A couple of months ago, wine writer Jamie Goode and I disagreed over an abstract approach to wine assessment. I took the deconstructive stance that one does not need to know any information about a bottle of wine to be able to rate it or appreciate it. Jamie argued that context (where it was made, from which grapes and by who) was all-important. To be fair to both of us, I think we didn’t view our approach from the correct angle, namely: who we were talking to.
If you (and by ‘you’, I mean you the reader) want to know whether a bottle of wine is good or not, an abstract approach is key. A fair (underline ‘fair’) assessment of a wine can only come from the removal of all outside factors. It is, in a sense, reductive, but it works. The wine has to do its work to please you. If, however, you wish to do the work, if you want to ignore the qualitative and try to ‘understand’ the wine, more information will be required.
I cannot find a better illustration of this than tasting two vintages of one of my favourite Toro estates: Quinta Quietud (or Quinta de la Quietud if you read the cork). The 2004 wine from the quinta is one of my favourite, all-time Toro wines. Taste or drink it and I get that lovely, juicy quality that I find in some of the best wines. It doesn’t happen on the back-palate, or on the finish – it’s all the way through, from the lip of the glass to the gullet, it’s fantastic. Big, juicy and fruity, warm but not hot, all with an elegant finish. It’s ageing a bit now (and showing some signs of Brett, but I’m English and I don’t mind a bit of horse in my wine) although it’s just as lovely and lip-smacking as it was when I first tasted it over two years ago.
The 2005 Quinta Quietud is rather different. It’s a beast. Tasting it is like being waterboarded with a berry compote that’s been macerated in the finest homemade Polish vodka. If you want to know what it’s like to receive a punch in the face from Robert Parker, try this. It’s a massive wine. It goes beyond hedonism and into drug abuse. The finish is like a glue-sniffer’s burp and would be just as pleasant if there wasn’t the unbelievable whack of Toro tannin to give the substance some kind of structure. Structure it’s got, but everything, from the foundations to the roof is huge. It’s a totally different beast to the 2004.
Now, to return the abstraction vs. context debate. I have no hesitation in telling you that I think the 2004 is the better, more enjoyable wine. If I tasted 2005 on its own, I would find it difficult to recommend. If you like huge fruit and high alcohol, it’s for you. Otherwise, stay away.
But I’ve met Jean-Francois Hebrard, the man who makes Quinta Quietud, and I reckon he’s a decent bloke. Anyone who made a wine like the 2004 must know what they’re doing. So why is the 2005 such a different animal? I can only imagine that Hebrard is letting the vintage play its hand. 2005 was a very hot year in Spain with fantastic weather and a perfect growing season. If we want our wines to display vintage variation, to mirror the climate, the terroir, the soil, then we have to accept that wines will be different year-in, year-out. This, I can only assume, is what Hebrard is doing. If he’s simply chasing points from Jay Miller to Penin (I’m curious to know what they give this wine – it should not, objectively, be scoring highly) he can chase them, but he’s running away from me. But as a wine that illustrates what Toro is about (high fruit, tannin and alcohol), and one that tries to tell us about the year in which it was grown, then it’s difficult, in context, to find fault with it.
A heady nose, displays its idiosyncratic Quietud aroma that’s a bit herbal, gamey and cow-pat all at once (it seems to be developing already). On the palate, a good dose of dark (and relatively elegant) fruit but the sensation of alcohol is readily apparent, and just as it slips down there come the tannins. And don’t they just come, almost overwhelming the mouth before the heat and the fruit try to claw it all back. There is acidity here, but not much (which I don’t mind with Toro – it took me a while to understand this, but I’m happy with it this way – better that than winemakers try to add acid to appease those that don’t like low-acid wines). I hope, owning a case, that this wine ages well, but the alcohol level is a worry in this respect.