California’s Northern Coast is home to a variety of well-known red wines: the elegant Pinot Noirs and old-vine Zinfandels of Sonoma, the structured Cabernet Sauvignons of Napa Valley. Many people forget that Chardonnay is actually California’s largest crop, accounting for an approximate 20% of its annual harvest. I’m as guilty as anyone of tending more toward reds than white wines when it’s California wines that I’m purchasing. Recognizing this, I recently paid a visit to my local wine shop, where I determined to acquaint myself with more white wines from The Golden State. I did this knowing it, based on its wide range of suitable growing conditions relative to climate and soil types, to be home to an overwhelming number of distinct wine grape varieties. That I should soon discover a new white wine to appreciate seemed (and would prove to be) a certainty.
A pleasant conversation begun with one of the shop’s wine associates within sixty seconds of my arrival brought me into contact with a luscious 2010 white wine from Spann Vineyards. This French oak-aged blend, as full-bodied and voluptuous as a Modigliani nude, features crisp yellow and green apple aromatics typical of cool climate Chardonnay, through which Viognier weaves refreshing notes of tropical and stone fruit. Underlying their union are the unmistakable scents of butter and sweet cream, indications of the wine having undergone malolactic fermentation.
The blend is 60% composed of Chardonnay, with Viognier accounting for the remaining 40%. To maximize each varietal’s unique textural and flavor offerings, the Chardonnay component was fermented in barrels composed of French oak and the Viognier in stainless steel vessels. The wine displays a medium gold hue reminiscent of a glass filled with the light of summer evening fireflies. On sampling it, I found that these two grapes greet each other in the glass like old friends while frolicking across the palate like young ones. From first taste, each sip feels like a bite taken from a ripened peach, a spoonful of apricot preserves, wedges of fresh pineapple and melon. The combined might of its varietals and the malolactic ferment renders a youthful yet structured white wine with dry, fresh acidity and high alcohol (14.3% by volume) that will enable it to stand up well to further aging. French oak aging imparts noticeable but unobtrusive vanilla and toast elements in addition to the fruit and dairy presences, integrating nicely with them thanks to Chardonnay’s affinity for oak.
Given that versatility has always ranked highly among Chardonnay’s virtues, it is no surprise that this wine is as well-suited to being enjoyed as part of a meal as it is on its own. It makes a convincing and heartfelt plea for being paired with seafood and poultry as well as veggie and mildly spicy dishes, though seems equally content in the glass when sipped solo at the end of an exhausting work day or on a Sunday afternoon with a good book. This is a wine to bring on a romantic picnic today, and to the beach with friends tomorrow to share its rich fruit and satisfying medium-long finish while watching the sun slide into the ocean. With this wine, of which only 900 cases were produced, having won repeated gold medals at nationwide wine competitions, it appears that Spann Vineyards has mastered the art of harmoniously blending white wine. Anyone who enjoys fresh, round wines that marry youthful vitality with the exotic flavors that oak exposure lends to Chardonnay-led varietals should certainly find something to like in this wine.
California’s Macayama mountain range provides a visually-breathtaking backdrop to the Sonoma County vineyards that produced this distinctive, food-friendly wine. Established in 2000 by winemaker Betsy Spann and her husband, Cellar Master Peter Spann, Spann Vineyards strives for authenticity, purity, and seamless flavor integration in its wines. This effort is aided by winemaking education and techniques the Spanns have gained from European and California winemakers over the course of decades the couple has spent in the wine business. Today their vineyard produces multiple varietals, including but not limited to Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Petite Verdot, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel. Characterized by a friendly, family environment and scenic surroundings, Spann Vineyards is open for visits, tours, and wine tastings seven days a week between the hours of 12:00pm and 6:00 pm. The Tasting Room is reachable by telephone at (707) 996-1330. For further information about Spann Vineyard’s wines and winemaking techniques, including recipes, events, and how to purchase its wines, visit http://www.spannvineyards.com