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Molise Wine

Molise Wine

The Molise wine region, Italy’s best-kept oenological secret, stretches languidly along the Adriatic Sea’s southern coast. Tucked between the better-known Abruzzo and Puglia, Molise is often overshadowed by its more prominent neighbors. However, those who venture into this quiet and unassuming region will discover a treasure trove of vinous delights that speak of an ancient tradition and a budding renaissance. This article will take you on a journey through Molise's vineyards, exploring its indigenous grapes, winemaking practices, and the delicate dance of tradition and modernity that defines its wines.

A Wine Region Steeped in History

Molise, Italy’s second smallest region after the Valle d'Aosta, has a winemaking history that is both rich and ancient, with roots that trace back to the Samnites, an Italic people who cultivated vines long before the Romans. Despite this venerable heritage, Molise has remained relatively anonymous in the global wine scene, often overshadowed by its more prolific neighbors.

Geography and Climate

Molise’s geography is characterized by its coastal lowlands, rolling hills, and the highlands that rise towards the Apennine mountain range. This topographical diversity gives rise to a variety of microclimates that are conducive to viticulture. The region enjoys a Mediterranean climate along the coast, which becomes more continental as one moves inland, with significant temperature variations between day and night that are crucial for developing the aromatics and acidity in the grapes.

Indigenous Grapes: The Soul of Molise's Vineyards

The true essence of Molise’s wines lies in its indigenous grape varieties, which are relatively unknown beyond the Italian peninsula:

Tintilia: Perhaps the most emblematic of Molise’s indigenous grapes, Tintilia is a red variety that has become synonymous with the region’s winemaking identity. This grape produces deeply colored, full-bodied wines with a rich tannic structure and a bouquet brimming with dark fruits, spices, and earthy undertones.

Aglianico: While more commonly associated with the neighboring regions of Campania and Basilicata, Aglianico thrives in Molise as well, where it is typically softer and more approachable than its counterparts, yet still structured and age-worthy.

Montepulciano: Not to be confused with the Tuscan town of the same name, Montepulciano is a versatile red grape that is widely planted across central and southern Italy, including Molise, where it produces robust wines.

Trebbiano Toscano: This white grape variety is found throughout Italy and plays a significant role in Molise's white winemaking, valued for its ability to yield refreshing and well-balanced wines.

DOCs and Wine Styles of Molise

Molise boasts four Denominazioni di Origine Controllata (DOC) designations that regulate and preserve the quality and authenticity of its wines:

Biferno DOC: Named after a river in Molise, the Biferno DOC includes red, white, and rosé wines. Reds are based on Montepulciano and Aglianico, whites on Trebbiano, and rosés combine the characteristics of both reds and whites into vibrant wines.

Pentro di Isernia DOC: This designation is reserved for wines made from a blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico for reds, and Trebbiano Toscano and other local white varieties for whites.

Molise DOC: The Molise DOC is an appellation that covers the entire region and includes varietal wines made from Tintilia, Aglianico, and Montepulciano for reds, and Trebbiano for whites.

Tintilia del Molise DOC: This is a varietal DOC created to highlight Tintilia, the region’s flagship grape. The wines under this label showcase the full potential of this unique variety.

Winemaking: A Blend of Tradition and Innovation

Molise’s winemakers are custodians of a long tradition, yet they are not averse to innovation. Many vineyards are still tended by hand due to the hilly terrain, and age-old practices, such as pergola training systems, persist. However, there has been a recent move towards modern techniques, both in the vineyard and the cellar, to enhance the quality of the wines.

For instance, controlled temperature fermentation is now common, helping to preserve the delicate aromas of the white wines. In the case of reds, experimentation with oak aging is on the rise, which adds complexity and longevity to the wines.

Molise's Wine Culture: A Gastronomic Voyage

Wine in Molise is inextricably linked to the region’s culinary traditions. The hearty reds are a perfect match for the robust flavors of local dishes such as 'pampanella', a spicy, slow-roasted pork, while the crisp whites complement seafood from the Adriatic, as well as the region’s array of cheeses and olive oils.

Tintilia - Molise’s Red Gem

Tintilia deserves a special mention, not only for its quality but also for its story of near-extinction and triumphant revival. Once thought to be dwindling, passionate winemakers have resurrected Tintilia, showcasing its potential as a wine that can stand proudly on the international stage. Tintilia wines are characterized by their deep red color, intense berry aromas, and potential for aging, gaining complexity over time.

The Future of Molise’s Winemaking

As the 21st century progresses, Molise is gaining attention for its commitment to quality and sustainability. The region’s winemakers are increasingly focusing on organic practices, reducing their environmental footprint, and highlighting the uniqueness of their terroir.

Conclusion

The wines of Molise are a discovery waiting for those who seek the road less traveled. In this small, unassuming region, winemakers are crafting wines that speak of their land with authenticity and pride. Tintilia, Aglianico, and Trebbiano are not just grapes; they are the narrators of Molise’s story, a story that intertwines the rusticity of the Italian countryside with the finesse of modern winemaking.

In Molise, you won’t find the grandiose wineries of Tuscany or the endless sea of vines you might see in Puglia. Instead, you’ll find a tapestry of small plots, each telling its own tale of a winemaking culture that is as sincere and unpretentious as the land from which it comes. These are wines that invite contemplation and conversation, urging you to slow down and savor each sip. Molise may not be the most famous of Italy’s wine regions, but for those who venture into its vineyards, it offers an experience as authentic as any in Italy.

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Notable Wines of Molise

Molise may not be the most renowned of Italy's wine regions, but it presents an array of interesting wines, particularly from indigenous grape varieties that are worth exploring. Here is a comprehensive list of the types of wines you can expect to find in Molise, along with specific appellations and some typical grape varieties used in the production:

Red Wines:
Tintilia del Molise DOC

Made exclusively from the Tintilia grape, known for its rich, full-bodied wines with robust tannins and dark fruit flavors.

Biferno Rosso DOC

A blend primarily of Montepulciano and Aglianico, producing structured and sometimes age-worthy red wines.

Pentro di Isernia DOC

Reds made from Montepulciano, often blended with Aglianico, offering a similar structure with perhaps a bit more spice and earthiness.

Molise DOC

This broader DOC allows for varietal wines from Montepulciano, Aglianico, and other red varieties, including international grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

White Wines:
Molise DOC

Within this DOC, white wines are predominantly made from Trebbiano, which can be crisp and refreshing with subtle fruit and floral notes.

Biferno Bianco DOC

These whites are primarily made from Trebbiano Toscano and Bombino Bianco, offering wines that are light and easy-drinking.

Rosé Wines:
Molise DOC

The DOC provides for rosé (or rosato) wines as well, often made from Montepulciano or Aglianico, delivering wines that are fresh with a pleasant balance between fruitiness and acidity.

Biferno Rosato DOC

Made in a similar blend to the Biferno Rosso, these rosés balance fruit flavors with a savory edge, often with notes of cherry and raspberry.

Sparkling Wines:
Molise DOC Spumante

Sparkling wines can be produced under the Molise DOC, utilizing both white and red grape varieties, typically using the Charmat method for a fresh, approachable style.

Dessert Wines:

While not as prevalent, Molise does produce some sweet wines, often from late-harvested or partially dried grapes. These can range from off-dry to sweet and are usually enjoyed as dessert wines.

Experimental and International Varieties:

In addition to the traditional grapes, Molise also has plantings of international varieties such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, which can be found in both varietal wines and blends.

Vineyard Techniques:

Some wineries in Molise are experimenting with organic and biodynamic methods, aiming to express the terroir more clearly and sustainably.

Unique Offerings:

Molise winemakers occasionally craft unique blends or single-varietal offerings from lesser-known grapes, which may be limited in production but offer a distinct sense of place and the winemaker's style.

Despite its small size, Molise's dedication to winemaking is evident in the quality and diversity of its wines. This list represents the core of what the region has to offer, but there is always more to discover among the artisan producers and small-batch vintners who continue to innovate and uphold Molise's winemaking heritage.

Italian Wines
  • Italian Red Grapes
    • Sangiovese

      • The most well known of the Italian grapes and responsible for the famous Tuscan wines. Using tradional techniques, the wines are earthy, full of cherry fruit and cedar. The wines produced include such famous names as: Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso. The "Super-Tuscans", produced for the international market, blend the Sangiovese grape with Bordeaux varietals such as: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and often used French oak barrels to age.

    • Nebbiolo

      • Translated, the name means: "Little Fog", which refers to the autumn fog common in the region of Piedmont where it is grown. The grape seems to like these conditions but is difficult to cultivate otherwise. It is responsible for the famous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, both produced in the Cuneo province of Piedmont. Barolo is often kept for more than 50 years, and is considered by many to be the greatest wine produced in Italy.

    • Montepulciano

      • This grape is planted in Abruzzo,and should not be confused with the town of the same name in Tuscany. It produces a wine with silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin, recent bottles have improved greatly on those in the past.

    • Barbera

      • This grape is the most widely grown in Piedmont and southern Lombardy, particularly around the towns of Asti, Alba and Pavia. Previously, the Barbera wines were considered a poor alternative to Barolo, but recently they have improved dramatically. The wine has bright cherry fruit, a very dark color, and a food-friendly acidity. It is being produced increasingly for the international market.

    • Corvina

      • This is the grape that makes Valpolicella and Amarone, the best known wines of the Veneto. Valpolicella has dark cherry fruit and spice. If the grapes are dried, a process called "passito", they produce a wine called Amarone. Some are aged for more than 40 years and can command extremely high prices. Amarone di Valpolicella was awarded DOCG status in 2009.

    • Nero dAvola

      • A native varietal of Sicily, this grape was virtually unheard of a few years ago. Now, the quality of the wine is improving steadily and it is becoming increasingly popular on the international market for its plummy fruit and sweet tannins.

    • Dolcetto

      • This grape is called "Little Sweet One", because it is easy to grow and produces great wines for everyday drinking. It is grown alongside the Barbera and Nebbiola grapes in Piedmont and produces wine with flavors of concord grape, wild blackberries and herbs.

    • Negroamaro

      • Translated, the name means "Black and Bitter". It is grown extensively in the region of Puglia where it is used to produce the Salento wines: spicy, toasty, and full of dark red fruits.

    • Aglianico

      • Considered by many to be the "Noble Varietal of the south" Aglianico grapes are primarily grown in the regions of Campania and Basilicata. The name is derived from Hellenic, so the grape is considered to be a Greek transplant. Thick skinned and spicy, the wines are often both rustic and powerful.

    • Sagrantino

      • This grape is native to Umbria. It is only planted on 250 hectares, but the wines produced from it are world-renowned. Inky purple, with rustic brooding fruit and heavy tannins, these wines can age for many years.

    • Malvasia Nera

      • Red Malvasia varietal from Piedmont. A sweet and perfumed wine, sometimes elaborated in the passito style.

Other major red varieties are Ciliegolo, Gaglioppo, Lagrein, Lambrusco, Monica, Nerello Mascalese, Pignolo, Primitivo (Zinfandel in California), Refosco, Schiava, Schiopettino, Teroldego, and Uva di Troia. "International" varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are also widely grown.

  • Italian White Grapes
    • Catarratto

      • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Salaparuta, south western Sicily.

    • Trebbiano

      • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo and from Lazio, including Frascati. Mostly, they are pale, easy drinking wines, but trebbiano from producers such as Valentini have been known to age for 15+ years. It is known as Ugni Blanc in France.

    • Moscato

      • Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d"Asti. Not to be confused with moscato giallo and moscato rosa, two Germanic varietals that are grown in Trentino- Alto-Adige.

    • Nuragus

      • An ancient Phoenician varietal found in southern Sardegna. Light and tart wines that are drunk as an apertif in their homeland.

    • Pinot Grigio

      • A hugely successful commercial grape (known as Pinot Gris in France), its wines are characterized by crispness and cleanness. As a hugely mass-produced wine, it is usually delicate and mild, but in a good producers" hands, the wine can grow more full-bodied and complex. The main problem with the grape is that to satisfy the commercial demand, the grapes are harvested too early every year, leading to wines without character.

    • Tocai Friulano

      • A varietal distantly related to Sauvignon Blanc, it yields the top wine of Friuli, full of peachiness and minerality. Currently, there is a bit of controversy regarding the name, as the EC has demanded it changed to avoid confusion with the Tokay dessert wine from Hungary.

    • Ribolla Gialla

      • A Slovenian grape that now makes its home in Friuli, these wines are decidedly old-world, with aromas of pineapple and mustiness.

    • Arneis

      • A crisp and floral varietal from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th century.

    • Malvasia Bianca

      • Another white varietal that peeks up in all corners of Italy with a wide variety of clones and mutations. Can range from easy quaffers to funky, musty whites.

    • Pigato

      • A heavily acidic varietal from Liguria, the wines are vinified to pair with a cuisine rich in seafood.

    • Fiano
      • Grown on the southwest coast of Italy, the wines from this grape can be described as dewy and herbal, often with notes of pinenut and pesto.
    • Garganega

      • The main grape varietal for wines labeled Soave, this is a crisp, dry white wine from the Veneto wine region of Italy. It"s a very popular wine that hails from northeast Italy around the city of Verona. Currently, there are over 3,500 distinct producers of Soave.

    • Vermentino

      • This is widely planted in northern Sardinia and also found in Tuscan and Ligurian coastal districts. Wines are particularly popular to accompany fish and seafood.

    • Verdicchio

      • This is grown in the areas of Castelli di Jesi and Matelica in the Marche region and gives its name to the varietal white wine made from it. The name comes from "verde" (green). The white wines are noted for their high acidity and a characteristic nutty flavour with a hint of honey.

Other important whites include Carricante, Catarratto, Coda de Volpe, Cortese, Falanghina, Grechetto, Grillo, Inzolia, Picolit, Traminer, Verduzzo, and Vernaccia. As far as non-native varietals, the Italians plant Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer (sometimes called traminer aromatico), Riesling, Petite Arvine, and many others.

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