • Salt
  • Pepper


How to cook Cod with Shrimp and Cherry Tomatoes

  1. Season the cod with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a bowl, and dredge the pieces of cod fillets through the flour to lightly coat.
  2.  Heat a generous amount of olive oil along with the sprigs of thyme in a large pan. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the cod fillets to the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on the first side, or until lightly browned. Carefully flip the cod to and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes on the second side, or until the fish is cooked through.
  3. Once the cod is cooking on the second side, add the shrimp and the garlic to the pan and tomatoes to the pan and allow them to start cooking while the cod finishes. Transfer the cod out of the pan once ready and continue to cook the shrimp until they’re pink and no longer translucent. Note: you don’t want to overcrowd the pan, so if you don’t have a pan large enough to cook the fish and the shrimp at the same time, simply wait for the fish to be completely cooked before starting the shrimp.
  4. Once everything is cooked, remove from heat and squeeze a little lemon juice (if using) over the seafood. Serve a piece of cod along with a few shrimp and tomatoes in bowls on top of the chickpea stew.

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The rest of the Italian Food, Wine, Travel blogging group (#ItalianFWT)  is celebrating the women on the Italian wine industry. Check out their posts here:

Additional sources used for this post:

The Oxford Companion to Wine via
Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, José Vouillamoz

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