We are in the middle of the Primeurs Week here in Bordeaux and we are tasting the 2014 vintage. This is one of my favorite times of the year. The vineyard, which is usually a very peaceful place, is invaded by people from the entire world. Here, at Pichon Baron, for example, we will be receiving around 1300 people in 5 days from all over the world. It is a real pleasure to meet all these people and to taste the new vintage with them.
I was in the Douro for a couple of days earlier this month. A euphoric early morning run from Quinta do Noval around the Roncão Valley and along the Douro was a wonderful reminder that here Spring comes a little earlier than in Northern climes. The sun was rising over the Douro, the almonds were in blossom, and it was generally an inspiring start to a day of tasting blends with António Agrellos. I may perhaps have mentioned before that I love this magical place: I never forget when I am tasting Noval or Romaneira Port wines or Douro reds, wherever I am in the world, that this is where they come from. They are the wines they are because of that.
I was in Los Angeles recently for an unforgettable tasting organised by Don Schliff of the Wine Warehouse. Don has an extraordinary personal collection of Vintage Port, and opened for a group of enthusiasts a range of remarkable bottles from his cellar, which we tasted in the convivial surroundings of the Hotel Bel Air in Beverly Hills.
I first met Don when I had just started at Quinta do Noval over twenty years ago. He came to visit the property and we had lunch. I knew little about the trade at that time, but was aware that Mr Schliff was a distinguished member of it. So I decided to open one of the more obscure, but one of my favourites, of the old Nacionals, the 1962. I thought to myself: he has made the effort to come here, and so we will open something he will never have had the chance to taste before.
As the decanter went round at the end of lunch I asked Don what he thought of the wine. In a very laid back way he answered “It kind of reminds me of the Nacional 1962!” I realised that I was in the presence of someone who knew more about Port than most people do. As time has gone by I have come to respect even more his encyclopaedic knowledge and fine judgement of great Vintage Ports.
So when Don invited me over for this tasting, it was irresistible. An extensive range of Vintage Ports from 1963; and then a vertical of Quinta do Noval Nacionals: 1963; 1958; 1962; 1960, and finally a 1927 from Dow and a bottle of the 1931 Quinta do Noval Vintage, the legendary declaration that made Noval’s reputation.
While we tasted the 1963s, we were served an outstanding lunch prepared by Wolfgang Puck, who proved that Vintage Port is not just a wine to be drunk in isolation (though that works very well) but also has wonderful gastronomic possibilities when you are in the hands of a master chef.
The 1963s were generally showing very well indeed, the stars of the show being for me Fonseca, Taylor’s and Dow, which was actually my number one wine. Quinta do Noval Vintage 1963 was lovely but the three I mention had more concentration and power. The 1963 Nacional was in another series, and I have to say in another category, as always, astonishingly youthful reserved complex and powerful. And then we tried the other Nacionals, all beautiful and in great condition. The 1960 was particularly lovely, fine delicate and aromatic. And then we finished with the great 1927 from Dow and the astonishing 1931 Quinta do Noval Vintage. I have tasted this wine a few times over the past twenty years, and each time it amazes by its youth, and seems not to grow one whit older. There must be very few bottles left in the world by now, but to anyone who has one, there is no hurry to drink up: this is a wine with at least a couple of decades left in it.
Well, this tasting was one of the great experiences of my life, proof if any proof were needed that Vintage Port is one the greatest wines produced on the planet, capable as we know of providing great pleasure when fairly young (I am drinking some of my 2000 and 2003 Novals right now and they are wonderful), but also capable of revealing extraordinary complexity, finesse and aromatic intensity as they age. Thank you Don for a memorable experience.
Photo courtesy of Roy Hersh, whom I was delighted to see at this tasting. Roy was writing up the tasting for The SOMM Journal, and his report will later appear in For The Love of Port.
The report of Cédric at Mas Belles Eaux finishes our harvest reports of 2014: we have now heard from each property.
In Bordeaux some marvelous results for the reds, classic fresh and balanced, in the style of the 2008s and the 2010s, and closer to the 10s than to the 08s. At Suduiraut, some great wines in the style of the 2001s and the 2011s, even if the quantity of Sauternes is very small.
In Burgundy also an excellent quality, and yields a little more correct than in the past few years.
In Tokaj, a difficult year, with very reduced yields, but a small production of very good Aszú wines.
In the Languedoc, the deluge just before the harvest complicated matters considerably, and reduced yields, but a very strict selection enabled us to make some good wines, particularly Grenache (red and white) and Syrah.
Finally, at Quinta do Noval, even if we just missed a very great Vintage on account of a week of rain during the harvest, some exceptional grapes were harvested before the rain, and even afterwards there are some very good wines, both Port wines and unfortified.
Globally, a favourable verdict on the 2014 vintage.
Read the 2014 Harvest Report of each property :
After the news from Bordeaux and Burgundy, here are the reports on 2014 from Quinta do Noval, Disznókő and Mas Belles Eaux.
Cédric Loiseau of Mas Belles Eaux (Languedoc):
“At Mas Belles Eaux the decuvages finished on the 1st November. The least that one can say is that we had a turbulent harvest period: 400 mm of rain between the 15th and the 30th September! This forced us to harvest very rapidly.
Harvest began on the 28th September with the Syrahs harvested for the rosé of Mas Belles Eaux, then the white Grenache and the Vermentino (first year of production) entered the chai at the beginning of September. Ripening having slowed somewhat, we decided to wait a little before bringing in the red, and in particular the Syrahs, which were slowly attaining maturity.
On 17th September, the deluge: more than 200 mm of rain fell on the property in one and a half hours. The damage in the vineyard was quite extensive, terraces and roads swept away… but the biggest worry was the grapes: would they be able to resist long enough before we were able to go back into the vineyard?
Four (long) days were necessary before we were able to penetrate the first parcels and begin to harvest (because the ground was waterlogged). After that it was a frenetic harvest to bring everything in before the sky once more fell on our heads.
The good surprise was that the Syrah and Grenache had in spite of everything resisted well these adverse conditions! Ripeness was almost completely achieved before the rain, so there was not much diluting effect, and as we harvested rapidly, Botrytis did not have time to invade the harvest.
We fought against the clock by using two harvesting machines and a team of manual harvesters. Even in spite of this, we were unable to save two small parcels: one hectare of Syrah and our two hectares of Petit Verdot.
Since the rain was forecast to return at the end of the month of September, we brought in the Carignan and the Mourvèdre as quickly as possible. The quality of these is perhaps a notch below that of the Syrah and the Grenache. The harvest ended therefore on the 29th September. On the 30th September 150 mm more of rain fell. We had got the grapes in just in time.
We macerated the wines between 28 and 37 days according to the grape varieties, the malo lactic fermentations starting « sous marc « in most cases, and by the time we were ready for the decuvage almost all the malolactic fermentations were finished. The average yield is 38 hl/ha.
Verdict: some superb white wines, a rosé of an exceptional freshness and aromatic expression, very elegant and structured Syrahs, fruity and powerful Grenaches, and maybe some good surprises among the later harvested varieties. “
Read the 2014 Harvest Reports of the other properties :