Of all Molise’s wine styles Biferno Rosso seems to be the most popular in the UK. As a blend of two well-loved Italian grape varieties, Montepulciano & Aglianico, this may not come as a surprise. However, it's my guess that many people who enjoy this wine may not know much about it.
With this post I hope to provide insight into the source of the Biferno name, what makes a Biferno Rosso, the different styles and finally I'll make a humble recommendation of a Biferno Rosso Riserva, that we feel, is one of the best examples around.
To help in the above goal I’ve created a helpful infographic that provides a quick summary of each of the points discussed.
The name Biferno comes from an 85km long river that cuts through the central Italian region of Molise. A key natural feature of the region. It starts in Bojano and is fed from numerous streams flowing from the Matese mountains. From there it runs through the heart of Molise. There are some fantastic views of the river travelling along the SS647 Fondo Valle del Biferno highway. Especially at the Guardialfiera lake which the highway passes over (which we can see even from our house). From there the Biferno continues onto the Adriatic sea.
As the Biferno forms Molise main artery and is critical to much of the agriculture in the region, it seems only right to celebrate its influence by naming a DOC after it.
What does it take to make a Biferno Rosso?
Like many Italian DOCs there are strict rules on where a vineyard can be located if it wants to use the Biferno DOC label. As you would expect most of the areas where Biferno can be grown follow the route of the Biferno river as can be seen in the map. In addition for Biferno Rosso can only come from vineyards located at an altitude below 500m ensuring ideal growing conditions.
All Biferno Rossos must also be made from a blend. Winemakers are allowed to use:-
- 70-80% Montepulciano
- 10-20% Aglianico
- <20% other regional grapes.
In my experience, the typical blend seems to be 80% Montepulciano & 20% Aglianico – the Aglianico giving additional strength to the Montepulciano.
Biferno Rosso Quality Levels & Ageing
The DOC regonises three quality levels for Biferno Rosso (although in practice you usually only see two). These are:-
- Biferno Superiore
- Biferno Riserva
There are two main differences between the quality levels. The first is the required alcohol level (reflecting the grape ripeness) and an ageing requirement.
Although most Biferno Rosso’s are aged it’s only the Riserva that must be aged for 3 years before release. There is no requirement for ageing to take place in oak but all the Biferno Rossos we have drunk have seen some oak.
What to expect from a Biferno Rosso Wine?
As you’d expect from a blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico the primary fruit flavours are a mix of red & black berries and cherries often supported with deep notes of plum. The oak often contributes additional flavours of cedar and vanilla. Another typical flavour we see mentioned is liquorice. Tannin tend to be on the medium to higher and all this contributes to a fuller bodied wine, especially on Riservas?
And the difference between Biferno and Biferno Riserva? Expect a much more powerful but smoother wine when sampling the riserva. A good point to check with Riservas is how long it was aged in oak and what type of oak barrels (large pre-used barrels or smaller new barrels) as this will make a difference to the overall profile.
Biferno Rosso Riserva Recommendation
So where to start with Biferno Rosso? One of the best Biferno Rosso Riserva’s we’ve tasted is Gironia, the flagship wine from Borgo di Colloredo. A blend of 80% Montepulciano and 20% Aglianico, the wine spends 24 months ageing in oak barrels, 6 months more than you usually see from other producers.
With a pronounced nose, you can find bright fruit flavours of black cherry, raspberry, red cherry as well as more earthy flavours mixed with vanilla and cedar from the oak. It has an almost resinous and liquorice taste on the palate reminding you of preserved fruits. All this is completed by a long finish that lingers on the palate. An outstanding wine.
Biferno Rosso Riserva, Gironia 2011
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One of the best Biferno Rosso Riserva’s we’ve tasted, Gironia is the flagship wine from Borgo di Colloredo. A blend of 80% Montepulciano and 20% Aglianico, the wine spends 24 months ageing in oak barrels, 6 months more than you usually see from other producers.
With a pronounced nose, you can find bright fruit flavours of black cherry, raspberry, red cherry as well as more earthy flavours mixed with vanilla and cedar from the oak. All this is completed by a long finish that lingers on the palate. One to pair with food, especially with wild boar which is a local speciality in Molise.
An outstanding wine. If you’re a fan of Biferno Rossos then this wine should be in your collection. Learn more about what makes a Biferno Rosso Riserva.
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