In a recent post, Bronze-Age Booze: It’s the Future, I mentioned a couple of Italian wines that stood out as my big favourites from last year: the COS Pithos Rosso and Marco Tinessa’s Ognostro.

Happily Marco Tinessa picked up on that post and got in touch, so I had the chance to find out more about his wine. Ognostro, to remind you, is a 100% aglianico made in the Taurasi region of southern Italy (Taurasi DOCG is known as the ‘Barolo of the South’).

This is the one:


I do like that label (Francis Bacon? Ralph Steadman? The Shining?)

Josko Gravner —> Frank Cornelissen —> Marco Tinessa
It turns out that Marco has produced this wine under the tutelage of one of the most idolised winemakers working anywhere in the world today – namely Frank Cornelissen, who makes extraordinary, totally natural (more on this below) wines on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Wines like this one:

Frank Cornelissen Magma, 100% nerello mascalese from the high slopes of Etna

Marco met Frank about 10 years ago. His wife is from Sicily and as a wine lover he would often visit winemakers in the region. Gradually Marco and Frank became friends, and Marco suggested the idea of making a wine in his own region of Taurasi. After a couple of years they found the right vineyard (see main picture) and started their project.

Frank Cornelissen, in his turn, was inspired by possibly the key figure of modern amphora winemakingJosko Gravner. Gravner, an Italian of Slovenian parentage, is often cited as the first modern European winemaker to use such vessels, adopting the proto-technology from winemakers in Georgia, who have being quietly making wine this way for about 8,000 years, since viticultural year dot.

So the pedigree for Ognostro is good.

Although Marco made his first vintage in 2007, this is the first year that his Ognostro is going to be sold in the UK. London-based wine lovers will be able to find it in Terroirs wine bar and Sager + Wilde (that’s a little scoop for you). But you’ll have to be quick on the draw: he only makes about 1,000 bottles of the stuff each vintage.

In the winemaker’s own words…

Here’s what Marco was good enough to share with me about his wine:

“O’gnostro is a local term for wine in the Neapolitan dialect and means ‘ink’. The concept at the heart of my O’gnostro is the quest for bottling the uniqueness of a ‘terroir’.

 “The wine is from a 25-year-old vineyard located in Montemarano (AV). Montemarano is, in my view, the best area of the Taurasi denomination.

“Aglianico is a varietal that ripens very late (early November), when weather conditions start to be challenging. So what I try to do is to work with low yield in order to get a ripe fruit. Acidity is not a big problem as aglianico is a grape that’s rich in acidity, which gives a nice effect when balanced with ripeness of fruit.

“After the harvesting the grapes are left for a day or two in a refrigerated room, then vinification will start. We de-stem/press and put in clay amphorae. I don’t like the taste of small barrels (barriques) on the aglianico, and my production is too small to have big barrels (I produce roughly 1,000 bottles per year).

“The skins are left with the must for as long as needed and then we separate skins from must and leave the fermentation and the ageing process for as long as needed (normally around a couple of years).

“What is important is that nothing is added during the whole fermentation/vinification process: no selected [cultured] yeasts, no sulphites, no enzymes – NOTHING. A bit of sulphur dioxide is added during the bottling process if needed.

“The aim is to have a full reflection of the varietal (and the vintage) in the glass.”

Wine is a living thing… yes, a living thing
Marco’s Ognostro, in common with the wines of Josko Gravner, Frank Cornelissen and the kvevri wines of Georgia, is a living wine. Or, rather, there is bacterial life in them. That’s because they aren’t pasteurised or centrifuged or filtered beyond recognition, as many mass-produced bottles are in order to minimise the risk of spoilage (the end result is usually a bland wine).

Ognostro is this way because it is a minimal-intervention wine. Minimal intervention means, for one, spontaneous fermentation – using ambient yeasts instead of cultured ones – which gives a subtle difference to the character of the wine. Cultured yeasts are know for creating certain specific flavour compounds during fermentation with certain grapes; if ambient/wild yeasts from the specific environment of a winery are used, the effects will be less predictable, and generally more interesting.

Minimal intervention also means minimal use of sulphur dioxide, a compound almost always necessary to prevent the wine from turning into vinegar (though someone like Frank Cornelissen would disagree; note that the soil he grows his grapes on is volcanic…) It also means no fining or filtering. Heavy sulphuring inhibits the bacterial growth that has been proven to enhance the flavour of a wine (so long as its the right sort of bacteria). Fining and filtering has much the same effect.

This minimal-intervention approach to perfectly ripe, unadulterated aglianico grapes, combined with a winemaker’s care and patience (note how Marco says he leaves the ageing process for “as long as needed, usually about two years”) is what helps to make wines like Ognostro irresistible; so irresistible, in fact, that just smelling it makes you salivate.

If you’re looking for a tip for a beautiful, textured, limpidly fruity and vibrant red wine, a glass of Ognostro is your only man*.

*As Brian O’Nolan almost said.


2 thoughts on “The Finest Wines Available to Humanity, Part I: Ognostro

    • Thanks for the info on the label, Marco. Looking forward to seeing you in London and trying your wine again. And that offer to help during this year’s harvest still stands! Ciao for now.


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