Perhaps the most obscure wine making region in all of Italy is the region of Molise. Molise is surrounded by Abruzzo, Lazio, Campania, and Apulia. Until 1963, the region of Molise was part of the same political region as Abruzzo (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was discussed in a previous article). In fact, the food and traditions here are closely associated with Abruzzo. Yet, its closeness to both Apulia and Campania lend it a bit of a southern influence.
The wines of Molise achieved their own independence in the 1980’s with the creation of two DOCs: Biferno (named after the largest river in Molise) and Pentro di Isernia. These hillside areas receive wonderful sunshine and are sandwiched between the Apennines Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. Biferno wines can be red, white or rosé. The whites are predominantly made from the Trebbiano grape along with the Bombino in smaller proportions. The reds are a blend of mostly Montepulciano with some of the Aglianico grape. Wines from Pentro di Isernia can also be red, white or rosé. The whites are the same Trebbiano-Bombino grape blend, while the reds (and rosé’s) are usually a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese.
More recently, in 1968 a DOC also called Molise was created. This DOC encompasses the region and allows for white, red, rosé and even sparkling wines.
Many grapes are permitted including Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Falgina, Greco Bianco, Muscato, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, and others. Molise seems to have all the natural prerequisites for making great wines. Up until now, that potential has not been fulfilled.
Although wines had been made in the area since before the Romans, as far back as 500 B.C. by the Sanniti and the Osci, the real start in the modern world was in 1968 when Luigi Di Majo built a winery on his wife’s family estate and named it Di Majo Norante. Wine had been in fact made at that estate since the 1800s. The old cellars still remain underground as a reminder. Di Majo Norante, now run by Luigi’s son Alessio, is today the only winery of real consequence in the entire region.
They hired well-known enologist Riccardo Cotarella as a consultant in order to make the best wines possible. The winery prides itself in utilizing sustainable agriculture. Alessio makes wines from the types of grapes found in the surrounding regions particularly those varietals that are found in the south of Italy. He has prided himself on finding the best clones of these native vines and then utilizing both ancient and modern techniques to make the best wines possible.
Now you may ask, why am I bothering to write about an obscure wine region with basically one producer.?. The answer is that the wines of Di Majo Norante are readily available, well-made, quality wines, and are some of the BEST values in the wine world today. I can’t tell you how often I recommend these wines to people for personal consumption and large celebrations.
They make white wines and white blends from the three workhorse grapes of Campania: Greco, Fiano and Falngina. However, I do not believe these are available in the United States. They also make a wide variety of reds, which fortunately, are imported. Their Sangiovese can be found for under $10. It carries the Terre degli Osci IGT and lists Sangiovese on the label. It is made from 100% Sangiovese and receives about six months of barrel ageing before bottling. This is a varietally correct and satisfying wine with a beautiful nose of violets and cherries with fresh cherry flavors on the palate. It is meant to be drunk in the first few years of its life. Perhaps it will last longer in a good cellar but that is not what this wine was made to be.
A step up from that wine, and available for around $15, is the Ramitello. This IGT wine is 80% Prugnolo, which is the local name for Sangiovese, and 20% Aglianico. The harvested grapes are fermented in stainless steel vats and then barrel aged for two or three years. Perhaps a bit softer than the Sangiovese, the Ramitello is a more complex and robust wine. It is capable of ageing for a few years or more. A 100% Aglianico wine is also made called Contado Aglianico. This is also a very robust wine that needs some time in the cellar to develop and allow the tannins to integrate. Then, it should drink well for five years.
The Di Majo Norante flagship wine is called Don Luigi Montepulciano Riserva. It is a DOC wine made from 90% Montepulciano and 10% Aglianico. Its name is a tribute to Alessio’s father. The wine is crafted to be a superior wine by allowing the crushed grapes to stay in contact with the skins for extended periods. It then is stored in small French oak barrels for 18 months before bottling. It will cellar well for ten years and can be truly spectacular. It is as good as almost any Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This wine has gone up in price in the last year. While that is not surprising, based on the Euro and the international recognition, it can still be found under $40.
Di Majo Norante also makes a dessert wine, which is rare, but can be found in the States. It is called the Apinae and made from 100% Moscato Reale grapes. The name comes from the Romans who used this term to describe the grape as the favorite of bees, Api (the Latin word for bees), because of the high sugar levels. It is a golden colored wine that is sweet but not cloying. A very nice wine and a change of pace from more typical dessert wines, it should be drunk young and slightly chilled. The wine is bottled in the convenient 500ml format and can be found for around $20 or less.
Di Majo Norante also makes many other wines. At last count, 14 different wines were made including a Cabernet. Not all of them are imported. They all feature excellent pricing and quality wines.
The wine future is bright for the region of Molise. New wineries will undoubtedly explore the hillsides closer to the mountains. I look forward to new producers arriving on the seen from yet, untried sites. For now, the wines of Di Majo Norante provide plenty of pleasure at reasonable pricing. I hope you all go out and try a bottle. Please let me know what you think.
Loren Sonkin is an IntoWine.com Featured Contributor and the Founder/Winemaker at Sonkin Cellars.