A visit to Speri Viticoltori

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 part of the trip we stayed at B&B Locus Amoenus in Pompegnino, a small village near the southwestern shores of Lake Gardain northern Italy, the largest lake in Italy. Gabriella Festi and her family were wonderful hosts during our stay. The location of their B& B served as a perfect base for touring northern 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!

VinoWeek Episode 35 - Mergers and Acquisitions

Jackson Family Wines makes another investmentin Oregon. What's driving the move north? Are there more mergers and acquisitions on the horizon? 

Alison Spiegel gets some of the nations coolest sommeliers to drop some insider secrets.

Winemakers are preparing to mount a battle against the regional government in Chablis. A proposed tar plant is the source of the conflict.

Peter Gago, head winemaker at Penfolds has lost his faith in screwcap closures for wine bottles and is now researching the efficacy of glass as a cork alternative.

The Drunken Cyclist shares his experience of two very different nights at Antica Bottega Del Vino in Verona.

Thank you for listening and tell a friend. Cheers!

Wine and Spirits Top 100 Tasting


Tickets are now on sale for the 13th Annual Top 100 Tasting. The event will be held at the City View at Metreon venue on Monday, October 10, 2016, in San Francisco. It's always well organized with a good cross section of wines from the top 100 wineries of the year and if you enjoy sparkling wines and oysters, it's game on. In concert with local purveyors, putting out some of their signature specialties, many of the wineries have the winemakers on hand.  If wonderful wine and fantastic food isn't enough to get you onboard, consider that proceeds from the Top 100 event go towards San Francisco Bay Keeper to help fight water pollution. Fast becoming one of my favorite wine tastings to attend, tickets for this event will sell out quickly. Click here to get discounted pre-sale tickets.

The top 100 wineries for this year is not out yet, but you can check out last year's 2015 top 100, a noteworthy list to say the least. A tasting of this type is probably one of the best ways to explore, expand your palate and find some new discoveries in the world of food and wine. Here are a few photos of last year's event to whet your appetite. We'll see you at the oyster table. Cheers!


VinoWeek Episode 34 - Wine Crimes

The former owner of Premier Cru wines a now defunct retailer in Berkeley, California has pled guilty to running a wine Ponzi scheme and has cut a deal with federal prosecutors.   

There's gold in those hill. At least that's what famed grape growers Andy and David Beckstoffer are hoping for as they work to raise the quality and notorietyof grapes grown in the Red Hills of Lake County, California.

The Soberanes Creek fire continues to burn causing lots of concern for residents and farmers in Monterey County. There have also been a number of wildfires in Europe.  

Adam Teeter pens an informative post on understanding tannins in red wine.     

Here's a good post to show what organic farmers battle through to provide us with a healthier product.    

John Fodera has just posted a comprehensive report on currentChianti wines. If you're a fan of Chianti Classico it's a must read.   

As always thanks for listening and please tell a friend.

VinoWeek Episode 33 - Its Fire Season

On the west coast of the United States it's fire season and the Soberanes fire near Big Sur, California and a wildfire near Prosser, Washington has caused lots of concern for farmers and winery owners.  

Antonio Galloni pens a wonderful piece, while offering a sobering viewpoint on the recent sale of one of Barolo's gems, Vietti Winery to American businessman Kyle Krause. Mr. Galloni also has some suggestions on how to start a wine collection.

Here's a quick primer on the differences between Left Bank and Right Bank Bordeaux.

Michele Parente explains why wine costs what it does

Bill and I discuss these stories and a few more as we get back into the swing of things after a brief hiatus.

As always thanks for listening and tell a friend about us. Cheers!

VinoWeek Episode 32 - Winery Buyouts

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates makes another investment in Northern California, while Jackson Family Wines adds to its portfolio of Oregon wine properties. It looks like the Robert Rue label has been retired as Venge Vineyards has purchased the property  in Russian River Valley.

We're number one or are we? Check out this graphic by Decanter Magazine highlighting the top 10 wine consuming countries.

Want to brush up on your Chianti Classico knowledge and get a heads up of what's available in the marketplace? Don'tmiss Richard Jennings' awesome post.

Is that the world's most interesting man. No, it's Vijay Mallya, India's most wanted man.  

It's easy to steal rare wine but much harder to fence it, or so it seems for two Northern California men who have been charged with trafficking in stolen goods.

Bill and I discuss these stories and a few other on this week's podcast. Thanks for listening and tell a friend. Cheers!

Terra Moretti in San Francisco


Vittorio Moretti , President of Terra Morettia holding company and Marco Sabellico, Senior Editor of Gambero Rosso Vini D'Italia hosted a memorable dinner for Italian wine distributors and wine writers in San Francisco. The dinner was held at the Ristobar in the Marina district, on the eve of the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri grand tasting at the Fort Mason Center. 

Vittorio Moretti serves as the President of the Consorzio Franciacorta and is the owner of Contadi Castaldi and Bellavista (beautiful view)  properties in the province of Brescia, in northern Italy, situated about an hours drive east of the fashion capital of Italy, Milan. Signore Moretti also own Petra winery in Maremma, along the Tuscan coastline near the Tyrrhenian sea. Since the 1970's wines from Maremma have been made from grape varieties not typically used in Tuscan wines and were initially glossed 'Super Tuscan' by members of the Antinori clan. Although the term Super Tuscan has no legally codified meaning,  it has stuck, its use denotes wines of small production, sporting whimsical names, with high quality and lofty prices.   

After being introduced to Mr. Moretti by Sara Pedrali - Brand Ambassador for Terra Moretti, I quickly learned that my 50% Duolingo rating for the Italian language holds little weight in the real world. I spoke just well enough to momentarily convince Signore Moretti I could carry on a conversation, but we both soon realized that any conversation of depth was not possible for us. 

Fortunately for us Marco acted as the interpreter for the evening and served that role splendidly. We also had the good fortune of sitting next to Eleonora Guerini, another Senior Editor of the Vini D'Italia. She was gracious and kind as Bill and I peppered her with questions throughout the evening. 

Before seating, we were offered Contadi Castaldi Saten 2010 Franciacorta, paired with grilled crostone with Swiss chard and burrata cheese.  You could walk in a hand full of specialty wine retailers in the San Francisco area and you would be lucky to find three different labels of Franciacorta wines. Even rarer would be a Saten. Saten is a sparkling wine from Franciacorta that is made using only white grapes, typically Chardonnay, but Pinot Bianco can be used also. Franciacorta Saten is bottled with less pressure so the wines have a softer mouth feel.  The bitterness of the chard and the sweetness of the burrata were good foils for the Saten. Contadi Castaldi's Saten is 100% Chardonnay and after fermentation is aged for seven months in stainless steel and barrique. It's aged for about three years on the lees. Light straw colored it offers up a floral nose with hints of yellow apples, citrus and yeast, with soft persistent bubbles.

The next course featured Star Route Farm of Bolinas grown puntarelle with Oregon Dungeness Crab meat. Paired with Bellavista Teatro Alla Scala 2010 Franciacorta Brut, this was another bitter vs sweet combination prepared by Chef Massimo Covello that worked beautifully. Putarelle is an Italian green that belongs to the chicory family. Composed of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Nero, 30% of the wine is fermented and matured in small white oak casks for at least seven months. Once it's blended with the other wines it spends five years on the lees. A pale yellow color with a tinge of green, the nose showed lovely apple, pear and toasted brioche notes. Vibrant acidity and showing its power, the finish is extremely long. Unfortunately for us this wine is not exported, as all the bottles are reserved for the Teatro Alla Scala in Milan. 

The next pairing was my favorite, house made cavatelli with Full Belly Farm black eye beans, sausage and dill. Cavatelli are inch long rolled pasta shells that look like miniature hot dog buns. The savory earthiness of the dish pared perfectly with the 2012 Petra Quercegobbe, 100% Merlot. A loose translation for Quercegobbe would be hunchback oak. I have a soft spot for Tuscan Merlot and the Petra Quercegobbe did not disappoint. Quercegobbe is fermented in 620 hectoliter oak barrels and is aged in new French barriques for eighteen months. Once bottled it's stored at the winery for another eighteen months before release.  Deep ruby red in color, the nose showed red fruit, herbs, tobacco and anise. Full bodied at 14.5% abv, the wine displays modest power, excellent structure and supple tannins.  The oldest vines next to the winery are less than twenty years old, so Quercegobbi will be one to watch. It's just down the road from Masseto and can be had for a fraction of the price. $53 - $60

There were two offerings for the main course, Stemple Creek Ranch "Prime" New York served with Bolinas broccolini and Rossetti Ranch lamb chops with Green Gulch Farm spinach. The wine paired with these dishes was the tre bicchieri awarded 2012 Petra IGT Toscana. The presentation of the lamb was superb and the execution for the steak was bang on. The Petra is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot.  The wine spends eighteen months in French oak, 30% new and is aged for eighteen months in bottle. Black berries and currants dominate the nose, supported by bold tannins and fresh acids. On the palate a herbaceous, red fruit profile with a delicious medium length finish. It was a wonderful match for the New York steak, but the $100 plus dollar price tag for the Petra would have me looking elsewhere. 


Next up was a cheese plate featuring items from Andante Dairy in Petaluma, Ca. Cavatini, Melange and Contralto cheeses were paired with Bellavista Vittorio Moretti 2008 Franciacorta. Cavatini is made from pasteurized goat's milk, is white and has a grey-white colored rind. Melange is a blend of goat's and cow's milk and resembles Brie in flavor and texture. For our group the Contralto cheese was substituted for a cow's milk triple cream cheese. The 2008 Franciacorta rests for a minimum of seven years on the lees and is composed of 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir. Citrus and yellow apples on the nose are complemented by yeast, baked apples and caramel on the palate, ending with a long creamy finish. $120 - $130

Dessert was a delicious panettone paired with a magnums of Bellavista Vittorio Moretti Meraviglioso. The Panettone, a yeast leavened sweet bread assembled with eggs and butter for extra richness was sublime.  If your'e ever in the Marina District of San Francisco and you're looking for a good place for dessert put the Ristobar, 2300 Chestnut Street at the top of your list. Meraviglioso (wonderful) is a blend of six vintages 1984, 1988, 1991, 1995,2001 and 2002, and is only bottled in magnums. Priced at $1,100 dollars and up a bottle, Meraviglioso is ultra- premium and very rare Franciacorta, with only 5000 bottles produced. We were honored to be offered the opportunity to taste it. Initial notes of apple and pear on the nose are complimented by secondary notes of yeast and brioche. Complex and muscular, Meraviglioso finishes long, it's built for the long haul. 

A special thanks to Vittorio Moretti, Ristobar owner Gary Rulli, Chef Massimo Covello and their staff for hosting a wonderful food and wine event. While we tasted the upper tier of Terra Moretti Wines, the group offers a wide range of high quality sparkling and still wines at modest prices. Franciacorta wines are currently being aggressively promoted in the United State, so we should be seeing more examples of these wonderful wines on retailer shelves in the future. 





VinoWeek Episode 31 - Supermarket Champagne

                                                         Supermarket Champagne Deals

How low can supermarket Champagne prices go in the UK and what will be the net aftereffect? Joyce Lin puts together a guide to help understand Champagne labels.

Can you train your palate to get more out of the wines you drink? Rachel Signer asks some industry professionals that very question.  Bill and I have a few suggestions as well on how to sharpen your palate and taste wine like a pro.

What's the big deal about ageing wine? When is the best time to drink that special bottle you've been saving? Nova McCune Cadamatre offers up thoughts on the subject; To Age Or Not To Age? That Is The Question.

Here's our feel good story of the week. Ashley Trout a winemaker in Washington has started a non-profit winery, Vital Wines. Aimed at helping vineyard workers that do not have health coverage, it's a good step in a positive direction.

The press rollout has started for the latest hi-fi wine gadget. It's called the Kuvee. 

Ever wonder how wine gets to the states at sometimes staggeringly low prices? Bruce Schneider and Charles Bieler are working to clean up the tarnished image of bulk wine through their new wine company, Gotham Project.

Wine of the week:  2013 the Pundit Syrah Columbia Valley

The winemaker triad of Chateau Ste. Michelle's Bob Berteau, and Rhone Valley's Phillipe Cambie and Michel Gassier are the team behind Tenet Wines. The Pundit is 94% Syrah, 3% Grenache, 2% Mourvedre, and 1% Viognier ( cofermented with the syrah). The wine spends twelve months in oak barrels, 61% neutral French oak, 23% new French oak and 16% new American oak. The color in the glass is an opaque black-purple, going ruby towards the edges. The nose offers up black cherry, cocoa, vanilla and spice. In the mouth it's rich and sappy with no rough edges, black plum jam, vanilla spice and a long satisfying finish. An excellent buy at $20. 14.3% abv This wine was #34 on the Wine Spectator'stop 100 of 2015, so if you want some you should source it out immediately. 

VinoWeek Episode 30 - Breaking Traditions

Bill and I consider what may become of the tipping tradition in America's restaurants. The ever widening wage gap between front of the house restaurant employees and back of the house workers, pending government mandated wage increases and uncertainty of the direction in which current immigration policy may head, makes operating a restaurant, risky business indeed. Is restaurateur Danny Meyer a maverick altruist or does he have a crystal ball, has seen the future and is preparing for the changes. 

Richard Jennings a Silicon Valley based wine blogger took over a year off from blogging and on his return has hit it out of the park, with a comprehensive review of 230 grocery store Chardonnays. He didn't just pick up his free samples at the UPS depot. He did the hard work, trekking to local Lucky, Safeway and Costco stores to purchase bottles. Yes, he spent $4,000 of his own hard earned cash to complete the project.  If you shop for Chardonnay at the grocery store this is a must read. But wait, there's more. He's currently working on a grocery store Cabernet project. You can follow his progress on Cellartracker, Facebook and Twitter.

If you're a cheese lover Tia Keenan wants to introduce us to some of the wonderful products that are made here in the United States as well as from abroad.

Former owner of now defunct wine retailer Premier Cru looks to be headed to court again. This time the claimant will be Wells Fargo, who is looking to reclaim the 2016 ZO6 Corvette he purchased this year shortly before he declared bankruptcy. 

Wine of the week: 2012 Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo Salento IGT

Primitivo is a clone of a Croatian grape called Crljenak Kastelanski ( tsril/ yeh/ nak- kah/ steh/ lahn/ skee. Practice this pronunciation and you can wow your friends at your next gathering. You could also use it on that overbearing wine snob at your next mixer to get them to back off. Simplified, Primitivo is Italian Zinfandel. The Tormaresca Estate is operated under the umbrella of the Antinori Family. Winemaker Renzo Cotarella has the best of everything at his disposal all with the goal of showing the world, the best that the region of Puglia, in southern Italy has to offer. The flagship wine for Tormaresca is their 100% Negroamaro based Masseria Maime. Don't miss an opportunity to try it.  

Topped with a real cork, Torcicoda is 100% Primitivo and is fermented in stainless steel, then aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels for ten months. The wine rest in bottle another eight months until release. In the glass the wine is a deep ruby to violet colorand the nose shows black plums, black cherries, brown sugar and vanilla. In the mouth the flavors turn to red cherry jam and cocoa with hints of licorice and baking spice. Full bodied with ample well rounded tannins it finishes with good length. Drawing a comparison between Torcicoda and Sonoma Zinfandels, I'd say that this Primitivo is a more feminine representation of the Zinfandel grape, showing less alcohol, more savory flavors and elegance. I tasted the 2013 version alongside the 2012 and the former underperformed, so I suggest you confine your search to the 2012 version. Another reminder that vintage does matter.  14.5 % abv $17 - $20

VinoWeek Episode 29 - The Legacy of Peter Mondavi Senior

Last week one of Napa Valley's legendary winemakers passed. Peter Mondavi Sr. was an innovator and was most proud of not having to sell out to corporate interest, he steadfastly worked to keep Charles Krug Winery in family hands. We send out our thoughts and prayers to the family.

Open that bottle night has come and gone. Held on the last Saturday of every February and started by wine writers Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher,  it's celebrated as a reason to open up that bottle that you've been saving for a special occasion. If you participated in the event share with us what you had.

New research presented by the Wine Market Council shows that millennials have overtaken baby boomers and Gen Xers with regards to wine drinking rates.  

Talia Jane sent off a blog post to her boss, Jeremy Stoppleman CEO of Yelp, detailing how difficult it was to work for his company due to the inadequate compensation package she was receiving. Now she's wondering why she's unemployed and is asking for handouts. Stephanie Williams a millennial herself offers her take on Talia's dilemma. 

Four Seasons Vineyard Management and Ridge Vineyards have been fined $42,300 for housing violations related to a migrant farm worker facility in Healdsburg, Ca.  

Here's a link for some quick updates on the Premier Cru bankruptcy and scandal. Zachary Sussman pens an excellent post on the subject of wine futures, detailing how they work and sometimes why they don't.  

Do we need another law aimed at dealing with drunk drivers? Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego believes we do and has introduced a bill that would require more training for restaurant and bar workers to recognize patrons that have had too much to drink. 

Kerin O'Keefe tells a story about one of the most exciting white wines coming out of northern Italy.

Wine of the week: 2011 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva 

Volpaia is a hilltop walled village north of Radda in central Tuscany. Raffaelo Stianti purchased the estate in 1966 and when his daughter Giovanella married in 1972, the estate became the young couples wedding present. All of the estate owned vineyards are organically farmed and certified, 114 acres in total, situated with southern hillside exposures at 1,300 to 2,130 ft. The nose shows black plums and cherries, floral aromas of lavender, with trailing hints of sage and cedar. Elegant with crisp acidity and good structure it's full bodied at 14.5 % alc. On the palate it has beautiful juicy black fruit, with silky tannins and a persistent finish.  $25 

Thanks for listening and please tell a friend. Cheers!