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Ognostro: Marco Tinessa’s Aglianico varietal and the power of terroir

by Claudio Celio

Marco Tinessa is a young broker, at home in Milan. He is also an Irpinia native who set his career in Italy’s financial capital aside to pay tribute to the mountains near Naples that bred him.

How? When you've spent your youth between Montesarchio and San Martino Vallecaudina, and you've played hide-and-seek amongst the vineyards of Aglianico, how else? Making wine. A few years ago, Marco started looking for his dream vineyard. He found it in 2005, in Montemarano, in the heart of the Taurasi DOC appellation, cradle of the Aglianico variety.

Marco's wine, O'gnostro, only made its debut two years later, thanks to the man's friendship with a great winemaker: Frank Cornelissen, Belgian by birth, Sicilian by vocation, who's been making some of the finest, best-loved Etna wines for years.

The first vintage was 2007, and from the very beginning, Marco Tinessa strove to bottle not just a wine but an entire terroir, the soil and heritage of Montemarano. The logical choice was therefore pursuing a natural avenue, both in the vineyard and the winery.

“O'gnostro is a local, Neapolitan dialect term for wine, which literally means ‘ink,'” he said. “The central concept behind my ‘Ognostro' is striving to bottle a unique territory, a terroir unlike any other. Natural fermentation, the use of terracotta and polyethylene vats, are essential factors in maintaining Aglianico's varietal characteristics.”

What's important to Marco is that nothing be added throughout the process of fermentation and vinification: no select yeast, no sulfite, no enzyme. At most, if strictly necessary, a touch of sulfur dioxide at the bottling stage.

The wine immediately strikes one for its deep, impenetrable hue; after all, o'gnostro means “ink” in the Neapolitan dialect. The 2010 vintage confirms the dark tonalities on the nose: violets, plums, red fruit, licorice, flashes of balsamic fragrance. On the palate, the refreshing acidity sustains quaffability: Aglianico is a very late-ripening grape type (early November) yet is also fraught with acidity, which makes for a highly pleasing effect when balanced with ripe fruit. What's more, 2010 saw little rain and temperatures were not excessively high, so fruit was healthy and fully ripe when it was picked, on November 5.

Production is truly minuscule (around 1,000 bottles per annum), and getting one's hands on a bottle of Ognostro is no easy matter. It is, however, entirely worth it, especially for pairing with charcoal-grilled meat.