Discovering the wines of Molise

Located along the Adriatic coast, between the Abruzzo and Apulia regions, Molise stands right in the middle of the Italian peninsula. Essentially rural, Molise’s territory has been producing grapes since time immemorial. Plinio the Ancient even mentioned Cliternia near Campomarino as one of the best areas for viniculture in his Naturalis Historia. Vineyards are found all over the region’s territory, from the beautiful rolling hills of the Adriatic coastline near Termoli, Guglionesi and Campomarino; in the Biferno river corridor also called il Colle di Bacco (bachus’ neck), to the upper plateaus of the Apennine mountain ridge near Isernia (the Pentro d’Isernia) in alto Molise.

Molise is mostly renowned for its production of bulk wines and local “contadina” consumption and never developed a strong tradition for fine wines. The region only counts four designated appellations of origin (DOC): Biferno (rosso, bianco, rosato), Pentro di Isernia, Molise (rosso, bianco), and Tintilia del Molise, and tally a few more Igt (Indicazione geografica tipica), the most famous one being the “Osco” o Terra degli Osci.

Local Grape Varieties

Most of the grape varieties now in use, such as Falanghina, Greco and Aglianico, along with sweeter Moscati, Moscatelle, Malvasia and Fiano, were brought successively by the Greeks and the Romans and have been cultivated in the area for hundreds of years. Yet, recently introduced in the 1970s for their high yields, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (red) and Trebbiano (white) from more northern Abruzzo, have quickly become Molise’s most common grape types. Usually at the base of local table wines and DOC wines, they are often blended with other common grapes such as Sangiovese or Aglianico.

Fruity and ropy, the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a perfect everyday wine especially good with pasta and meat sauce. Often dull, Trebbiano can however be very charming with its delicate pear and apple aromas and refreshing acidity perfect for fish and greens.

Falanghina and Greco grapes offer some of the region’s best whites. More widespread in close-by Campania (Naples) these crisp, mineral wines are nonetheless becoming increasingly popular and serve as a perfect drink during the torrid Molisani summer months where temperature often averages thirty degrees Celcius (92 F).

Molise’s warm Mediterranean climate hence favours the production of another remarkable southern grape originally from Basilicata’s famous Vulture area called Aglianico that makes complex and full-bodied red wines.

Sangiovese, a very adaptable variety from Tuscany and Marche, is also cultivated in good proportions in Molise along with more traditional Bombino and Malvasia.

Recently rediscovered, Tintilia is considered the only autochthonous grape of Molise. Few producers still grow it, but it has been regaining a growing interest in the last few years with the region’s creation in 2004 of the new Tintilia del Molise DOC, with promising results. Its characteristic black licorice and spicy smell combined to a medium body and firm tannins makes it a perfect match for roasted red meats.

Local Wineries

Reminiscent of the region’s small size, only eight serious producers are nominally stated in the specialized Italian wine guides, the most interesting ones being Borgo di Colloredo, Di Majo Norante and Masseria Flocco. However, newcomers are slowly showing up, such as the Cantina Cipressi or Cantina Catabbo which are at the forefront of the Tintilia production, encouraged by the region’s potential for good quality wines.

The Di Giulio family, owner of the Borgo di Colloredo, started making wine the 1970s using typical southern varieties as well as international ones in their 50 hectares domain. Their magnificent Podere of Campomarino, worthy of the most beautiful Tuscan vineyards, also stands as a bed and breakfast. Try their Biferno Gironia white and red (available only in some of Montreal’s restaurants), both splendid examples of the region’s jump into modernity.

Nearby, Di Majo Norante winery has been producing wines since the 1800s. Real qualitative locomotive of the region, it stands as one of the most dynamic agencies of the area, promoting, through contemporary interpretations and modern techniques, ancient autochthonous grapes such as Tintilia. Their champion wine: Don Luigi, is an actual blend of Montepulciano and Tintilia. The Biferno Rosso Ramitello, is another of their praised wines along with their Molise Aglianico Contado. Yet, for a good, inexpensive, fruity medium bodied wine, look out for their Moli Terra degli Osci Rosso.

Masserie Flocco, Portocannone’s leading winery, offers a mix of tasty, unbinding wines of local and international varieties.

Restaurant Suggestions

If you happen to visit Molise, do not hesitate to order products from some of these local wineries in local restaurants instead of limiting yourself to cheaper regular table wines. The producers listed above are easily accessible and are most of all amazingly cheap; count about 20$ for a medium range bottle you would probably pay two to three times more in Canada or in the US.

Here are two restaurants you must try visiting Molise. First, right outside of Guglionesi, near Termoli, is the restaurant Ribo, famous for its fine reinterpretation of Molise’s regional cuisine. The surrounding panorama, filled with sunflowers, wheat fields and fruit trees, is by itself worth the detour. Also try restaurant Mare di vino, in Campomarino, a charming food haven specialized in fish and sea products of the region. Both carry an incredible selection of fine wines and delicious menus showcasing the region’s best products.

written by Gabriel Riel-Salvatore