Tag Archives: Vintage Port

V.14&N (8)

Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port 2001 and Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2014

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I was in the Douro valley last week, where the harvest is under way. After a very wet start to the year, we then had one of the hottest and dryest summers ever, so it has been a year of contrasts. Harvest continues in excellent conditions, and we will know more about the final quality of the wines in a few weeks time, but it looks good so far.

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Here is a picture of early morning harvest at Quinta do Noval last week, cagettes in the foreground, taken from the promontory at the end of the Roncão valley, which is the midpoint of my morning run, with the Douro and some of Quinta da Romaneira in the background. This is one of my favourite places in the world. The vines here are Touriga Nacional, which we planted in 2000 and which are already giving wines of outstanding quality.

But Quinta do Noval was a good place to be anyway last week as we launched two great Ports on the same day: our Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2014 and our Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port 2001.

Click on the links above to read what I wrote about these wines on the Quinta do Noval website.

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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.

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.

Quinta do Noval: declaration of the 2012 Vintage Port & launch of the 2004 Vintage Nacional

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Quinta do Noval
Quinta do Noval

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.

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