The meaning of Sperss (Gaja 2008)

ragu alla bolognese

One of the things that New York wine maven Charles Scicolone and I have in common is that we are both “blessed,” as he puts it, to have spouses who excel in the kitchen.

My wife Tracie P may not be a celebrated cookery book author like Michele Scicolone, but, man, can she cook.

Last night she served the family her delicious ragù alla bolognese and we paired with a bottle of 2008 Gaja Sperss that a client had given me for Christmas 2013.

2008 gaja sperss barolo

Perhaps because of my love of romance philology and my keen interest in Italian language and its history, one of the questions that I get asked more than any other is what does the designation “Sperss” mean?

Over the years, Angelo Gaja has been generous in spending time with me and it must have been five years ago or so that he explained the origin of the term.

In 1961, the winery decided to end its practice of buying grapes from outside growers. Because the family did not own land in the Barolo appellation, they were no longer able to produce a Barolo.

It was a bold move: at the time Barolo was the only “brand” that carried any weight outside the Langa hills. And ultimately, it was Angelo Gaja who would single-handedly create awareness of Barbaresco among foreign wine lovers through his tireless marketing efforts and travels.

It wasn’t until 1988, when the family purchased vineyards in the Serralunga township, that it would once again produce a Barolo.

Sperss means nostalgia,” he told me.

It’s a Piedmontese dialectal term akin to the Italian perso (lost) from perdere (to lose). Its etymon reaches back to the Latin [dis]perdo meaning to squander or to waste.

“When we first released this wine,” he explained, “we called it Sperss to remember that time” when the winery still produced Barolo using grapes from other growers.

In 2000, with release of the 1996 vintage, Gaja “reclassified” the wine, as Angelo’s daughter Gaia likes to say, from “Barolo Sperss” to “Langhe Nebbiolo Sperss.”

Many Langa wines from the 2008 vintage are going through a phase of openness right now and the fruit of this wine emerged confidently despite its tannic nature. The more and more I taste from this harvest, the more I believe that 2008 is going to be the standout from the 06-08 harvests.

The wine was elegant in the glass, with Gaja’s signature nuanced, understated savory character and earthiness. A stunning wine that I was thrilled to share with my father-in-law, the Rev. B, who’s visiting with Mrs. B. right now.

It was an unforgettable meal on a wintry, snowy night in central Texas.

Please stay warm and safe wherever you are… Buon weekend

3 thoughts on “The meaning of Sperss (Gaja 2008)

  1. Hello Jeremy, why do you believe that 2008 is going to be presumably better than the 06 vintage? The quality of the fruit? Ripeness? Structure? An answer in-depth would be appreciated!

    • As I’ve heard Gaja say on many different occasions, you never know how a given vintage is going to surprise you. And only time will tell.

      In my experience tasting 06s, 07s, and 08s — all of which are great vintages imho — the 08s are the most “classic” in style. In other words, they have a greater balance than the 06s, which are more fruit driven, and the 07s, which are so powerful… 08 had more balanced and more classic weather and I think it shows in the wines. 2013 was a more difficult vintage 08 but in many ways it is similar… thanks for the comment and for reading! :)

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