Tinta del pais / Tempranillo 2011
"It’s all a bunch of bullshit," chimes the guy sat across from me. "…isn’t it?" he adds suddenly conscious of my having glazed over; more on account of his avowal and less the slight and lovely glow of inebriation the bottles, scattered and near-empty, across the table have provided. Not that I am solely responsible for their near emptiness, but I certainly made my mark. "I mean, it’s all the same thing, really. Grapes. Wine. You can’t say that a twenty pound bottle is any better than a two hundred pound bottle?"
You’re wrong! His comments startle me to sobriety as the room comes more into focus and the buzz of the dinner demands my attention that had up 'til now been entirely enraptured by the silk, the smooth-talk, the sweet song of the Tempranillo swimming in the beaker before me. And so begins my inner monologue. The first of the day and not the last.
You’re wrong! I can say! I can say that a two hundred pound bottle of wine is better than a twenty pound bottle of wine. The same way a twenty pound bottle of wine is better than a five pound bottle of wine (which is the real bee in my bonnet, the barfly eyeing my Friuliano, the actual pea underneath this princess). I can say that a two hundred pound pair of shoes is better than a twenty pound pair of shoes and I can say a two hundred pound hooker is better than a twenty pound hooker. Not that I’m comparing Hambledon or Hautes-Côtes de Beaune to a dry-wristy under a sessile oak in Hampstead Heath, but they mightn’t be entirely dissimilar on the pleasure scale. Nor am I advocating that there isn’t pleasure to be had in a twenty pound bj; there absolutely is! But a five-pounder? Maybe not.
"You’re wrong!" I say aloud and bang my fist against the cloth covered table. So soft. Such fine threading. Is that Japanese or French linen? Shit! Another monologue. What you are paying for is more than just juice. What you are paying for, what you are getting in the glass is not just the fruits of the earth but the fruits of hard and (hopefully) heartfelt labour. Making wine is hard. Making good wine is hard. The difference between twenty and two hundred or between twenty and five is more than just precision, more than just deliciousness tethered by the human hand. The difference, what you are getting and what you are paying for, with hand jobs as much as Haut-Brion, is love.
Not that we’re even drinking a two hundred pound bottle wine. Not that I, even as a working somm, regularly drink two hundred pound bottles of wine. Sure I regularly work with two hundred pound bottles of wine; buy them, sell them, study them, handle them, dream about them… but drink them? No. Same as the guy at the Porsche lot talking you over the finery of the latest Cayman or Carrera practices his spiel to and from work darting traffic in a Skoda and not the vintage model Coupe he feigns to drive.
The 'near-empties' across the table, as aforementioned, are a gorgeous and leathery, animal-stinking, fruit bomb of a Tempranillo beauty known as Traslanzas; a roughly twenty pound bottle. I say rough because what each merchant hustles is their own game. The result of a co-op between four winemakers in the lesser known region of Cigales, reputable for her roses over her reds, Maria Pinacho, Carlos Gonzalez, Ana Martin and Pepe Hidalgo have here done something delicious.
I heard someone say once that Tempranillo will always taste like pencil shavings and crushed ants. I may have heard the person wrong. They were Spanish (probably still are) and they were drunk and whilst I speak perfect intoxication my Spanish leaves much to be deseado. But there is crushed ants here. And lead pencils. I used to have a bad habit of chewing pencils whilst pretending to do my homework. The procrastination ran so long I’d be deep into a solid HB before realising how fully the metallic grip of graphite had coated my teeth and gums, gagging and spitting over an unfinished equation. This wine tastes like some part of that memory.
And it tastes how I imagine the spoils of a bullfight might have tasted (when the bastards fought bulls); the matadorian victor raising a frill-sleeved fist of glory, sloshing a goblet that swims with a rich and rustic vino tinto at the cheering crowds.* It smells like a Peruvian coffee house shortly after an earthquake. Nothing too dramatic, scoring low on the richter, but there’s the indisputable aroma of fear in the air before it turns to panic. Sweet and bitter and fleetingly tangible. The tannic grip is coarse, but deliciously so, making the end game whiff of sweet spice all the more enchanting, all the more welcome, all the more elegant.
This is very adult wine, hedonistic almost, with its stink of meat and the untamed embrace of hard sport, heat and heady black fruits. It’s like licking a Mexican cowboys belt, buckle and all. It’s like the low hanging fruit of a big old tree, the kind with heavy branches bending at the spine in ripeness, in readiness, in desperation. There are dark red currants and bitter chocolate and if you give it a minute to open you’ll find a smoothness, like caramel kisses or lavender delight, a warm cuddle after a long day. It tastes like the last jelly babies in the bag when all the reds and greens are gone and only a few solitary sweets remain; and there she is, as black as the night and ram-jam with the complex medicinal beauty that liquorice offers. And it cost roughly twenty pounds. And is remarkably different from a five pound bottle.
“Take this wine for example,” I say to the Bull sat across from me, baring his horns of dispute. “It tastes like wine should taste; of a sort, of a certainty, of a place in time. Of fruit set free. A two hundred pound bottle would taste like that and more. And a five pound bottle will taste of nothing. It might have fruit and acid and it might stimulate some part of our dulled brains, our flattened senses but it wont sing. It’ll stutter and lose the melody. The harmonies will come out backwards and the band will keep opposing signatures. And the whole thing will waste every pound you threw at your tickets in the cheap seats. If you’re gonna go to a show you may as well see something that’ll serve you, that’ll challenge you, that might even delight you.”
I lean back, proud of having schooled the liquid-deaf, the everyday drinker. A chair leg slips a little under me and as I steady myself against the table and knock the last bottle of the Traslanzas over it rushes to seep crimson through the tablecloth. The stain grows larger and larger still and I wonder if I’d actually said anything at all. I wonder if, in my inebriation, I’d merely mumbled incoherently instead of monologuing defiantly. The stale look on the Bulls face is hard to read, sad though we both are that the fight is over and that the last mouthful of Traslanzas was had not by either of us but by table linens.
All that remains between he, the Bull, and I, the Matador, is empty bottles and a wet red rag.
*No animals were harmed in the execution of this article.
tasted February 2021