Quinta do Noval Nacional Tutored Tasting by Christian Seely

Quinta do Noval is perhaps the most emblematic estate in the Douro. Since the property changed hands in 1993, Christian Seely has been, in his own words, ‘putting things right’. He is candid about the past. From 1920 until the late 1960s under the ownership of Luís Vasconcelos Porto the property was subject to ‘very good vineyard management’ but it suffered in the 1970s and 80s and this is reflected in the quality of the wines. ‘Since we took over we have changed 100s of details’ he declared, right down to relaying all the stones in the hallowed lagares, swapping schist for granite. From 1994 onwards much of the vineyard has been replanted and Noval’s domain has extended over the hill into the Roncão valley (‘roasted Roncão’ as it is known by shippers due to its meso-climate). But Noval’s Vintage Ports (including the legendary Nacional) are products of the quinta bearing the same name. There are still plenty of plots of old vines including 80 year old vines that go into making Nacional where the average age of the 2ha of ungrafted vineyeard is around 40 years. Declarations are much smaller than they were in the old days with just 900 cases of 1994 produced compared with 5,000 cases in 1985. But perhaps the most fascinating revelation to accompany this tasting is the so called ‘Secret Nacionals’. The last Nacional to be declared was 2003, prompting the question what happens to the Nacional from other vintage years (for example 2004, 2007 and 2008 which Noval also declared)? I had always assumed that the Nacional wine from these years went into the vintage blend but Christian Seeley explained that these wines have been retained, with the intention of releasing some of them in 20 years. Interestingly he suggested that there might even be a Nacional Colheita in future!

The focus of this tasting was Noval´s Vintage Ports from 2007 back to 1963 with a large gap from 1994 – 1967 which corresponds to the bad old days. I had tasted most of these wines before individually but not the Nacional 1964 which must now be as rare as hens teeth!

The wines that follow are in the order in which they were tasted, leisurely, in Berry Bros and Rudd Cellars. Never have I given so many wines a 5 star award in a single tasting as well as a theoretically impossible 5 star +! 

Quinta do Noval 2007 **** +?

Very deep, opaque; ripe, raw with touch of tar and mint on the nose, coming together; very fine, powerful and concentrated, still raw and peppery, firm and focused with the purity of fruit characteristic of the 07s showing through on the finish. ‘Atypical’ according to Seely and ‘defined by its year.’   2,000 cases declared     18

 Quinta do Noval 2004 ****

 If anything deeper than the ’07; not yet closed in on the nose, fine, rich, shutting down but still with youthful perfume, dark chocolate emerging, perhaps slightly burnt; big rich and fleshy initially with a powerful cast-iron fist of tannin underlying, forceful tannic finish. An ‘eccentric declaration’. 1,200 cases     17.5

Quinta do Noval 2003 **** / *****

Very deep youthful colour, crimson rim; very fine, dense, closing in on itself on the the nose, heat of the vintage just in evidence?; big, fine fleshy tannins building in the mouth, very rich dense and powerful, broad tannic structure with a wonderful peacock’s tail of a finish. This was the first vintage from the vines replanted in 1994. 6,000 cases, described by Seely as ‘extravagant’.  18.5

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2003 *****

Very similar colour to the ’03 above, more purple on the rim and if anything more closed in on the nose, dense; lovely soft, fleshy pure fruit, fine grained peppery tannins, not so massive as above but building up layer upon layer. Very refined. ‘Great wine from a small space says Seely’. 19 

Quinta do Noval 2000 ****

Very deep in colour, if anything deeper than the Nacional below; very attractive, open berry fruit character on the nose, ripe and well defined with a touch of gum cistus; lovely sweet, open black cherry flavours, very pure in character, firm peppery – spicy tannins and a long linear finish, not that big but focused and fresh. 17.5

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2000 *****

Colour as above but in contrast completely closed-in on the nose, underlying density and depth just about evident but giving almost nothing away at the moment; very rich and opulent, complete, dense fine-grained tannins building in the mouth with a powerful flourish to finish. Much more powerful than the Noval 2000 – a brilliant wine for the long haul. 19.5

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1997 *****

Still deep, youthful purple rim; lovely nose, very pure fruit evident, quite opulent for a 199, mint and herbs, herbal but not herbaceous; fine, firm,quite linear, tight-knit but not as powerful as some Nacionals, focused, very pure with lovely cassis length. In case you were wondering Noval have no ’97 Nacional left – ‘not a bottle!’ 19

 Quinta do Noval Nacional 1996 **** / *****

 Deep, youthful and opaque; lovely aromas, young, pure floral fruit, cassis and cherry;Fine liquorice-like intensity, very pure in flavour backed by firm tannins, fine, not big but beautifully focused with a linear finish. A very pretty wine. Something of a one-off as no Noval was declared in 1996, just the Nacional. 300 cases in total. 18.5

 Quinta do Noval 1994 ***** 

Very deep opaque ‘blue’ colour; very fine, open opulent aromas, perfumed, floral; very fine, rich dark chocolate character, full bitter-sweet and focused, quite elegant and not at all fat like some 94s were at the start, in fact quite dry and rapier-like on the finish. 19    

 Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994 *****

Much more youthful in character than above, still raw, closed and giving very little away on the nose, sullen but with underlying depth and opulence; very rich, dense and quite fleshy initially, more characteristic of ‘94 than above, dark chocolate (the very best), lovely ripe, broad fine tannins, massive finish, very sweet and opulent too! Only 90 cases made. 19.5

 Quinta do Noval Nacional 1967 **** 

A bit of a jump back in time here to the good old days of the 1960s when Noval was performing at its best, but an unusual vintage in that this is a year that was not widely declared: still looking surprisingly youthful in colour; lovely nose, honeysuckle, sweet not especially dense but opulent with a crystallised fruit character; rich, dark milk chocolate intensity, again opulent, sweet, lovely depth and weight with peppery tannins rising in the mouth, still quite full if just a little loose-knit on the finish. 18  

 Quinta do Noval Nacional 1964 *** / **** 

Quite pale, pinkish hue, pink rim; fine, fragrant, delicate aromas, perfumed violets, milk chocolate and icing sugar; very elegant, lovely gentle, sweet succulent fruit, still quite rich with just a vestige of tannin, still very fresh but falling away on the finish. Not powerful but elegant. 16.5

 Quinta do Noval Nacional 1963 ***** +

Very deep youthful colour with a mid-deep purple/pink rim; fine, dense dark chocolate and bitter-sweet fruit quality to the nose, very concentrated and focused; lovely rich, dark chocolate concentration of flavour, reflecting the nose, very pure bitter-sweet fruit, firm tight-knit tannins, offset by fresh acidity, perfect balance. Outstanding wine which will go on and on and on… I am not often as effusive about a wine as this but Vintage Port does not get better! If I could give it 6 stars I would. 20

 

Location: The Cellars, Berry Bros & Rudd, London SW1

Scoring

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