Quinta do Noval, one of the most iconic Port wine estates in the Douro, began making unfortified Douro wines in 2004. In the words of Christian Seely, Managing Director of Noval and AXA Millésimes, it has been ‘a steep learning curve’. In fact Noval had been toying with the idea of red Douro wine back in the 1980s, long before Christian Seely became involved and I remember tasting (under previous ownership) a red wine that never reached the market. It was more akin to the old fashioned ‘blackstrap’; the astringent, over-extracted reds that paved the way for Port back in the eighteenth century.
Douro wines in general have come a very long way since the 1980s and Noval has come further than most. Christian Seely admits that some of the earlier Noval wines don’t quite have the ageing profile that he was looking for but since 2012 greater precision in the selection of fruit and a lighter touch in the winery has produced the sort of wines that he favours. Being careful not to deride others, Seely is overt with his opinions about the Douro and confident in the future of Douro wines, both red and white. On the latter he says the ‘quality potential is almost limitless’. He is a fan of Portuguese grapes but also likes the way the Syrah (‘a chameleon’) has adapted to the Douro (even though it does not qualify for the Douro DOC). Seely and his winemaker Carlos Agrellos baulk at too much foot treading in lagar (a USP for many Douro reds) preferring more gentle extraction methods and fermentation in stainless steel (although he adds that Syrah responds rather well to foot treading). As a result there is nothing hefty or over-extracted about these wines (still a common fault in the Douro forty years after the DOC for unfortified wines came into being). New oak, a panacea for some in the Douro, is limited and all these wines are beautifully integrated as a result.
We began this tasting with a newly bottled white and concluded with a 2007 Colheita Port which can be found on the Port page of this website. The wines are listed in the order they were tasted.
Cedro do Noval (white) 2020 ***/****
A blend of 65% Viosinho and 35% Gouveio from vines planted in 2007 at the top of Quinta do Noval (around 500m above sea level), aged in French oak (30% new) for six months with regular bâtonnage: still very young, bright and floral on the nose, redolent of spring blossom; steely and minerally on the palate with the oak beautifully integrated to give it a slightly creamy texture towards the finish. Better still with another six months in bottle. 16.5 +?
Cedro do Noval 2017 ****
This was a hot dry year in the Douro and a declared Port vintage for most shippers. The exuberance of the year shows (to a certain extent) in this wine. A blend of Touriga Nacional (55%), Syrah (25%), Touriga Franca / Francesa (15%) and Tinto Cão (5%) aged in French oak (12% new) for ten months: deep, firm and rather closed initially, this opened up to reveal ripe plum and wild berry fruit and retains good freshness all the way through on the palate despite the challenges of the vintage. Spicy fruit tempered by a veneer of oak. Lovely. 17
Quinta do Noval Touriga Nacional 2017 ****
Seely is very enthusiastic about Touriga Nacional even though, as a varietal, it can be rather one dimensional. Noval’s TN is a model of restraint and shows the elegance that this grape is capable of, even in the extreme heat of the Douro (June 2017 was the hottest month since 1980). Careful vinification is the key: fermented in stainless steel and aged in new French oak (35% new) for ten months. Closed initially, this wine opened up to reveal the floral quality of TN as well as a touch of wild, minty ripeness and a touch of wood smoke from the oak; savoury-sweet fruit backed by a ripe dusting of tannin and a broad, succulent finish. This wine reflects the exuberance of the vintage but has a delicacy that makes it real a pleasure to drink. It should develop well in bottle over the next decade or so. 17.5
Quinta do Noval Reserva 2017 ****
The blend varies from year to year and in this case it is 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Touriga Franca (Francesa) aged in French oak (35% new) for 12 months. Like other the wines from 2017 this was sullen initially but opened up to reveal ripe berry fruit on the nose with a touch of cassis-like ripeness; firm, tight knit and structured on the palate with a touch of dark chocolate concentration, yet still retaining raspberryish freshness and elegance on the finish. A triumph! 18
Cedro do Noval 2018 ****
From a much more temperate year (though still one declared as a Port vintage) with grapes picked in perfect conditions into mid-October: Touriga Nacional (50%), Syrah (25%), Touriga Franca / Francesa (20%) and Tinto Cão (5%) rather more open and aromatic (floral) than the 2017 (above) with soft, well-defined berry fruit and firm, linear tannins. Fresh-picked blackberries with lovely purity all the way through to the finish. More to my style than the 2017. 17.5
Quinta do Noval Touriga Nacional 2018 ****/*****
Open, very pure expression of Touriga Nacional with its floral freshness (‘peonies’) and natural sweetness yet at the same time restrained and elegant without in anyway going over the top. Fine grained tannins with a touch of savoury oak showing through leading to a gentle naturally sweet berry fruit finish. This is textbook Douro Touriga Nacional that shows how it should be done. 18.5
Quinta do Noval Reserva 2018 *****
A blend of 60% Touriga Nacional 25% Touriga Franca / Francesa with a 15% field blend from old vineyards, aged in French oak (50% new) for 12 months: ripe and profound with a veneer of cedary new oak hovering over the Douro’s characteristic wild berry fruit, vibrant, minty too with super-ripe (but still fine-grained) tannins and vivid freshness on the finish. This combines depth and elegance in equal measure and leaves a feeling of Burgundian brilliance on the finish. An outstanding Douro red, glorious now (if you decant it and watch it evolve) and with a twenty year life ahead. Also, compared to some Douro wines on the market, it is well priced...19
19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)
17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)
15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)
13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)
10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)
8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)
Below 8 Faulty