American Innovation- Spann Vineyards’ Betsy’s Backacher


Spann Vineyards, Lot 10 Betsy’s Backacher, Sonoma County, California.

Ambassador Wines NYC,$21.77.

European wines rose to their position of dominance through tradition- which is best exemplified by the QWPSR (Quality Wines Produced in Specific Regions).  Whether it is the AOP of France, the DOC of Italy, or the very precise (confusing?) German wine classification system, each essentially does the same thing- ensure the end buyer can expect a minimum standard from the bottle of wine they purchase.  By controlling nearly every aspect of wine production, from grape yields and varieties, to use of oak, the wines of each European region will display a certain homogeneity and sense of place, creating worldwide demand for many of the finest examples.

However, it can be argued that this unwavering set of restrictive rules can also hamstring innovation in Europe.  If you step outside the traditional rules, you  lose the branding of the region in which your grapes were grown- a bottle with Bordeaux on the label is going to command a greater price than one that says Vin de Pays, so few wineries can afford to innovate with restricted grapes.  There are, however, occasions when innovative wine makers step away from these restrictions and create something fantastic- the Super Tuscans in Italy are a prime example.  These wines have their roots in the Chianti DOC in the north west of the country in the 1970s.  At this time over-production and restrictive DOC rules were seeing a steep decline in the popularity of their wines.  A group of renegade wine makers took a risk and introduced Bordeaux grapes to their blend to produce the ‘Super Tuscans’.  Falling outside the DOC these wines were labeled as table wines, but soon began to command impressive prices as their popularity surged, proving that there is a demand for good wines, not just wines that have the backing of a regulatory body.  More recently, the Languedoc region of southern France has cast off its bulk wine status and is embracing grape blending innovations.

All of this is a long-winded introduction to the wine above, which was produced on the other side of the world, in Sonoma County, California.  Unshackled from the interference of European regulatory bodies, New World wineries often have more freedom to express innovation and have some fun with their grapes.  More importantly, they have a ready and willing market to sell it in to.  Produced by Spann Vineyards, and named for the steep vineyards the grapes grow on, this wine is a blend of seven grapes.  Unlike European wines, the blend is a mix of white and red grapes and are from different vintages- again almost unheard of in European still wines.  It was first created for the workers in the vineyards and close family and friends, but word of its quality spread quickly, so was Spann made the wine available to the public.  I bought this bottle on the other side of the USA, in a small wine shop on Second Avenue in New York, and I’m glad I squeezed it in to the suitcase to bring home.

It is a deep, vibrant red in the glass, smelling of spice, tobacco, sweet red cherries.  A hint of vanilla from the oak is in there also.  The taste was fabulous too- freshness, fruitiness, spices, mint all hitting the palate.  It is quite heavy bodied, but very fresh and clean with a good long finish of sweet fruits and tobacco.  This wine is not meant to made to be cellared or lain down gathering dust, but drunk young and fresh with friends.  I like wineries that don’t take themselves too seriously- or for that matter New World wines that try to be European.  This is an all-American, fun, quirky wine.  Just a shame I only had space in the suitcase for the one bottle.

Rating: EXCELLENT 4.5/5

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