I am at Quinta do Noval in the Douro Valley, in sunny weather, but unusually cool for July. Yesterday we declared the Quinta do Noval 2012 Vintage Port. A declaration is always an exciting event, and Noval’s distributors and agents around the world now have their allocations.
Noval has of course often made “eccentric” declarations in the past, beginning with the 31 Vintage Port that was a major factor in establishing the Quinta as one of the great names of Port. My approach to this is very simple: if we feel that we have a wine of the necessary quality, and with the style and character of a classic Quinta do Noval Vintage, we will declare it, even if this means declaring two years in a row (as we did in 07 and 08, and indeed in 03 and 04,) and even if it means bottling only a very small amount of Vintage Port. In the case of the 2012 just 1000 cases were produced but I am very happy with the result and am convinced that the 2012 will hold a worthy place in the line up of great recent declarations such as 2011, 2008 and 2007.
We also launched the 2004 Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional last month. This great Nacional was officially declared in 2006, at the normal time, but we decided to hold it back until now. In its extreme youth it was so big closed and monolithic in style that we felt it could wait for a few years in bottle, and the wine today is wonderful, though still intense and powerful, and astonishingly youthful.
So with a new Nacional and a new Vintage Port declaration, these are great times for Noval and for lovers of our wines. As I write here at the Quinta the vineyard is looking extremely healthy, even after the extraordinary downpour of rain last week, and we will do our best to make sure that some more great wines are made here this year.
I attach a film of the wonderful vertical tasting of Quinta do Noval Vintage and Vintage Nacional that we held in London last autumn, when the 2004 Nacional was first tasted in public and its release this summer announced.
As I wrote here, I was in New York a couple of weeks ago for a vertical tasting of Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional with Michael Quinttus.
It was a wonderful day, and the wines showed very well. For me, the most satisfying aspect was to observe the similarities of personality between the great wines of the Sixties and those of more recent years. This is a terroir with a very strong and unique identity and it was a moving experience to be able to taste this across the decades.
You can see on the attached film that the distinguished tasters who turned up that day enjoyed the wines: it was a memorable experience for me, and I am glad that the people who were there shared and appreciated it also.
I am in New York today for a very exciting vertical tasting of Vintage Ports from Quinta do Noval. The tasting is in fact billed as a Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional Vertical, which indeed it is, but I was very keen to show some Vintage Ports from Quinta do Noval made from the rest of the vineyard, since the Vintage Nacional is great because of where it is, in the heart of Quinta do Noval, and so I think it is important to speak also of the great Vintage Ports of Quinta do Noval when we speak of the Vintage Nacional.
Quinta do Noval is a very singular Port House. The only one of the major traditional Port houses to be named after its vineyard rather than a founding family, the only one whose principal Vintage Port is always a Single Quinta Port in the sense that it comes from one vineyard only and proudly declares that fact on its label, and the only one of the traditional Gaia based shippers that has moved all its operations up to the Douro and is now entirely based there. It is clear that the vineyard of Quinta do Noval is at the heart of the identity of Noval, and is the principal determinant of the character and quality of the wines that we make there.
So Quinta do Noval itself is exceptional and outstanding. I have had the pleasure and privilege to look after this great vineyard for the past nineteen years, and though it may be objected that I am not entirely impartial, I can confirm that it is a very special place. The notion of a great wine being the expression of a particular place is at the heart of the concept of terroir which is behind the great wines of the world, notably in Burgundy and in Bordeaux, but also elsewhere, and it is certainly at the heart of my way of thinking about Quinta do Noval and the wines we make there.
Situated in the centre of the Douro Valley, its terraced vineyards clinging to the hillsides overlooking the Pinhão and Roncao valleys, and also overlooking the Douro itself, Quinta do Noval is a magically beautiful place. The wines that we make here, whether they are Vintage Ports, Ports destined to become fine old tawnies, or in recent years, red wines made from the Douro Port wine varieties, have distinguishing characteristics that mark them out, and which I believe spring from the nature of the place itself.
Great Quinta do Noval wines have a wonderful delicate fine aromatic quality, that needs time to develop and reveal itself. Vintage Ports such as the Quinta do Noval 1955 and 1966 – inspirations to me when I started there – have this quality, as do for example the Quinta do Noval Vintage Ports of 1997 and 2000, and as do red wines such as the Quinta do Noval 2009 or the various varietal Tourigas that we have made at Noval in the past few years.
I stress the character of the vineyard of Quinta do Noval because I believe that the Vintage Nacional is the supreme expression of the personality of Quinta do Noval, and is only able to exist because of its situation at the heart of Quinta do Noval’s vineyard. Any discussion of Vintage Nacional that just focuses on the five acres of Nacional vines without taking into account the great vineyard of Quinta do Noval that surrounds it will I think miss the point. Of course, Vintage Nacional is exceptional and extraordinary because it is made from grapes from ungrafted vines. But these ungrafted vines can only survive as they do because of the place where they are planted, surrounded as they are by the rest of the vineyard of Quinta do Noval, which has been producing great Port wines for centuries.
So although today’s tasting is principally a vertical tasting of various vintages of Vintage Nacional, I thought it particularly important to show some Vintage Ports from the rest of Quinta do Noval’s vineyards, so we shall begin by tasting Quinta do Noval Vintage 2003 and Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional 2003, followed by the Quinta do Noval Vintage 2000 and the Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional 2000, and then compare the 1997 Quinta do Noval Vintage and the 1997 Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional 1997. What I hope these first three Vintages will show is that although the Vintage Nacional is always different, with its own clear and distinct personality, there is a strong family link with the Quinta do Noval Vintage Ports, which although in each case clearly different from the Vintage Nacional, can often aspire to similar heights of greatness, being just different expressions of one great vineyard.
I am very much looking forward to this epic tasting. After the first three comparative tastings, we shall go on to taste the Quinta do Noval Vintage Nacional 1996, 1994, 1975,1970,1967,1966, 1964, 1962, and will finish with the legendary 1963. I will be posting another blog about the tasting next week. In the meantime, here are a couple of links that might be of interest.
“I did want to ask about 2007 nacional: what was the reason to do not bring it out as a nacional?’ asked me Albino Tuosto in response to the New Douro Tasting post. Herewith my answer :
We did not declare a Quinta do Noval Nacional 2007. This might seem strange as it was such a beautiful Vintage generally, but the Nacional is a strange phenomenon.
As you know, it is made from grapes grown on ungrafted vines in a small area at the heart of the Noval vineyard. This gives the wine a unique and distinctive personality: when it is great, as in years like 03, 00, 97, 96, 94, 63 it is quite extraordinary, one of the great wines of the world. But it is a wine that confirms something that is for me a deeply held belief, which is that a wine is great because of the quality of the grapes, the character of the year and because of the place they come from. These things are far more important than anything we may do either in the vineyard or in the winery.
We vinify the Nacional in the same way as the other grapes from the rest of the Quinta do Noval vineyard: foot treading in stone lagares, a simple if laborious procedure, and the result is always something very different for the Nacional wine compared with the wine from the rest of the Quinta. Nacional is what it is because of the grapes and where they come from, not because of anything clever that we do.
However, though it is always different, and with a distinctive personality, it does not necessarily follow the same rhythm as the rest of the vineyard. In 1996 for example, which was not a declared Vintage year for the rest of the Quinta do Noval vineyard, the Nacional was outstanding, and we decided to declare it. In 2007 on the other hand the Nacional just did not sing. It decided to be great in 1996; it decided not to be in 2007. It is just how it is. The decision not to declare the 07 Nacional was therefore a relatively easy one. I decided when I arrived at Noval in 1993 that we would never declare a Nacional that wasn’t great, something we have stuck to ever since. Of course, one can imagine the short term temptation to declare the Nacional 07 anyway – we would have been able to sell it! But we are custodians of the reputation of this magical wine, and long term that is what matters. So I am sorry, no Nacional 2007. But watch this space: every year is a new opportunity. We have had a good run of great Nacionals in recent years, and I am sure there will be more to come in the future.”