Older Vintages of Quinta do Noval and Quinta do Noval Nacional (warts and all!)

Quinta do Noval is celebrating a significant anniversary in 2013. Twenty years ago, in the wake of the truly dreadful 1993 harvest, Christian Seely was appointed to manage the Portuguese estate following its high profile acquisition by AXA Millésimes earlier that year. On a Sunday morning twenty years later (precisely to the day), an international band of scribes and aficionados gathered in the dining room at Quinta do Noval for a vertical tasting back to 1955.  

The wines represent four very different regimes at Noval. The estate’s glory days began in the 1920s lasted until the 1960s under the direction of Luís Vasconcellos Porto.  Not only did he transform the vineyard following phylloxera, planting the famous inclined terraces, he also built up Noval’s reputation in the UK, targeting sales on Oxford and Cambridge colleges as well as private clubs. It was under Vasoncellos Porto that the legendary but now virtually unobtainable Nacional 1931 was declared. In 1963 Vasconcellos Porto retired and was followed by his grandsons Fernando and Luís van Zeller during whose time Noval entered a period of slow decline. Then in the 1980s, under the direction of brother and sister Cristiano and Teresa van Zeller, the estate underwent what Christian Seely himself calls ‘a car crash’. The rescue came in 1993 and from 1994 onwards the wines are the responsibility of Christian Seely and his winemaker António Agrellos. (Notes on these wines can be found in the pervious entry dated Tuesday 17th September) 

The notes on the wines that follow are from the tasting held in the dining room of Quinta do Noval on Sunday 12th October.  This tasting also prompted me to go back to the notes from another extensive tasting of Noval’s wines (back to 1900) held at the Portuguese Embassy in London in November 1989. Where the same wines were shown I have added [in square brackets] my notes from 24 years ago. A few are rather prescient but some are not!          

Quinta do Noval 1955 ***

Brick-red, turning amber-tawny, browning on the rim; a little fragile on the nose, possibly even hollow with the fruit fading; soft and creamy on the palate, turning into an old tawny with a vestige of tannic grip towards an attractive if rather dry finish. Drink soon, rather lightweight in the context of generally impressive 1955 vintage. 15. [Browning colour, slightly baked and maderised aroma with a balanced, gentle flavour and a strong finish]. 

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1963 *****

Lovely colour, still deep and remarkably youthful in appearance, pink-purple rim; very fine and taut, floral aromas, only partially open and still showing amazing restraint indicating that this has more to give; tight knit on the palate, firm gripping, muscular tannins with classic bitter-sweet, dark chocolate intensity, still youthful with a distinctly wild side to its personality, long, powerful and yet also very lithe on the finish. Still needs time to show its all but certainly one of the greatest vintage Ports of all time.  20.  [Deep in colour, still quite closed on the nose with big, full structured tannic flavours and a long, long finish – outstanding!]  

Quinta do Noval 1966  ****

Mid-garnet centre with a thin browning rim; still tight-knit on the nose possibly with more to give; sweet and voluptuous initially with solid tannins building in the mouth, bitter-sweet chocolate intensity right the way through, combines depth and elegance. Very fine.  18.  [Still deep ruby in colour, classic, spicy, ripe vigorous fruit on the nose and a big but almost raw flavour and finish, still ‘green’, needing more time to soften up.]

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1966  *****

Mid-deep, youthful hue, pink rim; beautiful floral fragrance: violets and old fashioned roses, open and expressive, much more so than the 1963 above; firm, fine and structured, sinewy tannins, long and linear with fresh berry fruit running all the way through. Perfect poise and balance. When I last drank this side 15 years ago side-by-side with the 1963 there seemed to be little between them but now a small gap has opened up. Drink whilst waiting for the 1963 to come round (if you are fortunate enough to have both!)  19. [Deep blackish red, sublime perfume, ripe minty fruit on the nose, balanced, naturally sweet, mint and all-spice on the palate, never ending length.] 

Quinta do Noval 1967 *** / ****

Mid-deep pinkish colour, pink rim; lovely open, gentle, floral fruit; similarly open and elegant on the palate, still sweet and succulant, midweight with spicy tannins, firm with peppery grip fading onto a long, elegant silky finish. [sweet and open, drying out, spicy and a bit lean and lacking concentation, drink soon]  16.5

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1967  **** / ***** 

Very deep ruby centre, thin purple rim, looks 20 years younger than it is! Rich and intense with more still to give on the nose, fine berry fruit; firm, tight knit with dark chocolate concentration mid-palate, fresh, ripe berry fruit and ripe tannic grip rising in the mouth. Long,  linear and very profound. [deep in colour, 'classic' concentration, spicy aromas and flavours, not very long but mich more of a keeper than the straight 1967].   18.5 

Quinta do Noval 1970

There were a number of inconsistent bottles here with a musty / moisi character extending from the nose on the palate: pale in colour and rather hollow on the nose, light, sweet fading fruit, loose knit and falling away on the finish. Drink up. No mark awarded.   [Deep with a youthful pink on the rim; wonderfully heady, rich wine in classic vintage style, big, broad with an explosive finish.]

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1970 ****

Much deeper and fresher looking than the straight ’70, mid-garnet, thin browning rim; quite closed on the nose, underlying depth; still rich with full, firm tannins and bitter-sweet medicinal cherry fruit supported by a rising warm tannic backbone. Long if a little unbalanced on the finish. 17.5.   [Very deep, still ruby-pink; tight knit, heady and structured with wonderful sweet, spicy fruit, good length]

Quinta do Noval 1975 **

Pale-to-mid garnet colour with a broad, browning rim; undeniably hollow on the nose and a touch hot and baked (this was the verão quente, also the very ‘hot summer’ of the Portuguese revolution); very open, sweet and soft in the mouth with very little structure to back it up, some freshness still on the finish. Correct but going nowhere. Drink up. 13.   [Pale, browning, light, open and a touch lean, already drying out on the finish. Drink soon. 5 years + ]

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1975 ** / ***

Deeper in colour (as you would expect) but not deep for a Nacional, mid-garnet, thin browning rim; rather odd medicinal aromas, stewed plums; soft, sweet plummy fruit, rather simple and lacking structure with a slightly burnt edge, fuller with some grip on the finish but not really satisfying. I suppose this is not so bad for a 1975 though. Drink now and over the next ten years.  14.5.  [Deep colour but already looking quite mature, beautiful liquorice and chocolate aromas, elegant concentration of flavour, firm, milk chocolate finish.] 

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1984

A very odd declaration by Noval given that this was one of the early single quinta vintages that was interrupted by heavy rain:  rather pale and slightly cloudy, pink-brown rim; stewed, oxidised fruit on the nose, burnt and empty; similarly empty on the palate, singed fruit, a touch of spice but no structure to speak of, collapsing completely on the finish. Poor. 8

Quinta do Noval 1985

The 1985 vintage was a proverbial can of worms for a number of leading shippers with a number of inconsistent and/or volatile wines. This is not faulty but… mid-deep and maturing; hollow on the nose but correct; soft, sweet fruit with little or no depth or structure, just very sweet to the point of cloying on the finish where rather hot spirit shows though. 10.  [Mid-red colour, quite hard and spirity on the nose, firm, hard and spicy, unyielding.]     

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1985  

No different in colour from the Noval ’85 (above); hot, burnt rubber on the nose; better on the palate initially but soft and soggy with absolutely no definition then that dirty, burnt rubber taint comes back to haunt the finish. Horrid! 4. [Deep colour, tight, rich firm concentrated fruit, wild complex flavours and a long finish.]   

Quinta do Noval 1987

Fully declared by some brave souls in the wake of the universally declared ‘85s.  It was a year that generally made some good medium term wines (but not in this case): mid-deep garnet colour; dirty and soily on the nose; very slightly better on the palate, sweet but sweaty with hot dusty tannins. Some depth but totally lacking in charm and not really a wine for drinking. 7

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1987

Deeper colour, thin browning rim; better than the straight vintage but still cheesy and burnt on the nose; some attractive fruit struggling to surface, sweet and rich but with a dirty, soily backdrop, muscular tannins building in the mouth but the wine falls away on the finish to leave that soily undertone which persists thoughout. 8         

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

With Noval under new management, I recall seeing this wine in a rather small stainless steel tank just before bottling in 1998. A slightly idiosyncratic declaration against a large and often rather stretched vintage: very deep opaque colour, thin crimson rim; not singing from the glass and still a bit ugly on the nose  (in its spotty adolescent phase) a touch cooked which is not usually a characteristic of 1996; big, bold and full of flesh, liquorice-like depth and spice, complete but introverted, needs lots more time to show at its best, finishes with a huge flourish. Needs another ten years at least. 18.5+?        

Silval 2005 *** / ****

Noval had a serious internal debate as to whether to declare the 2005 outright and eventually opted for a second label wine: good colour, opulent, ripe cassis fruit on the nose (not pruney or baked as some wines are from this drought afflicted vintage); similarly opulent and voluptuous on the palate, ripe tannins yet full, forward and nearly ready to drink. Approach in 3- 5 years. A bargain Noval at half the price of a fully declared wine.  16.5  

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