It is not very often that any of us get to taste, let alone drink, Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port. The wine comes from 2ha of ungrafted vines at the heart of the quinta and is so named because the vines are Portuguese, without foreign rootstock, growing in Portuguese soil and therefore ‘attached to the soil of the nation’.
I am very fortunate to have been invited to three comprehensive tastings of these wines in my life, the most recent on 24th October 2010 (see entry in Vintage Port notes). I have also drunk, on occasion, the legendary 1966 and 1963. These are remarkable wines, all the more so due to their stature and rarity when only around 200 cases of Nacional are produced in a declared year. Noval have a slightly quirky approach to vintage declaration, for example declaring 2003 and 2004. If anything the declaration of Nacional is even more idiosyncratic with no wines being declared between 2003 and 2011. Christian Seely, Managing Director of Quinta do Noval and Axa Millesimes remarked that ‘Nacional behaves differently form the rest of the vineyard.’ There are however ‘secret Nacionals’ one of which, the undeclared 2004, was shown to us in this tasting. Christian Seeley, dropped heavy hints both at this tasting and the last one I attended that there may be a Nacional Colheita in future.
Noval woefully underperformed in the 1970s and 1980s and Christian Seely was the man appointed to bring the estate back on track when he was appointed to run it by AXA in 1993. It should be pointed out that Noval was not the only Port shipper to underperform in this era and this will be the subject of a future tasting. Suffice to say that attention to detail both in the vineyard and the winery (discussed in more detail in the introduction to the last Noval tasting) has brought Noval back to being one of names to be reckoned with for top class Port, whether it be LBV, tawny, colheita or vintage.
The following wines were tasted in the order in which they are written up, starting with Quinta do Noval vintage and followed by Nacional. The 1963 Nacional was served at the end of lunch:
Quinta do Noval 2011 ****/*****
Very deep, opaque colour; closed in on itself on the nose (much more so than the last time I tasted it earlier in the year), with underlying minerally cherry-stone fruit; tight knit on the palate, firm and taut with peppery tannins and lovely, pure berry fruit emerging on the finish, not especially big but very elegant. Closing in on itself after its earlier bloom of youth. 2,200 cases declared. 18.5
Quinta do Noval 2004 ****
An ‘eccentric vintage’ according to Christian Seely which followed hard on the heels of the generally declared 2003s: deep, opaque; very ripe, warm plummy aromas, a touch of roasted coffee bean on the edge; rich, dense, liquorice and dark chocolate fruit, gripping tannins with big broad, peppery finish. Still a bit raw, needs another ten years plus and should emerge as a very fine wine. 1,000 cases. 17.5 +?
Quinta do Noval 2003 **** / *****
Deep, still youthful, opaque; closed in, underlying ripeness, brooding but not over-ripe like some 2003s; ripe, dense, firm gravelly tannins, a big wine with freshness and purity of fruit emerging on the finish. Surely one of the best 2003s? 6,000 cases. 18.5
Quinta do Noval 2000 ****
Mid-deep, still youthful; closed in on the nose, underlying ripeness and minerality but somewhat reduced at the moment and not very expressive; ripe fruit (but not as big as the 03) backed by firm, gritty – dusty tannins, firm and spicy, not too sweet with a long linear finish. < 2,000 cases. 17.5
Quinta do Noval 1997 *** +?
Mid-deep colour, my sample was a rather cloudy; totally closed or rather hollow(?), perhaps just a phase but this wine is reduced and not very expressive at the moment; much better on the palate, soft plummy fruit initially with ripe, broad bitter-sweet tannins building in the mouth, leading to a broad finish. Needs another 5 years. Just 1200 cases (Noval only have 15 bottles left) 16+?
Quinta do Noval 1994 ****
This was the first declared vintage under new management, just 900 cases from 2 parcels of old vines: deep centre, thin purple rim; still youthful with floral fruit emerging and minty ripeness and a touch of esteva (gum cistus), open and already quite seductive; sweet and fleshy, still showing puppy fat initially with lovely definition and firm peppery tannins on the finish. Not the biggest of wines here but it shows Noval back on form. Drink now (just) – 2035. 18
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2011 *****
Very deep, opaque inky black colour; incredibly deep and dense on the nose, liquorice and dark chocolate underlying; big and bold, still raw yet with fabulous texture, massive tannic superstructure, big, dark chocolate concentration. Burly yet very, very fine. 19.5
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2004 ****
A ‘secret Nacional’, bottled but undeclared, this is its first public outing: deep, opaque, thin crimson rim; closed in on the nose with underlying ripe, minty fruit; dense with sweet, spicy berry fruit and fine grained peppery tannins rising in the mouth, a touch of dark chocolate concentration mid-palate, leading to a long, linear finish with lovely stony fruit, residual sweetness and flesh. Not as big as the recent Nacionals but showing already elegance and poise. 18+
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2003 *****
Still deep and opaque with a crimson rim; lovely ripe, floral, liquorice and dark chocolate aromas with no sign of over-ripeness (less so than the Noval 2003); sumptuous, voluptuous fruit on the palate, already beautifully integrated yet big and bold with wonderful ripe tannins rising in the mouth and fabulous length. A very great wine, almost impossible to better. This wine still has a century of life ahead of it. 20
Quinta do Noval Nacional 2000 ****
Very deep, just turning on the rim; rather a flat, reduced nose, seemingly a bit hot and singed, probably just a funny phase (cp Noval 2000); much more expressive on the palate, rich and full with soft, ripe spicy tannins leading to a dusty finish. Still needs a considerable amount of time to open up. 17+
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1997 *****
Deep, opaque, thin purple rim; closed and not giving much away on the nose, dark chocolate concentration underneath; rich and voluptuous, very big for the vintage with real depth and intensity, bitter-sweet chocolate (80% cocoa solids!), full, ripe firm tannins, big and broad leading to a peacock’s tail of a finish. A big ‘wow’ here. 20
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994 *****
Very deep, opaque, still ‘black’ with a thin purple rim; lovely, open gentle floral – berry fruit on the nose, voluptuous; sweet and silky initially, lovely purity and definition with stony tannic grip rising in the mouth leading to a peacock’s tail finish. A velvet glove on an iron fist: this wine really struts its stuff! Drink now (just) but better in five years. 19
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1963 *****
Lovely colour, still deep and just browning on the rim; very fine, taut floral aromas, open but still showing restraint with more to give; tight knit on the palate, firm gripping tannins with classic bitter-sweet, dark chocolate intensity, still youthful with a wild side to its personality, long and lithe. The epitome of great vintage Port. 19.5
Location: Lutyens Restaurant, London EC4
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