If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Molise region of central Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.
Molise is a small region of central eastern Italy on the Adriatic Sea. It is one of the most unspoiled regions of Italy, about 90% hills and mountains. Its total population is less than a third of a million people, which makes it the second least populous region of Italy after the Aosta Valley. Molise was associated with Abbruzo until 1963.
Agricultural products include livestock, pigs, sheep, and goats, wheat and a variety of vegetables including giant celery. The coast furnishes seafood and fish. Polenta (cornbread) is as popular as pasta.
Isernia is the largest city with a population somewhat less than ninety thousand. This area was first settled about 700,000 years ago (not a typographical error) and is of archeological interest. The regional capital, Campobasso, was the site of major battles during World War II. If you love old European cities consider visiting Larino, even if it is not mentioned in major tourist guides. (I’m not naming names.)
Molise devotes about nineteen thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 18th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about nine and a half million gallons, also giving it an 18th place. The region produces 3 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Less than 4% of Molise wine carries the DOC designation. Molise is home to almost two dozen major and secondary grape varieties, about half white and half red.
Widely grown international white grape varieties include Chardonnay and Trebbiano (in particular the Italian Trebbiano Toscano subvariety). The best known Italian white variety is Falanghina, the main component in the wine reviewed below.
The best known strictly Italian red varieties are Montepulciano, Agliacano, and Tintilia.
Before reviewing the Molise wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with Taccozze alla Crema a’Asparagi, Hand-Cut Pasta Squares in Asparagus Cream.
Then move on to Zuppa di Pesce alla Termolese, Seafood Pot from Termoli, a resort on the Adriatic Sea.
For dessert indulge yourself with Calcuini del Molise, Sweet Chestnut Fritters.
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Rami Di Majo Norante Falanghina Del Molise 2005 12.5% alcohol about $11.50
I’ll start by quoting the marketing materials. “Made from the well-known Falanghina grape (with a little help from the ubiquitous Fiano variety), this delviers fresh peach and apricot flavors with a good citrus spine. It’s crisp and refreshing. And goes well with slightly spicy seafood or chicken, or makes an excellent sipping wine.”
I first tasted this wine with fried chicken cutlets, rice, and corn on the cob. I found it smooth with apricot but no peach flavors. It had more of a citrus smell than taste. I added a cayenne pepper sauce to the meat, and the wine rose to the challenge.
I then tried Talapia filets cooked in an onion sauce with a side of green beans in tomato sauce. I added too much cayenne pepper sauce, which was too harsh for the wine and for the fish itself. However, even with a deadened palate the wine was pleasant.
In the presence of a commercial chicken pot pie with a chili and lime hot sauce (but not too much) the wine was citrusy and refreshingly acidic. On the down side, the wine was short.
Kube, also known as kibbe, is a Middle-Eastern specialty of balls of ground rice filled with ground meat that cooks slowly. The wine was an excellent companion, its acidity cutting the grease nicely. The word gossamer came to mind.
Sometimes we have to make compromises. As you can guess from the name, Pecorino Toscano is not a cheese from the Molise region. It is a sheep’s milk cheese that has been made in Tuscany and neighboring Umbria for thousands of years. Soft Pecorino Toscano is white with a tinge of yellow, while semi-hard Pecorino Toscano is pale yellow. It is moderately strong smelling and has a complex nutty flavor. In the presence of this cheese, our was crisp and yet unctuous.
Final verdict. This wine is a winner. When making notes on this wine I mistakenly identified it as a DOC wine but I double-checked the label. It is not a DOC wine, but in my opinion is better than many DOC wines that I’ve tasted.
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Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com .
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