My latest trip with my wife to Italy was not for work, but for relaxation, so we only visited two wineries during our stay, one of which was Speri Viticoltori. For the first part of the trip we stayed in Pompegnino, a small village near the southwestern shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy, the largest lake in Italy.
Speri, located in the village of Pedemonte is a fifteen minute drive northwest of Verona. Ironically we passed the historic cellars of Bolla just before we turned down Fontana Street towards Speri. Even if a taste of wine has never crossed your lips you've heard of Soave Bolla. Our request to visit Speri was made and accepted on short notice and upon arrival we were greeted by Luca Speri. Luca represents seven generations of Speri grape growers. His business card doesn't sport a title, aside from his name, the only information on the front of it is Speri Viticoltori. Viticoltori is Italian for wine growers and after spending just fifteen minutes with him, it's obvious he's the brand's ambassador and knows the operations from top to bottom. During our time together we discovered that he was getting married in a few days. Harvest was just a week away and his Dad was asking his assurance that everything was in order, just before he prepared to lead us through a tasting of his wines. While we discussed his operation and his wines, his phone buzzing every now and then, I was struck by his ability to compartmentalize. His focus for the time that he was in our presence was on us and I truly appreciate him taking the time to show us around.
Their tasting room and business office occupy the same building, separated by a modern glass wall. The set up gave me the same feeling I get from a well executed exhibition kitchen. It's contemporary, well appointed and comfortable.
One could say that the Speri's make only one wine, but several different styles. Luca explains, "We focus only in the native varieties, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Corvinone, no Cabernet , Merlot, Sangiovese or Syrah and we focus only on our things and the things we know deeply".
The Valpolicella area spans 8,000 hectares and the Speri's farm fifty hectares, all in the classico zone, the very best vineyard sites. Although the vineyards are in northern Italy, they still benefit from a Mediterranean influence because of their close proximity to Lake Garda. They make five wines and the labels denote the different vineyards or "crus" where the grapes are grown. All of their vineyards are family owned and farmed naturally. The Speri's do not purchase any grapes, juice or wine to go into their bottlings.
If you look closely at the capsules of Speri wines you will see the logo for the Vignaioli Indipendenti, an association of growers that helps to protect the interest of smaller growers and wineries. Insiders know that if you are looking for a artisanal, good quality, small grower wines from Italy, to watch for the Vignaioli Indipendenti logo.
After a challenging harvest in 2014, for the 2015 year the Speri's produced just over 31,500 cases of wine. Not a small operation, but as Luca says, "We are the biggest of the smallest". The Speri's farm organically, so the wet and cold summer of 2014 muted grape quality, lowered yields and brought plenty of extra work in the vineyards. Luca elected not to make a Amarone for the 2014 vintage in an effort to improve the quality of his other offerings. A costly concession when you consider the price differential between Amarone and the other bottlings.
Their newest cellar built in 1958, sits directly underneath the tasting room and holds about 80% percent of the wines that are ageing in oak. The remainder ages in the nearby original cellar. The cellar is seven meters underground and maintains the same temperature and humidity year around. The room is filled with 40 and 50 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks and a small amount of barriques. Luca says that they use french oak barriques for the Recioto only, when the wine needs more oxygen , not for the taste.
2015 Speri Valpolicella Classico - A traditional Valpolicella in the truest sense, 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 10% Molinara. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and raised in concrete tanks then bottled the following February. In the glass a light ruby color, the nose showing red cherries and a beautiful perfume. It's light bodied, lightly spiced, very tasty, with good acidity, displaying a wonderful freshness and typicity. At 12.5 abv it would pair well with salumi, cheeses, soups and other light fare.
2014 Speri Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore - 70% Corvina, 20% Molinara and 10% other native varieties. Fermented in the same manner as the Valpolicella Classico, but the wine is passed over the skins of the Amarone and held in tank for nine days. The process called "Ripasso" gives the finished wine a bit more alcohol, body and richness. It's aged for twelve months in 20 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks. Slightly deeper in color than the Valpolicella Classico, the aromas are of red cherries and violets, medium bodied, soft and round texture with good acidic backbone.
2013 Speri Sant'Urbano Valpolicella Superiore - 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and 5% other native varieties. Although this wine holds the same title as the former and is finished at the same alcohol level, 13.5, it's conceptionally made in a different manner. The grapes come from their best single vineyard Sant'Urbano, located in Fumane at 280 to 350 meters above sea level. After hand harvesting the grapes are dried for three weeks, fermented and then aged for eighteen months in 500 liter Allier oak. The nose shows a mix of red and black fruit, hints of baking spice and cocoa. Medium bodied with more concentration than one would find in a typical Valpolicella Superiore, black cherry and spice notes are in perfect balance with the acidity. The wine is fresh, energetic and easy to drink. Try it with Lasagna or one of your favorite meat dishes.
2011 Speri Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano - 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. Hand harvested from their best single vineyard the grapes are dried for 100 days, then crushed and fermented in January, remaining on the skins for about a month. The wine is aged in oak casks for three years. In the glass deep ruby red giving aromas of black raspberries, plums, figs and chocolate. On the palate if you're looking for a big bombastic wine like some Amarones can be you'll be disappointed. In the mouth this Amarone displays a wonderful depth of fruit, with the oak showing a supporting role, but clearly buried in the background. With the illusion of sweetness on the nose, the mid palate and finish are full and persistent. A wonderful example of an elegant and traditional Amarone. I t would be a great companion on your dinner table and yet it's so approachable now that you could enjoy it all by itself.
2012 Speri Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico "La Roggia" - 70% Corvina, 30% Rondinella. The grapes are grown in Cariano and once they are harvested they are dried for 130 days. The secret to this sweet dessert wine is the fermentation is stopped with cold temperatures leaving some residual sugar. Deep ruby red almost opaque in the glass, jammy concentrated black fruit and spiced cocoa envelope the palate, followed by a firm mid palate with waves of black cherries, licorice and baking spices. It finishes long and one you've swallowed, the freshness and acidity encourage you to take another sip. Serve this one for friends after the dinner with pieces of fine dark chocolate. Careful though, your guests may never leave.
During our visit Luca also gave us the opportunity to taste their 1997 Amarone. He explained, "We keep of every good vintage a minimum of 3 to 4 thousand bottles". The 97' was drinking extremely well and Luca assured us it had ten to fifteen more years of life ahead of it. Each year they release older library wines (at the tasting room only), so if you're visiting the area and you want to experience a properly aged Amarone at its birthplace stop by Speri Viticoltori. Cheers!