Poor old Molise. Italy's smallest region in total population, second smallest in total area (behind our old friend the Valle d'Aosta), and third smallest in terms of vines planted and wine produced (behind Liguria and Valle d'Aosta) gets virtually no love from anyone when it comes to their wines. Molise doesn't even warrant its own chapter in Bastianich and Lynch's Vino Italiano, with only a few scant paragraphs tacked on to the end of their chapter on Abruzzo. That link isn't wholly arbitrary, as Molise and Abruzzo were once a single administrative unit, but it is telling that Molise is the only region not to receive its own chapter in that book (aside, obviously, from Abruzzo, which it is grouped with and dominated by throughout the text).
For the most part, an ignorance of the wines of Molise doesn't constitute any glaring hole in any wine lover's understanding of the world of wine. In fact, it doesn't even represent a glaring hole in an understanding of the wines of Italy. The fact is, on the larger stage, the wines of Molise have been ignored for valid reasons. Quality production here is very low, which is reflect in the fact that there are only three DOC zones in the entire area: Pentro d'Isernia near the Campagnian border in the west, Biferno near the regional capital of Campobasso in the south, and a catch-all DOC covering the entire region. The dominant grapes of Molise are Montepulciano and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, showing the Abruzzo influence here, but there is also a fair bit of Falanghina, Greco, Fiano and Aglianico, showing the influence of Molise's neighbor to the west, Campania. There are, of course, the usual international grape suspects as well. For the most part, there aren't as many indigenous grapes in Molise as there are in other regions, but there is at least one, and that's the grape we're concerned with today.
Tintilia del Molise is considered to be the most interesting indigenous grape of Molise. As you might guess from the name of the grape, it is thought to have Spanish origins (tinta = red in Spanish) and for many years, it was considered to be identical to one of the Bovale grapes (which may or may not be identical or related to the Bobal grape but in any case are almost certainly a Spanish import into Sardinia). DNA testing done at the University of Molise proved that the grape is unrelated to either Bovale clone (Sardo or Grande), so the grape's history is open to interpretation. Some people think that the name is enough to pin the origins to the Spanish and believe that the grape was introduced to Molise sometime in the 17th Century, but others (notably Claudio Cipressi of Cantine Cipressi, in this interview) believe that the grape's history goes all the way back to the Samnites who inhabited the region prior to Roman rule.
Whatever the case is with the grape's ancient history, its more modern history is a little easier to trace. The vine was pushed to the brink of extinction as many growers uprooted their plantings. Tintilia is a notoriously low-yielding vine and in a world where growers tend to be paid for the total volume of grapes provided, Tintilia was not a very profitable option. The grape survived in a few patches here and there and was not really "re-discovered" until the late 1990's, when a few quality-conscious producers took notice of the vine and decided to try to make a go of it (fueled in part, I believe, by the creation of the area-wide Molise DOC in 1998 which allowed wines made from at least 85% Tintilia grapes to carry the DOC designation). The grape is perhaps best known for its intense pigmentation, making very dark, inky wines. But does it taste good?
The Spirited Gourmet. The grapes for this wine come from south-facing vineyards about 500 meters above sea level near the town of Acquaviva Collecroce in the northeastern part of Molise. In the glass the wine was dense and opaque nearly all the way out to the narrow crimson-ruby rim. The nose was a bit reserved with aromas of blackberry and black cherry with some boysenberry, vanilla spice and chocolate notes. The palate was full-bodied with medium acidity and medium, powdery tannins. There were rich blackberry and cherry fruits with chocolate, boysenberry and spice notes. The fruit flavors were very ripe and up front in this wine, which was not what I was expecting from a region known for its rusticity. The fruit flavors here were so ripe that I wondered several times whether this wine was actually off-dry, though it's certainly possible that the whopping 14.5% alcohol could be playing into that perception. Many producers in the area are experimenting with new oak contact for their Tintilia wines, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if this had seen some new oak (their website is a terror to try and navigate and decipher so I'm not 100% sure). It's a very new-world styled wine that should please a lot of palates, so if you're a fan of fruit-forward, oaky wines, I have a feeling you may have found a new friend in this bottle. If that lush style doesn't really do it for you, Italy has plenty of other options for you to take solace in.