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My Greatest Vinous trip to date: The Douro, Part 1

by Tom Chadwick (Trade Sales)

'If Port be the beverage of love, pass me another decanter!’ Anon.

Quinta do Noval has stolen my heart! As our car drove along the winding roads, cutting through ludicrously steep vineyards, the Noval estate came into view, forcing me ask the driver to stop so I could get out and take in the visual feast.

The first thing that struck me was how hard the men and women of forgotten decades must have worked, the sheer investment they must have made both financially and personally, to have manicured the landscape with such skill, precision and efficiency. They led the way to making this region surely one of the most beautiful areas in the wine producing world.

Within 30 minutes of my arrival I was standing in one of the most highly prized vineyards in the world: ‘Nacional’. Many wine lovers will have heard of the port produced from this vineyard; few will know the facts and even fewer will have been so lucky to enjoy its elixir. As a proud Welshman this was as exciting as standing in the north corner of The Cardiff Arms Park where Sir Gareth Edwards scored ‘that try’. Hallowed turf indeed...

In truth, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of Nacional largely due to the fact that Quinta do Noval labelled older vintages of Nacional with ‘made from pre-phyloxera vines’. This is something of a mistranslation! The first thing to know and understand about the Nacional vines is that the 2ha parcel at the epicentre of the estate are ungrafted – i.e. they are Portuguese vines, without the standard American rootstocks (usually used to avoid the occurrence of phylloxera) grown in Portuguese soil. No-one really knows why this tiny plot of vines was spared the evil aphid phylloxera; perhaps a higher being decided to save this tiny plot for the good of human kind?

The vineyard was first planted with ‘national / Portuguese’ vines in 1925 and, going against the grain, 6 years later they declared the legendary 1931… and I can assure you that, having asked at least 475 times in the space of 24 hrs, the Quinta holds no stock of this whatsoever!

The vineyard is a ‘field blend’, a buzz word I picked up on my short sojourn, and until Christian Seely stepped in in 1993 the plantings were pretty much unknown. It is usual for most ports to be blended with up to 5 varietals; however here they found 15 varietals planted in amongst the plot and much the biggest surprise was that 25% was planted to Sousão - not what they were expecting at all. The bunches are much smaller than found elsewhere on the property, the grapes are much smaller and the vines yield especially tiny quantities - sometimes not even producing enough to bottle. It is certainly only ever made in exceptional years. What is of interest too is that declarations of Nacional do not always mirror when a Noval vintage is declared… the enigma continues, and long may it. For this is part of the legendary ‘mystique’ about the wines made from this tiny vineyard; grapes are vinified in the same way, there is very little intervention and yet it has a completely unique personality. This must be evidence of the very simplest and most important of ingredients to a GREAT wine, the ability to uniquely express its terroir, perhaps thanks to those ungrafted local vines. Nacional certainly does this in abundance. For those interested, it has also been certified organic for the last 3 year; every little helps!

So of course I had to get my picture taken in amongst the vines. This is most definitely destined to be up on the wall at home! And then to the tasting room.


2009 LBV [Unfiltered]

89 Pts BI- Starting to show some lovely developed notes but still youthful, luscious, fresh and ripe. This has a great spicy black fruit finish and would go perfectly with a chocolate pudding.


Noval 10 Yr Old Tawny

90 Pts BI- Mocha and citrus aromas with oxidative notes, this is grown up tawny port in my book. Complex dried fruit, spice and a fine finish. For those who want a bit more out of a 10 yr old tawny then look no further.


Noval 20 Yr Old Tawny

92 Pts BI- Lighter in colour again and really showing that beautiful tawny colour. Great intensity, nutty, figgy almost Oloroso in style. This has a lovely weight and balance to it with an almost salted-caramel mid palate and elegant finish. I really like this.


2005 Quinta do Noval Silval

92+ Pts BI– Coming from plots 3 km away and lower down the hill closer to the river, this has a higher proportion of the Roriz grape than the vintage Noval. Youthful, voluptuous and showing appealing strawberry, red fruits and spice.


2012 Quinta do Noval

95 Pts BI- Gorgeously dense and concentrated blueberry, black cherry, plums and liquorice. There is a great structure behind this and finishes with lovely spice pepper and balance. Surprised how drinkable this is now. It will not over shadow the 2011 but it will certainly drink a little sooner and a must for the cellar.


2013 Quinta do Noval

96+ Pts BI- This is super seductive, refined, elegant and brooding. Bags and bags of blackberry fruits, clove spice and finishes with the most harmonious balance that lingers for an age. Elegance and depth stand out a mile here and whilst this will drinker sooner that you’d expect (is that wrong?) this has plenty of gas in the tank. There is not much to chose from between the 2012 and 2013 but the elegance and (relative) femininity of the 2013 wins it for me. NB when tasted 10 days ago in London I had given 95 + so good to see consistency.


And so to the front of the Quinta for a few dry white port and tonics, alongside salt and peppered almonds picked and dried from the estate, whilst taking in the beauty around us. At this point of my trip it wouldn’t have seemed out of place if 100 white doves were released to fly down the valley! Dry white port and tonic is a must to try; with ice and lemon and a hot summer evening, it’s a fun alternative to my usual tonic and gin.

Supper hit the spot with the fantastic combination of double carbs. It soon became apparent that in this part of the world, potatoes are served best alongside rice. To most people this is an absurd ‘combo’ but not I; this is the preferred side to accompany most curries west of the Severn Bridge! To accompany our Roast Chicken we were served the Cedro do Noval red and white and both took me by surprise - incredibly fresh, juicy and drinkable. In fact they are far better than that but sadly the domestic consumption is such that it seldom reaches our shores. We then had the Quinta do Noval Labrador Syrah 2008. Bravo Syrah in the Douro again - this was really very good and thoroughly enjoyed; not what I thought the Douro wines would be like at all. Again, seldom reaches these shores.

And to finish a blind tasting – for once I nailed it.


2003 Quinta do Noval

95 Pts BI– immediately the dried fruit spice and raisiny perfume jump out of the glass and if you have had it once you will remember it again. Lush, rich and showing signs of development matched with a great freshness. This is coming into its stride now but it has a lovely future ahead. Well worth trying a bottle now if you are lucky enough to have some in your cellar already!


More to come tomorrow...

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