Even those who consider themselves experts on Italian wine may look at you with a blank face when you mention “Tintilia”. When asked which country they think it’s from the likely response is “Well…Spain…of course…” followed by a shrug & the plain desire on their face to switch back to the topic of Barolo. This lack of recognition is not uncommon. After all, we are talking about the native grape of a region that for many doesn’t even exist. (A story for another time).
Today, Tintilia is considered by many to be Molise’s most important grape variety. However, this current recognition hides a turbulent history. Years ago it was almost lost forever. This was followed by numerous debates about its origin, requiring the University of Molise to step in and settle the matter.
Now Tintilia is making a triumphant return, helping to spearhead a movement aiming to introduce the world to the unique culinary offerings available from the hidden region of Molise. I hope this article provides a short intro to this unknown grape from an often-overlooked wine region.
Native to Molise?
There was some debate on whether Tintilia was native to Molise or not. The old narrative, which you may still see, is that the vine arrived during Spanish dominion and that its name comes from “Tinto” meaning red in Spanish. Others also stated that it was the same grape as Bovale Grande (Carignan) or Bovale Sardo (Graciano) from Sardinia, suggesting that Tintilia as a distinct variety, dare I say, didn’t even exist.
However, today the general consensus seems to be that it’s native to Molise and has been recognised as such. Claudio Cipressi, a producer who took a risk on Tintilia back when it was less well-known, states that research done by the University of Molise confirmed it’s native routes back in 2000. Other sources back this up.
However, whatever it’s origins, there is no doubt that Molise is now the home of Tintilia and the region that best expresses its unique character.
Lost but Not Forgotten
Post World War II Tintilia virtually disappeared due to a combination of depopulation of the internal rural areas and the move to higher-yielding more profitable grape varieties. The man credited with saving Tintilia is Giuseppe Mogavero (1937-2015) who in the 1970s worked towards re-introducing Tintilia to the region. He followed this up by helping obtain the Tintilia del Molise DOC, in 2011, ensuring the link between Tintilia and Molise would remain even after his passing.
From the 2000s many vineyard owners have worked towards bringing this grape back from the edge. I’m happy to report that when we moved here in 2019, although Tintila’s international profile was still not as high as it should be, there are a wealth of producers creating exciting and brilliant wines from this fantastic native grape.
And the Wines?
Tintilia is known for its low yield, resulting in intense flavours in the final wine & it can do well at altitude, making it a great fit for hilly Molise. The wines are known for their deep colour and high alcohol with most clocking in above 14% and often more. This high alcohol is balanced by soft smooth tannins and intense primary fruit flavours.
So what flavours can you expect? For me, it’s usually the Ripe Cherry or Sour Cherry that hit me first, combined with Blackberry & Plum. The best wines are complex with additional red & black fruit flavours from across the board. To ensure these varietal flavours aren’t lost Oak is rarely used and with age, the best can develop Earth, Leather and also a unique aroma of Balsamic.
And the Body? I’ve had some that are full-bodied & intense and also those that are lighter & more delicate. Each of these wines coming from villages no more than a few kilometres apart. However, like most Italian wine, a consistent rule is that Tintila goes well with food, especially the local speciality of Wild Boar. Different producers can produce a variety of wine styles meaning you can, with a bit of research, find a Tintilia to suit most palates.
Below I've made a few recommendations if you're interested in trying some of these incredible wines for yourself.
Sator, CianfagnaRed - Tintilia - 2015£29.00 Add to basket
Settevigne Tintilia, Claudio CipressiRed - Tintilia - 2015£24.00 Add to basket
Colle Cervino, CatabboRed - Tintilia - 2015£17.99 Add to basket
Tintilia Del Molise, Colle SeranoRed - Tintilia - 2016£16.99 Add to basket
Tintilia, TerresacreRed - Tintilia - 2018£21.99 Add to basket