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Ultimate Guide to the Molise Wine Region

Today, the Molise wine region produces three DOC wines -- Biferno, Pentro di Isernia and Molise. See our collection of wine pictures. ­
iStockphoto.com/Elyrae

­When you're looking for great wine, Italy is a great place to be. The region of Molise is amon­g the most obscure of Italy’s wine-producing areas. Molise and Abruzzo were governed as a single region until 1963, when Molise separated from its neighbor to the north. This small, sparsely populated region, which also borders Lazio, Campania and Puglia, has a diverse topography despite its tiny size. West of the Adriatic resorts of Termoli and Vasto lie the southern Apennine mountains; in the plains to the south is the medieval city of Campobasso, the re­gional capital [source: ItalyWorldClub]. 

Much of the landscape of Molise remains ro­ughly as it has been for millennia, and the old agrarian traditions and customs of its people are still intact. This preservation of the region makes it a delight to visit, since the area is not wealthy and still lies far off the beaten tourist path. Much of its culture and cuisine bear the influence of Abruzzo, home of the well-known Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine [source: ItalianMade].

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­With its sun-drenched hillsides, Molise has nearly ideal conditions for wine production. In fact, human beings have cultivated wine grapes here since ancient times. However, until very recently, practically all the wine produced in Molise has been strictly for local consumption. A handful of vintners have begun to modernize their vineyards while preserving t­he local varietals, and in the 1980s, Molise received its first DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) designation. Today, the region produces three DOC wines: the Biferno, named for the river that flows through the province of Campobasso; the Pentro di Isernia, grown in the region’s western province of Isernia; and the Molise, produced throughout the region from a variety of Italian and international grapes. The DOC varieties represent only a small portion of the region’s output. Molise seems poised at last to develop rapidly into a great wine region.

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Even though it's a relatively unknown area, humans have inhab­ited Molise for as many as 700,000 years [source: Reiss]. The Museum of Santa Maria delle Monache at Isernia displays archaeological evidence that an intelligent Paleolithic hominid lived here when the region's topography resembled the primeval African savannah [source: ItalianMade]. So someone has clearly been valuing the area for quite a while -- and with good reason.

Historically, Molise is associated with the civilization of the Samnites, an Italic tribe who fought (and sometimes defeated) the Roman Legions over the course of several centuries. The scope of wine cultivation expanded greatly when the Romans controlled the region [source: D'Ancona]. The archaeological record of the Samnites includes many depictions of wine and grapevines on vases and even coins, suggesting that the inebriating beverage assumed an important role in the culture and perhaps the economy of the Samnites [source: ItalianMade].

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Following the fall of Rome, Molise was invaded by Lombardians and other foreign tribes. One feudal strongman from the 12th century, Count Ugo of Molhouse (or Molisio), gave the region its name [source: Trips2Italy]. From that time, the region entered into the Kingdom of Naples, passing from Spanish to Austrian to French control, until 1860, when Italy was unified. In the 20th century, the region was devastated during World War II, and abandoned by successive generations who fled to more prosperous regions [source: Wine Country].

All through the roiling centuries and into the present day, the way of life in Molise has stayed remarkably consistent. It is an area of shepherds and subsistence farmers, a place justifiably proud of its rustic traditions and fiercely interested in their preservation. The tourist industry, which has become so prevalent throughout Italy, has only begun to make inroads into Molise. The region's vintners have initiated the Strada del Vino del Molise (Molise Wine Roads) program, which aims to promote tourist packages showcasing the region's existing culture, especially its wine and cuisine [source: D'Ancona].

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With very little industrial developm­ent, Molise remains economically dependent on agriculture. Most of the farming is done on small plots of land, for subsistence rather than industry. The majority of people, even professionals such as government employees, spend part of the workweek tending fields or caring for livestock.

While Molise may lag behind neighboring regions in material wealth, it is very rich in its cultural traditions. All the foodstuffs grown in Molise are crucial to the region's cuisine. Among the principal crops are wheat, beans, tomatoes, artichokes, white giant celery and other basic food crops. In addition, a great deal of livestock is raised, notably sheep, goats and pigs. Molise produces incredible meats, cheeses and olive oil -- but its true prize is its wine [source: ItalianMade].

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With its sunny hillsides, Molise has nearly ideal conditions for wine production. Most of Molise's vineyards are in the southern hills and valleys. Strict regulations govern the altitudes at which certain wine grapes may be cultivated [source: ItalianMade]. Much of the region's viticulture, like its agriculture, is highly traditional, or even antiquated; many vineyards still train vines to tall deciduous trees in the ancient Etruscan fashion [source: Winebow]. Slowly, the wine business is adapting to modern methods.

A handful of vintners have begun to modernize their vineyards while preserving the local varietals, and in the 1980s, Molise received its first DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) designation, which is basically a huge stamp of approval. Today, the region produces three DOC wines:

The DOC varieties represent only a small portion of the region's output. Molise seems poised soon to become a widely recognized wine region.

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Now we get to the really good stuff -- the wines. The growing conditions of Molise, between the Adriatic Sea and the Ape­nnine mountain range, are very favorable for wine grapes. The lion's share of attention is given to the DOC varieties. You can find a wide range of reds, whites, and all shades in between hidden behind the distinctive DOC labels. Let's take a closer look:

Biferno DOC:

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  • Bianco (red)
  • Rosato (rose)
  • Rosso (red) [source: ItalianMade]

Molise DOC:

  • Aglianico (red)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (red)
  • Chardonnay (white)
  • Falanghina (white)
  • Greco Bianco (white)
  • Moscato (white)
  • Pinot Bianco (white)
  • Rosso (red)
  • Sagniovese (red)
  • Spumante (white)
  • Tintilia (red)
  • Trebbiano (white) [source: ItalianMade]

Pentro di Isernia or Pentro DOC:

  • Bianco (white)
  • Rosato (rose)
  • Rosso (red) [source: ItalianMade]

Most of the wine made in the region is still meant for the locals rather than the global, market. This is slowly changing as the region's vintners update both its production and marketing techniques, so Molise wine should eventually become easier for consumers to find and sample.

For more information on regional wines and related topics, check out the links on the following page.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Bonné, Jon. "Suddenly, those rare wines aren't so rare." San Francisco Chronicle. 01/30/09.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/30/FD5L15EMGG.DTL
  • D'Ancona, Rosa. "Molise Region." Winesofourfathers.com. (Accessed01/30/09) http://winesofourfathers.com/wine/Molise/molise_home.htm
  • ItalianMade.com. "Biferno (DOC)." (Accessed 01/20/09)http://www.italianmade.com/wines/DOC10048.cfm
  • ItalianMade.com. "Biferno (DOC) Varieties." (Accessed 01/20/09)http://www.italianmade.com/wines/DOC-info10048.cfm#varieties
  • ItalianMade.com. "Molise (DOC)." (Accessed 01/30/09)http://www.italianmade.com/wines/DOC10200.cfm
  • ItalianMade.com. "Molise (DOC) Varieties." (Accessed 01/30/09)http://www.italianmade.com/wines/DOC-info10200.cfm#varieties
  • ItalianMade.com. "Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (DOC)." (Accessed 01/30/09)http://italianmade.com/wines/DOC10210.cfm
  • ItalianMade.com. "Pentro di Isernia or Pentro (DOC)." (Accessed 01/30/09)http://www.italianmade.com/wines/DOC10235.cfm
  • ItalianMade.com. "Pentro di Isernia or Pentro (DOC) Varieties." (Accessed 01/30/09)http://www.italianmade.com/wines/DOC-info10235.cfm#varieties
  • ItalianMade.com. "The Foods of Molise." (Accessed 01/30/09) http://www.italianmade.com/regions/foods14.cfm
  • Italian Made. "The Wines of Molise." (Accessed January 26, 2009) http://www.italianmade.com/regions/wines14.cfm
  • ItalyWorldClub.com. "Region Molise, Italy." (Accessed 01/30/09)http://www.italyworldclub.com/molise/
  • MSNBC. "Wine country tourists juiced about stomping." 09/29/08. (Accessed 01/30/09)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26945848/
  • Reiss, Levi. "I Love Italian Wine and Food--The Molise Region." TheItalianwineconnection.com. (Accessed 01/30/09) http://www.theitalianwineconnection.com/Wine_Articles/My_Own_Italian_Wine_Articles/moli.php
  • Trips2Italy.com. "History of Molise Italy-Travel Guide & Information." (Accessed 01/30/09)http://trips2italy.com/History_of_Molise
  • Winebow. "Molise." (Accessed 01/30/09) http://www.winebow.com/wine_regioninfo.asp?region=15
  • Winecountry.it. "Molise: From the Mountains to the Sea." (Accessed 01/30/09) http://www.winecountry.it/regions/molise/index.html

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