An Exceptional Vintage Port Tasting

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Don Schliff's Exceptional Tasting
Don Schliff’s Exceptional Tasting

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.

2014 Harvest in our properties: Conclusion

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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 :

Harvest Time at Château Pichon Baron

2014 Harvest Report – Château Suduiraut (Sauternes)

2014 Harvest Report – Château Petit-Village (Pomerol)

2014 Harvest Report – Domaine de l’Arlot (Bourgogne)

2014 Harvest Report – Quinta do Noval (Douro)

2014 Harvest Report – Disznókő (Tokaj)

2014 Harvest Report – Mas Belles Eaux (Languedoc)

2014 Harvest Report – Mas Belles Eaux (Languedoc)

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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 :

Harvest Time at Château Pichon Baron

2014 Harvest Report – Château Suduiraut (Sauternes)

2014 Harvest Report – Château Petit-Village (Pomerol)

2014 Harvest Report – Domaine de l’Arlot (Bourgogne)

2014 Harvest Report – Quinta do Noval (Douro)

2014 Harvest Report – Disznókő (Tokaj)

2014 Harvest in our properties: Conclusion

2014 Harvest Report – Disznókő (Tokaj)

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After the news from Bordeaux and Burgundy, here are the reports on 2014 from Quinta do Noval, Disznókő and Mas Belles Eaux.

László Mészarós of Disznókő, Tokaj:

« We finished the harvests on the 30th October. We have never finished so early: we have never finished before in October.

Because of the pressure of humidity, we were not able to wait any longer.

The volume produced was very small. We managed a global yield of only 5 hectolitres per hectare. We will have around 500 hl of wines. Only ten days earlier we would not have thought to have produced so little. It is about half of what I would have estimated at the beginning of the harvest.

Fortunately, the majority of the harvest will be made up of Aszú wines, very good, much more marked by Botrytis than usual, and less passerillés.

We have been working with them above all by maceration in made base wines, wines that have finished their fermentation.

It was a very difficult vintage in Tokaj, with a strong Oidium pressure in the summer, and above all an attack of rot (the wrong kind) from the end of August that gave us a lot of trouble. We have to acknowledge that we had too much rain also this autumn.

We began the maceration of the Aszús on the 29th October. After ten days of maceration, we obtained 14 lots in total.

I think we have after all some lovely Aszú wines this year, not very rich, but with a good acidity and freshness and some lovely aromas.”

Read the 2014 Harvest Reports of the other properties :

Harvest Time at Château Pichon Baron

2014 Harvest Report – Château Suduiraut (Sauternes)

2014 Harvest Report – Château Petit-Village (Pomerol)

2014 Harvest Report – Domaine de l’Arlot (Bourgogne)

2014 Harvest Report – Quinta do Noval (Douro)

2014 Harvest Report – Mas Belles Eaux (Languedoc)

2014 Harvest in our properties: Conclusion

2014 Harvest Report – Quinta do Noval (Douro)

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After the news from Bordeaux and Burgundy, here are the reports on 2014 from Quinta do Noval, Disznókő and Mas Belles Eaux.

António Agrellos of Quinta do Noval, Douro:

Antonio-Agrellos

“ At Quinta do Noval we finished the harvest on the 13th October. This vintage could have been one of the best years since I have been at Noval, if we had not had rain in the second half of September.

Some information about the year in general:

The heavy rainfall that we had in 2013/2104, well distributed throughout the year, reasonable temperatures in winter and a fresh month of August enabled the vines to maintain a healthy appearance, with lots of leaves throughout the cycle, which protected the grapes from the peaks of heat during the summer, safeguarding the health of the bunches.

At the end of August, the harvest was looking wonderful, with beautiful healthy grapes and an excellent sugar and acidity balance, ideal for making great Port and very good unfortified Douro wines.

We began to harvest the whites on the 25th August and the next day also the Syrahs of S. Mamede and Roncão. At the beginning of September, taking into account the forecast rain, we carried on with harvesting the most advanced parcels at Roncão and Silval. The weather was great and ripening was proceeding…but the gods were not in a humour to help us, and from the 13th to the 27th they sent us 67 mm of rain! With a third of the harvest already in, we decided not to stop the harvest because the weather forecast remained unstable.

The wines:

With regard to the quality, I am very satisfied with the equilibrium of the whites, notably the Cedro do Noval white, for which the grapes come from the Quinta. We will therefore be able to launch our first vintage of Cedro do Noval white in 2015.
The white Ports are also good, fruity and aromatic.

The unfortified reds are also good, elegant, good intense colour, quite structured, and with a good natural acidity which gives them a lovely freshness.

As for the Ports, we have in general wines of deep profound colour, aromatic and well balanced, with some lots of outstanding quality…

During the final phase, the harvest was marked again by 75 mm of rain. By this stage, strict sorting in the vineyard and on the sorting tables in the chai were fundamental for obtaining the quality of wines that were made.

In conclusion, it is a good year, but as is often the case, it could have been even better: the excellent climatic conditions throughout the year, the healthy and harmonious state of the grapes at the end of August having given us hopes of something really extraordinary!

Unfortunately, the heavy rainfall at the crucial moment of ripening meant that we just missed a very great Vintage…maybe one of the best for 21 years. But we will have all the same some very good wines, white, red, and Port wines, from this rather complicated harvest. “

Read the 2014 Harvest Reports of the other properties :

Harvest Time at Château Pichon Baron

2014 Harvest Report – Château Suduiraut (Sauternes)

2014 Harvest Report – Château Petit-Village (Pomerol)

2014 Harvest Report – Domaine de l’Arlot (Bourgogne)

2014 Harvest Report – Disznókő (Tokaj)

2014 Harvest Report – Mas Belles Eaux (Languedoc)

2014 Harvest in our properties: Conclusion