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THE HISTORY OF MOLISE’S WINES
The history of Molise’s wines began in the pre-Roman times when the Samnites started to cultivate vines and produce wine after adopting the techniques of the Greeks and Etruscans. The Roman conquest of Samnium then led to the development and refining of their viticulture techniques. In his Naturalis Historia (77–78 AD), Pliny the Elder mentions Isernia’s wines for the first time. There are not many traces of Molise’s viticulture during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but we know that there was intense expansion between the 18th and 19th centuries when Molise became the leading wine producer in the Kingdom of Naples. As with the rest of Italy, Molise’s wines suffered a harsh blow due to the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s. Wine production finally grew stronger again in the second half of the 20th century. From that point, vine cultivation spread even more, not only in the mountains and hills but also in coastal areas. There are two main areas in which Molise’s wine production is concentrated, one that occupies the Trigno valley and Biferno valley, and one surrounding Isernia.
MOLISE’S WINE VARIETY
Wine production in Molise has long been linked to that of the neighbouring regions. In fact, you could say that Molise’s wines act as a bridge between Abruzzo wines and Puglia wines, with characteristics also taken from nearby Campania. The most widespread grape varieties in Molise are black grapes, of which Tintilia stands out as the only native Molise variety. The other particularly widespread black grape varieties are Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and Aglianico. Meanwhile, standout white grape varieties include Falanghina, Trebbiano, Greco, Bombino bianco, and white Malvasia. As it stands, there are no Molise DOCG wines but there are four DOC wines in Molise: Biferno, Pentro (or Pentro d’Isernia), Molise (or del Molise), and Tintilia del Molise. The Biferno DOC can be produced as a red or rosé, with Montepulciano and Aglianico grapes, or white, with Trebbiano Toscano blends. Meanwhile, the Pentro d’Isernia DOC uses Montepulciano and Sangiovese for the red and rosé, and Trebbiano Toscano and Bombino Bianco for the white. There are actually five different types of the Molise DOC: novello, red, spumante, passito, and semi-sparkling – taking Molise into the field of sparkling wines. There are two IGT wines in Molise: Osco (or Terra degli Osci) and Rotae.
TINTILIA: MOLISE’S ICONIC WINE
The Tintilia del Molise DOC is the wine that best represents the spirit of its ancient land. The first written evidence of this wine dates back to the early 1800s. Legend has it that it was the Spanish in the 18th century who imported this grape variety – in fact, the name Tintilia is derived from “tinto” which means “red” in Spanish when referring to wine. The Spanish would have chosen this grape variety because is particularly adaptable and it would have spread very quickly in Molise. It is the only native variety in Molise, which spread to various municipalities in the provinces of Isernia and Campobasso. In the 20th century, however, the grape variety was neglected to the point that it almost became extinct, which benefitted more productive grape varieties. In the early 2000s, cultivation resumed and in 2011 the Tintilia del Molise DOC was established. The protocol approved vinification in red, rosé and red riserva versions – aged for at least two years – all based on at least 95% Tintilia grapes. Tintilia is one of the most firmly structured red wines from Molise, with a very bright ruby red colour, a high level of tannin but extremely elegant. The alcohol content is quite high and it is fruity and spiced on the palate and nose, with notes of prunes, berries, and black pepper.
HOW TO PAIR THE WINES OF MOLISE
Molise’s wines obviously pair perfectly with local products. For example, Tintilia is perfect with red-meat-based main courses, such as grilled, braised, and roast meat. Sunday lunch is always a success if you pair Tintilia del Molise with grilled vitellone bianco dell’Appennino Centrale IGT meat. Another typical product that pairs perfectly with Tintilia is ventricina, a spicy cured meat typical of Molise and Abruzzo. Mutton and lamb, on the other hand, combine perfectly with another of Molise’s red wines, Biferno. If you opt for fish and choose the typical brodetto di Termoli (Molise fish soup), a Falanghina will always be perfect, or for rosé lovers, a Montepulciano-based Biferno rosé is ideal. To accompany dessert, on the other hand, you could opt for a dry or sweet sparkling Molise moscato.