Bordeaux – The 2015 Vintage En Primeur

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En primeur tasting frenzy is now calming down. Although officially a one week event, in fact it lasts quite a bit longer. It is a time of the year I always enjoy, a wonderful opportunity to taste the wines of others, but above all to taste our own wines with visitors from the wine world from all corners of the physical globe, and to hear what they have to say. This is always fun, but the 2015s have been particularly enjoyable to taste and to talk about.

Enough has already been written about 2015 for it not to be a particularly original revelation to say that I think it is an exceptional year. Above all I find the wines in general hugely enjoyable, hedonistic and exciting. I found it enormous fun to be tasting them, which is not always the case at this stage of their evolution. I think that it was a year that gave the opportunity for a wide diversity of expression, and within the general framework of excellence there is great stylistic diversity, from the exuberant and seductive ripeness of the right bank, to the purity, depth of fruit, freshness and structure of the great wines of the left bank. The Sauternes also are wonderful: harmonious, elegant, balanced, with complex and pure Botrytis. And there are some extremely good dry whites. So in general a generous, satisfying year, a magnificent illustration of the dazzling multifaceted wealth of pleasure that Bordeaux has to offer in an outstanding vintage.

We are of course producers on the left and right banks and in Sauternes. During en primeurs week I tasted the wines with Pierre Montégut at Suduiraut, with Jean-René Matignon at Pichon Baron and with Diana Berrouet-Garcia at Petit-Village. We recorded on film our conversations and their thoughts about their wines and the vintage. This week I will post over three days these short clips, in the hope that it will give something of the feeling of tasting the wines with the people who made them.

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Tomorrow we will start with Pierre Montégut at Suduiraut; on Wednesday we will go to Petit-Village with Diana Berrouet-Garcia; and on Thursday we will finish with Jean-René Matignon at Pichon Baron.

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Happy Birthday Quinta do Noval

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I have been giving a series of tastings and events recently to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Quinta do Noval’s existence as a vineyard.

In fact, there has certainly been a vineyard on the site for longer than that, possibly much longer. 1715 is the first record of the existence of the vineyard, as it was part of the inheritance of the young Francisco Álvares Taveira, future abbot of Gouvães, who had to show documentary proof of his wealth before becoming the Abbot, (no nonsense about promotion on pure merit in those days) hence the records. But as it was already a vineyard in 1715, clearly it had been a vineyard for a while before that. So we are celebrating that Quinta do Noval is at least three hundred years old, but it is certainly older.

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Going even further back, at the crown of the hill of the Noval estate, there was a Roman settlement, where among the many Roman artefacts discovered during the archeological dig in the early 20th century was an area that looked very much like a wine press. If so, then wine has been made at this site for over 2,000 years, and I like to believe it, though proof positive is lacking.

But it is the relatively recent history that concerns us more, the time during which wines have been made that we can taste today, living memories of the former life of the vineyard at Noval. I personally have an intimate knowledge of the past 23 years at Quinta do Noval, the time that I have been responsible for looking after it having taken over as Managing Director in 1993.

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Before that I mainly know the Quinta’s history through its wines. Among my favourites are of course the extraordinary 1931, both Vintage Nacional and Quinta do Noval; the harmonious and elegant 1955 Quinta do Noval, which was one of my primary inspirations; along with the beautiful delicate and fine 1966, when I started working on the vineyard and the wines in the early nineties. From the Sixties also the 1963 Vintage Nacional is and always has been in a category of its own, rated perfect and great by many distinguished tasters from the time of its birth to the present day. The Seventies and Eighties were a difficult time for Port and for Noval, but I have a soft spot for the very delicate finesse of the Vintage Nacional 1975.

And then glorious days returned with the wonderful 1994 Vintage Nacional, my first at the Quinta, and what luck to have arrived just before such a wine. James Suckling’s 100 points for this wine when he was writing for the Wine Spectator were a shot in the arm for Noval, a clear signal to the world that this great vineyard was capable as it always had been of producing greatness. Since then we have had a series of exceptional years: the 1997, an important year for us when Robert Parker awarded 100 points to both the Quinta do Noval and the Vintage Nacional, a right and left, in shooting parlance, that added momentum to the renaissance of Quinta do Noval’s reputation. The generally declared years of 2000, 2003 and 2007 followed. The Vintage Nacional as always followed its own rhythm, not producing wine to its normal level in 2007, so not declared, but making exceptional wines in the lesser known years of 2001 and 2004.

And then 2011. A phenomenon for Port wine in general, certainly one of the great years in history, with beautiful wines from Quinta do Noval and from the Nacional parcel. The 2011 Vintage Nacional has already acquired a justified cult status, garnering 100 points or the equivalent from several different distinguished wine journalists. I believe that this one is a worthy successor to the legendary 1963 and 1931, scion of a noble breed, both genetic inheritor of the greatness of its ancestors, but also with all the strength and vigour of youth, ready to affront the century to come of long life that certainly lies before it.

We declared both 2012 and 2013 Vintage Ports at Quinta do Noval, very small quantities in both cases, but irresistibly delicious wines. Historically Noval has been ready to make an eccentric declaration (the 1931 was one such), and so inspired both by history and the wines themselves we did not hesitate to make these small declarations, both of which are worthy members of any vertical line up of historic Quinta do Noval Vintages.

And during this time of reconnection with the illustrious past through the production of great modern Vintage Ports, this historic vineyard of Noval has been reinventing itself as a producer of great unfortified red wines. We launched our first Quinta do Noval Douro DOC red wine with the 2004 vintage, and our 2012, placed first in a recent extensive tasting of Douro red wines by the Revista de Vinhos, has just sold out, so we move to the delicious 2013, with the 2014 and 2015 vintages, among the best ever, waiting in the wings.

In a way, these new Douro red (and white) wines are also a reconnection with the history of the property and of the Douro. Fortification of Douro wines only became general in the first half of the 19th Century. The celebrated Baron James Forrester, who drowned in the river in 1861, was a strong advocate for the unfortified wines of the Douro, an indication that their production as quality wines was general at the time and persisted at least during his lifetime. There is no question that the development of Port Wine as a fortified wine led to the evolution of one of the great wines of the world, for which the Douro is chiefly known today, and no one could love great Port wines more than I. However, something was surely lost in the gradual eclipse of non fortified wine making during the 19th century. We will never know how those wines might have developed had they been the principal focus of Douro wine production.

What we know now however, as we catch up for lost time, is that the Douro is capable of producing world class unfiltered red – and white – wines. The Valley today has a new dynamic, as dozens of independent producers, some small, some less so, contribute every year to this thrilling development by producing excellent wines from all corners of the demarcated area. I find this development wholly positive for the Douro and its reputation, but also very good news for wine drinkers all over the world, and I am delighted that Quinta do Noval has been able to participate in this movement since 2004.

The history of a great vineyard, like that of a great region, is the product of the labours of generations of people who went before us and devoted themselves to their land and their wines. The further back the history, the greater the accumulation of inherited knowledge and tradition, and this is what we build upon. But at the same time we are constructing the future for those who will follow us in these vineyards. So while I wish Quinta do Noval a very Happy Birthday on the occasion of its proven 300 years, I also wish very many Happy Returns to this magical vineyard and to the region of which it is at the heart. Great things have happened here in the past, great things are happening now, and I am confident that even greater are to come in the future.

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Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2013

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Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2013
          Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2013

We have just declared a Quinta do Noval Vintage Port from 2013. We have done this kind of thing before, an “eccentric declaration” but actually I think it is the first time we have ever declared three Vintages in a row under the Quinta do Noval name. But I had no doubt in the tasting room that it was the right thing to do.

Christian Seely and António Agrellos in the tasting room
                        With António Agrellos in January this year tasting the 2013 Vintage

2013 could have been a much better year generally than it was: everything was looking great as the harvest began, and then it started to rain, which generally meant that we just missed making great wines from most of the vineyard, as once the rains starts, you are under such pressure from potential rot, that you just have to haul it all in as fast as possible, which means that in many cases you are not picking at optimal ripeness, which would have been later for many parcels, there can be an effect of dilution from the rain etc.. Having said all that, the overall quality was very good, just not as outstanding as it might have been.

With the exception of a few lots of wine we made in the first ten days of the harvest before the rains started.

Not all of these were actually of Vintage potential, but some of them most definitely were at Quinta do Noval. The wine we blended from the best of them shows what the 2013 Vintage might have been generally had the rain not come. The quantity of wine of the right quality was tiny – only 1,200 cases, or less than 3% of our production, but it is an authentic Quinta do Noval Vintage Port, a rare wine, being one of a small number of limited production quality wines from the 2013 harvest in the Douro, and I am very happy to be able to declare it. I am very confident it will be able to hold its head high in a vertical tasting in a few years’ time along with the other Quinta do Noval declarations from the past 20 years or so.

Primeurs Tasting Week for 2014 Bordeaux (VIDEO)

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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.

If you have trouble watching this video, view the web version here

Spring Sunrise in the Douro

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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.

Sunrise from the terrace of Noval, looking towards Cavadinha.
Sunrise from the terrace of Quinta do Noval, looking towards Cavadinha.

 

Roncão Valley. Sunrise. Almond tree in blossom.
Roncão Valley. Sunrise. Almond tree in blossom.

 

 Sunrise over the Douro from the head of the Roncão Valley: Romaneira in the background.
Sunrise over the Douro from the head of the Roncão Valley: Quinta da Romaneira in the background.

 

Almond tree in blossom above the Douro. Noval vines in the foreground; Romaneira in the distance.
Almond tree in blossom above the Douro. Noval vines in the foreground; Romaneira in the distance.

 

 Looking down to the Douro.
Looking down to the Douro.

 

Riotous almond blossom.
Riotous almond blossom.

 

Return to Noval in time for breakfast before tasting begins.
Return to Quinta do Noval in time for breakfast before tasting begins.