Recently, a dear friend asked me to write about the wines of his birthplace: Molise.
This beautiful region is located in Central Italy. It is surrounded by Abruzzo to the north, Lazio to the north-west, Campania to the south-west and Puglia to the south. To the east, we have the Adriatic Sea. It is after Valle D’Aosta, Italy’s second smallest region and its most sparsely populated. The landscape is similar to Abruzzo with the Apennines running north-south and its vineyards located between these mountains and the sea.
Some would argue that Molise is Italy’s least known wine making region. And yet, wine making has been taking place here since before the Romans by the Samnites (Sanniti) and Osci tribes. With the arrival of the Romans, wine cultivation flourished. The Romans discovered that the hillsides between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea provided ideal conditions to plant their vines. These valleys and hillsides are blessed by sunshine, good exposure and wonderful soils of calcareous origin. The climate is quite varied for a small region: milder along the Adriatic coast where Termoli and Vasto are located and cooler towards the Apennine mountains where Campobasso is located.
Like many areas of Southern Italy, the quality of Molise’s wines has risen substantially in the last 30 years. New investments in technology and the modernization of its vineyards led to Molise’s first DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) designation in the 1980’s. Gone mostly, are the days when the vines were trained to tall maple trees like the ancient Etruscans did. While viticulture in Molise has traditionally been influenced by its neighbours, it is developing its own exciting and unique identity on the Italian wine landscape. An identity premised on providing the consumer with excellent wine at an affordable price.
For such a small region, Molise can boast of many grape varieties on its territory. A total of 24950 hectares are planted with vines. It produces approximately 550 000 hectoliters per year. Molise is divided into 4 DOC zones:
Named after a river, the Biferno DOC comprises both banks of the
Biferno River from Campobasso to the Adriatic Sea and lies entirely
within the province of Campobasso. It produces red wine using the
Montepulciano and Aglianico grapes. The whites are made mostly with
Trebbiano and some Bombino Bianco and Malvasia Bianca. Rosés are
Pentro di Isernia DOC:
This DOC comprises the area north of the Verrino River valley, and the area south of the town of Isernia. The reds and rosés in this DOC are a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese. The whites are like the Biferno DOC, consisting of Trebbiano, Malvasia Bianca and Bombino Bianco.
Molise del Molise DOC:
This DOC comprises the entire region and is the most “international” of all the DOC’s. It allows for the production of white, red, rosés, and sparkling wine. Among the permitted white varieties you have Chardonnay, Falaghina, Moscato, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc. Among the reds you have Cabernet Sauvignon, Montepulciano and Sangiovese.
Perhaps of all the varieties mentioned so far, Tintilia is the one which today is receiving the most attention. It is thought to be Molise’s only native grape variety. It almost disappeared but is making a comeback. Given its name, many believe the grape is from Spain originally. (tinto meaning red in Spanish). It is a hardy grape capable of withstanding cold, mildew and disease. The grapes produce a very dark and opaque wine. On the nose you have black cherry and spice. While quite full-bodied, the tannins and acidity are firm but not harsh. This red wine is also produced as a rosé and a rosso riserva meaning that it must be aged for two years. Some producers are looking at a more modern style using oak as an aging vessel. Roasted lamb, pasta al forno or a deli meat such as ventricina is a wonderful match for this wine.
One cannot speak of winemaking in Molise without mentioning the name of Di Majo Norante. This winery sets the benchmark in terms of quality. They have been producing wines since the 1800’s. The present setting has its origins with the construction by Luigi Di Majo of a winery on his wife’s family estate in 1968. Today his son Alessio has turned the winery into a modern facility. If you have a chance to come across their top wine the Don Luigi, grab as much as you can. It is a blend of Montepulciano and Tintilia. Some of their wines are available periodically at the LCBO and at the SAQ in Quebec.
Grazie e salute!
If you have any questions or suggestions for future columns, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Domenico Cellucci is a wine consultant and educator and is a graduate of Algonquin College’s Sommelier Program. He puts on food and wine matching events in the national capital area. He has visited wineries and vineyards in Italy, France, British Columbia, Ontario and the United States.