I promised to open something worthwhile tonight, so here goes. I got this bottle of Habla No. 4 for Christmas in 2009 (thanks Josh!) and have been patiently waiting to open it on a special occasion — well, 72 hours without a PnP wine review sounds like occasion enough to me! Habla’s wines are exclusively carried in Calgary by Kensington Wine Market, and this one retails for around $75 CDN…WAY out of my usual price range, but that’s what Christmas is for, right? All of Habla’s wines, including the No. 4, come from vineyards located near the town of Trujillo in the Extremadura province of Spain, which is located west and slightly south of Madrid. If you’re wondering what formal Spanish wine region this falls into, well, it doesn’t: this area is basically off the grid as far as winemaking goes.
Bodegas Habla (which means “speak”) set up operations in Trujillo partly based on soil sample analyses that suggested that the dirt was ideal for growing wine grapes, and partly because it was uncharted vinicultural territory. Based on their website, this is one of many things that makes Habla slightly different from your average wine producer. They appear to have a determined philosophy to ensure that every single element of their wine creation process is at the absolute forefront of wine science and technology; as they put it, they want “to be the benchmark for the deluxe wine of the future.” The way they go on about it, I’m half-surprised the harvesting isn’t done by cyborgs.
One thing Habla does have down is marketing, as the magnificent bottle that houses their No. 4 clearly indicates. Not only does it look like an oversized drinkable bottle of Chanel, but it also provides a Mad Libs sort of tasting cheat sheet on the back label that tells you what the No. 4 (which is 100% Syrah) is supposed to smell and taste like: cassis, raspberry, graphite, and grapefruit (in that order?). With those four words humming around in my brain, I got into my glass. The wine had a thick ruby-purple colour and a strong but not unpleasant hint of sourness on the nose. I definitely picked out grapefruit and raspberry to get a (barely) passing grade on the Habla smell-o-vision test, but I didn’t notice any cassis (a.k.a. black currant), and I didn’t have a tennis racquet on hand to sniff for graphite inspiration. Stepping away from the mandated odour checklist, there was also blackberry on the nose, as well as a tomatoey, rubbery, pickled sort of scent that most closely equated to the smell you get when you lift the top bun off of a “freshly” made McDonald’s hamburger, that mix of cheap ketchup, pickles, onions and meat. Yes, that’s my first ever McDonald’s wine analogy — I don’t see THAT anywhere on your back label, Habla.
On the palate, the No. 4 was surprisingly only medium-bodied (and even then trending more light than heavy) and was full of blue and black fruit with citrus and metallic undertones. Dill, smoke and something like bubble gum rounded off the flavour components in the midpalate, and the wine’s intense acidity and subtle but grippy tannins accelerated it into a LONG, strong finish of dark chocolate, pomegranate and blackberry. It was both sweet and earthy at the same time, like a strange hybrid between carefree Australia Shiraz and focused, serious French Northern Rhone Syrah: although it was much more New World in style (big fruit, no harsh tannin, smooth mouthfeel), it had Old World flavour characteristics, at least in the number of secondary notes that showed themselves on the nose and palate.
The No. 4 tastes like a wine that has a vision behind it and that has been carefully crafted to meet that vision, but it also gives an impression of being a bit manufactured, like it’s trying to force complexity instead of allowing the grapes to do their thing and letting the flavour profile come naturally. In the end I was interested in the wine but didn’t really love it or hate it; it tweaked my intellectual curiosity but didn’t really move me otherwise. I don’t want to write off Habla as purely a scientific and marketing exercise, because they are clearly producing something of quality, but they need to find a way to get some soul into it as well. Especially for $75 a bottle.
$70 to $80 CDN[Wine Jargon Notes: midpalate/finish = when you taste a wine, the initial taste impression you get is called the attack; the final taste impression as and after you swallow is the finish; everything in between is the midpalate. New World/Old World = Old World wines are those that come from Europe; New World wines are those from non-European locations like the US, Australia, South America, etc. mouthfeel = the physical feel of a wine in your mouth, which is the result of its body, tannin levels, acidity, and more. secondary = primary flavours in wine are the fruit flavours that come from the grape itself; secondary flavours are non-fruit flavours that come from growing conditions or the winemaking process.]