Chapter 20 – last episode – Molise and Tintilia
Molise is a mountainous region in south-central Italy, a relatively small region, especially in comparison to its neighbors of Abruzzo and Lazio to the north and Campania and Puglia to the south.
This region offers diverse topography. The hillside vineyards provide excellent exposure and plentiful sunshine where grapes can flourish. Most of the vines are found in the southern hills and valleys surrounded by the Matese and Mainarde ranges. The combination of morainic and calcareous soils provide ideal minerality and water retention for viticulture. The location between the Apennines and Adriatic Sea creates multiple climate types: maritime along the narrow coastal section, temperate in the upper valleys and continental further inland around the mountainous areas, all of which provide different favourable climatic conditions.
Molise is considered an obscure region, as vinification dates as far back as 500 BC but only gained its independence as a wine region in the last half of the 20th Century. Overshadowed by its neighbor Abruzzo, of which it was politically a part until 1963 (Abruzzi e Molise), Molise finally gained three of its own DOCs, Biferno and Pentro di Isernia, in the 1980s followed by Tintilia del Molise (which I will be talking you about today) in 2011.
Biferno wines are produced in the province of Campobasso and include reds, whites and roses. The white blends comprise mainly Trebbiano Toscano with smaller portions of Bombino, while the reds lean towards Montepulciano combined with a little Aglianico. Pentro di Isernia also produces all three, although its red blend consists of a Montepulciano and Tintilia mix. Biferno’s wines differ slightly, displaying less acidity and more body because of its terroir, as the mountains give way to high plains that slope down towards the sea. Tintilia del Molise as per its title, is a DOC especially for the red variety required to be composed of 95 percent Tintilia.
Tintilia del Molise was brought in, almost 30 years after Molise’s first two DOCs, to cover varietal reds made from Tintilia, which is the closest Molise comes to having a ‘signature’ grape variety.
Molise is Italy’s second-smallest region, both by area and population (only the Aosta Valley is smaller), and lacks the long-standing winemaking traditions enjoyed by most other Italian regions. It produces a relatively small volume of wine each year (neighboring Puglia makes more than 20 times as much), within which there is relatively little stylistic diversity.
In 2011, however, as Italy’s wine lawmakers hurried to create more DOC/G titles before handing their powers over to the European Union, Molise was granted a new DOC title: Tintilia del Molise. This covers wines from almost 50 parishes, which make up almost half of the entire region.
Tintilia is a black-skinned grape whose ancestry and origins are disputed. Its name could reasonably be traced back to a number of tint* words in either Spanish or Italian, as it remains unclear in which of these countries the variety originated. The answer to this is largely academic in the modern day, as most wine lovers are content with the image of wine-tinted tablecloths left by the variety’s deeply pigmented wines.
Tintilia was once the most widely planted variety in Molise. Because of its notoriously low yields, however, it was largely abandoned after World War II, as producers looked for more higher-yielding, profitable alternatives.
The variety gained new momentum in the 1990s thanks to some careful producers and to the introduction of the regional ‘Molise’ DOC in 1998. This was compounded in 2011 by the creation of the Tintilia del Molise DOC title.
Despite this, Tintilia and its wines are still relatively rare.
Tintilia del Molise wines tend to a rich ruby-red in color and are full bodied, with pronounced tannins. They are mostly high in alcohol, which is usually balanced by their highly aromatic and juicy nature. Typical flavors include prunes, plums, sour cherries, licorice and black pepper.
I have to say it has not been easy to find a wine to represent this region but after a long research I finally landed at Claudio Cipressi winery.
Claudio Cipressi winery is located in San Felice del Molise, in the province of Campobasso. An area characterized by an agricultural landscape and a natural heritage of great wealth. Claudio Cipressi contributes with his activity and his passion to enhance this terroir and above all to make known the excellences that it can give. The estate covers a total area of 16 hectares, cultivated with the typical vines of the area: tintilia del Molise, montepulciano, falanghina and trebbiano. Tintilia, in particular, represents a true rediscovery of an ancient native red grape variety, now vinified alone with excellent results.
Claudio Cipressi’s Tintilia del Molise DOC “Macchiarossa” is the most immediate and fragrant expression of the indigenous Tintilia grape that he has helped to rediscover and enhance. Harvest is manual, fermentation takes place with maceration on the skins for at least 10/12 days, without exceeding the temperature of 26 ° C. The aging happens in stainless steel for 24 months and continues to refine in the bottle for 6 months before being marketed.
It has a bright red color with garnet reflections. The nose reveals a complex bouquet, with aromas of red fruit, plums, juicy cherry, spicy and balsamic notes. On the palate it is warm, soft, round and with a very high acidity. Unfortunately my bottle had a very small cork imperfection which did not at all affect the tasting but I am sure that the wine can be even better than this one.
Anyway I am glad to have discovered this wine as it was an absolute stunning territorial pairing with Carlotta’s recipe, the Cavatelli al sugo vedovo.
Carlotta’s food story
Molise has a vast variety of traditional regional products and specialities, from their extra virgin olive oil, recognised as a DOP since 2003 and known for its high quality since ancient times, to the region’s bread and pasta production. In many towns that are dotted around Molise, bread is still made with potatoes, an ancient practice. The region flaunts a selection of pastifici that have existed since the beginning of the 20th century, and perhaps the most renowned pasta shape produced in Molise are Cavatelli, small nuggets made with flour and water, no eggs, traditionally served with a tomato sauce, or more commonly with a minced meat sauce, especially on the 17th of January, the day of Campobassos’s Saint Patron. Similarly to its neighbouring regions, Molise has a significant fresh cheese production, from caciocavallo to mozzarella. Its most famous cured meat is ventricina, also widely popular in Abruzzo, with whom a constant battle of ownership takes place.
Although cavatelli are traditionally from Molise, the neighbouring region of Puglia has also adopted the pasta, making it its own and thus confusing most people on the pasta’s true origin. Today’s recipe sees them paired with a rich tomato-based sauce known as “sugo vedovo” (widow’s sauce) due to the lack of meat within it. Although that is slightly incorrect, as the recipe’s soffritto requires using lard. In any case, if you prefer making a vegetarian dish, skip the lard.
Check out the full recipe in her blog by clicking here.