The Wines of Valpolicella – Fratelli Speri

21 Jun
2011

Fratelli Speri is located in the the wine zone known famously as Valpolicella within the Veneto region of north-east Italy. It lies within the province of Verona. Working back that’s the winery (Speri), then the zone (Valpolicella), then the province (Verona), then the region (Veneto). Don’t worry, I get confused too. They make a number of wine styles including Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto (all to be explained later). There is also a casual review of their Speri Valpolicella Vigneto La Roverina DOC 2008 to finish things off. But firstly, here is an excerpt by the Speri family that I enjoyed.

From left: Gianpaolo, Gianpietro, Luca, Chiara & Alberto

“I can’t get out of talking about the past, about how beautiful this country used to be. I know it well, because we’ve been here for five generations and we’ve always been vine dressers. So you can imagine just how many memories I have of my father Eliseo, my uncles Giuseppe, Benefetto and Carlo and my grandfather Sante. Not to mention the memories handed down from previous generations, the mould and mark of what we are today. If I didn’t talk about them maybe it would be hard for you to understand just how much their strong personalities and example influenced the people who have remained to carry on the winegrowing tradition of the Speri family.

I can assure you I made a free choice to be here today, and I’m sure my five cousins – who run the estate with me – would say the same. An initial freedom which is maybe our strongest bond and has given us the clearheadedness to best tackle the daily challenge that exists between five thinking heads in taking care of the cellar and sixty hectares of vineyards and also to intelligently share our relationship as family and as business partners. We’re proud of this ability, and I think it’s the same pride that impels us give our best as representatives of this territory.

Memories that tumble one after the other. Like the dinner at the end of November that my grandfather Sante held for the local hunters and winegrowers, all of whom had to turn up with a bottle of their best wine. Pheasant and hare and other seasonal foods were served while amid great rowdiness the competition for the best wine began, a challenge that was considered highly important even in those days. Their careful examination of wine was based on in-depth knowledge of the terroir of the various areas of Valpolicella, and it was incredible how they managed to distinguish the subtleties between wines produced in Marano, Negrar or Fumane. The wines were always made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, but the tasters perceived the personality and singular characteristics that the wines drew from their various zones. I can assure you that if you could hear just one of those old men’s conversations at dinner, you’d immediately understand the potentialities of Valpolicella and just how many nuances feature in its wines.

But unfortunately times have changed and everybody now tends to standardise their wines in line with international canons, convinced that time shouldn’t be wasted in researching the terroir, and especially nowadays when demand exceeds supply. I don’t share this way of thinking, also because I’m convinced that in the long run this flattening out will have a boomerang effect on the winemakers themselves. Nonno Sante always said that when you’re struggling to cycle uphill you should be thinking mainly about the brakes, because sooner or later the descent will come.”

Spoken by Mr Speri in Andrea Zanfi’s ‘Veneto – We Others and Wine’.

—-

The name ‘Valpolicella’ was supposedly derived from a mixture of Greek and Latin terming it ‘the valley of many cellars’. This is true. Driving through the Valpolicella area, you will see many cellars. The Italians were pretty smart, hey? Although, I was just informed that there has been research conducted to arrive at an alternative derivation to the Valpolicella name being ‘the valley of alluvial soils‘. Don’t believe me? Read it here on DoBianchi’s well-informed blog.

Map of the Valpolicella zone

The Speri family have a number of vineyards within the historical Classico zone where they source their fruit from for their different wines. They are certified organic. A big tick for us hippies.

Map of the vineyards of Speri

They also have a number of awesome photos that they feature on their website.

Five generations of history...and my future car in the background

An extraordinary land

The values of the tradition - grapes on drying racks for making Amarone

The Valpolicella zone is renowned for producing wines in a range of tiers using grapes from Corvina (& Corvinone), Rondinella and Molinara. Their most notable dry wine using these grapes is derived from the drying out process as seen in the picture above. It is essentially Italy’s most famous dry dried-grape wine made using premium quality bunches selected during harvest and laying them out to dry. This wine is called Amarone and has DOCG status in Italy. The time taken to dry these grapes nowadays will vary between wineries however technology has meant it is significantly shorter due to controlled temperature chambers that allow minimal handling of the fruit, thus much more efficient processing and essentially cleaner wines.

Here’s a bit of wine wank talk: The drying out process not only concentrates the flavours and sugars, but induces an early polymerisation of skin tannins and metabolisation of acids meaning the resultant wine should be thick in flavour and concentration but ultimately balanced. So far my tasting experience with Speri’s Amarone has seen me taste the 2004 and 2006 that have proven this fact. Earlier this year the Wine Enthusiast reviewed the 2006 Amarone:

Wine Enthusiast – February 2011 – Speri 2006 Amarone Vigneto Monte Sant’Urbano: 93 points

“A thick and juicy Amarone with rich layers of chocolate, exotic spice, black cherry, blueberry tart and tobacco. It feels dense and rich in the mouth and its natural heft would stand up to sharp cheddar”

Back to the winemaking!

After the drying process is complete, the grapes are treated like normal and crushed and fermented. The uptake of fermentation is markedly slower due to the concentration of sugar in the grapes making the must a lot richer and therefore more difficult for the yeast to move about and penetrate initially. The wine is then transferred either to large Slovanian botti casks or more commonly barriques. Due to the more selective grape harvesting plus the lengthened process in production of Amarone, you’ll notice the price of these wines tends to remain quite high. For now, I’ve seen the Speri Amarone 2004 retail at around $120, the 2005 for $140 and the 2006 at $135. The price variation comes down to the exchange rate at the time of purchase, which is interesting considering that Speri even advertise that the 2004 and 2006 were more superior vintages in their eyes over the 2005. I have yet to try the 2005 though so I cannot make much comment comparing it.

See the vintage chart here.

Recioto is another famous wine, albeit sweet, from the Valpolicella zone. If you’re the type that’s into Port, but have sometimes thought, “Wow, it’d be nice to get this flavour without the ‘blow your brains off’ alcohol”, then recioto may be more your style! I had the Tedeschi Recioto 2000 yesterday which had that dried cranberry and mulberry flavour over a sandy set of tannins, lovely residual sweetness (not cloying) and a lightness in strength because of the more modest alcohol level.

Other wines that are less expensive but made in the same area include the simple Valpolicella, which is traditionally quite light-bodied and offers soft red-fruit flavours. Taking another style and a step above Valpolicella, Ripasso wines are becoming more popular due to the enhanced structure it provides to the final wine. Ripasso (meaning repassed) entails a second fermentation over the unpressed skins of Amarone wines after their fermentation. That can be a confusing statement in itself. The process adds body, density and alcohol to the wine and is thus an increasingly popular style over the traditional Valpolicella.

This, is one I bought earlier. It is a Valpolicella style.

FRATELLI SPERI Valpolicella Vigneto La Roverina DOC 2008

Verona province, Veneto region, Italy

RRP $26.95

Speri La Roverina 2008 – Click through for website

From the back label: A blend of 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, 5% Molinara and 5% Oseleta. This blend of select native grapes hails entirely from the historic vineyard of La Roverina, which has been in the Speri family for many generations. After a year’s aging in oak barrels and a few weeks’ bottle age, the intense, ample bouquet recalls vinous and almond notes, the palate is structured and silky-textured, with layered flavours and aromas, and great food versatility all around.

My notes: Mid-density darkened magenta in colour, this little wine pleased my family whom I had over for dinner. This wine brought out the patriot in my family as we’re from the Veneto region (ignore the fact we’re from the Vicenza province and not Verona) meaning that for these guys they were going to like it regardless because it had already scored brownie points. It’s quite a juicy, simple wine but clearly pleases in its plummy nature. Look a little deeper though and there are hints of what could be shaded canopy fruit however the blend is quite crafty and you pretty much miss that unless you’re looking anyway. The tannins are far from aggressive and are at a level to be gently present meaning the guzzability of this wine is pretty high. I only had one bottle though…

For a food match, let’s do a little game of word association.

You say, ‘Valpolicella’.

I say, ‘Polenta!’

Polenta!

Did you know that if you sort of wanted to say, “I ♥ Speri” in Italian, you could kind of incorrectly but simply say ‘Speri amo’…which…when you put those two words together, equals ‘Speriamo’, which means ‘Hope’….This demonstrates that I clearly have too much time on my hands.

Click here for an excellent Speri information sheet from Empson Co.

7 Responses to “The Wines of Valpolicella – Fratelli Speri”

  1. matt paul June 22, 2011 at 4:21 PM #

    Ciao Krystina
    Great and timely article as Luca Speri is making his first visit downunder next month and we’ll be showing a mini vertical of their Amarone – 06,04,03,01,00,97,95. Can you email me your phone number please, love to have you along to a tasting. Only Wine Enthusiast could recommend cheddar with Amarone. Ma dai, try GORGONZOLA eh.
    You might like this piece by Jeremy Parzen about ‘the valley of many cellars’, interesting read. http://dobianchi.com/2008/02/28/there-may-be-many-wine-cellars-in-valpolicella-but/

    • La Donna del Vino June 22, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

      Ciao Matt,

      That article is interesting and I’ve read a number of the DoBianchi posts in the past, so have just included that little tidbit in the post now 🙂 Grazie, e ci sentiamo presto!

  2. Dan Sims June 22, 2011 at 7:09 PM #

    Another great post young lady, keep it up!

    Matt, forget getting her along. She’s now on the panel with me co hosting it alongside Luca and yourself. Aren’t you Krystina?

    BTW, that wasn’t a request lady!

    😉

    • La Donna del Vino June 22, 2011 at 8:01 PM #

      Ooo…pressure… 😐 (that’s my serious face)

  3. Jeremy Parzen June 23, 2011 at 1:16 AM #

    Great post! Thanks for the shout out and thanks for helping to share the truth about the etymology of Valpolicella! 🙂

    • La Donna del Vino June 23, 2011 at 8:25 AM #

      No problem, but thank YOU for doing the hard work! 🙂

      Plus, I greatly appreciate the compliment and your visit. A dopo!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Tasting: Valpolicella, Amarone and the venerable Speri « La Donna del Vino - August 2, 2011

    […] is a style I have written about before in a focus on the Speri winemaking family. Click here for that […]

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