Quinta do Noval is the Douro estate I most wanted to visit and tasting Nacional in situ has been a long cherished dream. And in June this year, Mafalda made it come true
I met Xavier Sanchez, the International Marketing Manager of Noval at the London Wine Trade Fair in May. Louise Bartholdi of Gonzalez Byass thought I should meet him and made the introduction. I told him about the intended trip to Noval and asked him whether I would be able to taste Nacional. Xavier smiled and said: “Talk to Ana.”
Ana Carvalho is the Responsável recetivo at Quinta do Noval. I wrote to her.She replied: “Thank you for your message. We look forward to welcome you at the Quinta for a private visit and lunch on June 19th.” There was no mention of Nacional.
One Friday morning in June, we drove to Noval from Quinta do Bom Retiro, which was our base in the Douro. We crossed the river, drove through Pinhao and climbed up into the hills towards Noval. Soon we could see the Quinta across the valley, clinging to the hill on the other side.
Ana and Mafalda were waiting for us. They had walked the 500 yards or so from the elegant manor house of the Quinta to the gate to welcome us.
Ana immediately made us feel at home.. She greeted and treated us like long lost friends and chatted incessantly as we walked to the house along the paved path with a white washed wall on one side and a canopy of vines above. The view of the valley below, covered with vineyards and olive groves, was breathtaking.
Ana led us to the back of the manor house to see the Nacional vineyard and the winery. We walked on the tiny organically farmed vineyard, only two hectares of ungrafted vines in the heart of Noval with an average age of thirty years, untouched by phylloxera. Grapes from this tiny vineyard produces 200 to 250 cases of the world’s most prized port in exceptional years only. Half of the production is snapped up by eager port lovers in the UK!
“Winter is the pruning season, but it’s also the time for replanting any vines which are unhealthy or have become too old. For the Nacional parcel, this stage requires a specific technique, known as “mass selection”. Because the Nacional vines are not grafted, which makes them an extreme rarity, the replanted stocks must be from the same parcel. We therefore pick out a shoot from one of the finest looking stocks on the plot, and plant it directly into the ground. It will then take root and will itself become a vine stock, ungrafted and directly rooted in the earth, without any intermediate rootstock. Thus it is that, year in year out, we preserve the singularity of the vines from this terroir which is quite unique in the world.”
Noval grapes are foot trodden in traditional stone lagares and Nacional has its own. Ports after blending are aged at the Quinta and are not sent down to Gaia. Noval use only French brandy for fortification.
The tasting room was elegantly set up. We tasted the following:
- Quinta do Noval Extra Dry White: The indigenous Douro white grapes Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Rabigato and Códega for this wine come from Noval’s traditional suppliers. There is 50% pellicular maceration (leaving the skins in contact with the grape-juice, before fermenting, in order to obtain a more aromatic must) and the rest fermented in closed stainless steel vats at 18/20 degrees. 90% of the wine was matured in old wooden vats and 10% in stainless steel. The blend contains wines with an average age of 2 years. With a residual sugar level of 30 g/l and an alcoholic strength of 19.5%, it is a fabulous white port with no oxidative features
- Quinta do Noval Late Bottled Vintage 2009: In 1958 Quinta do Noval was the first house to launch a ‘Late Bottled Vintage’ Port, with its 1954 LBV. The 2009 is a fine single Quinta unfiltered LBV aged for 4 years in wooden vats
- Quinta do Noval 10 Year Old Tawny: Dark for a 10 year old tawny as a result of adding more younger wine. (There are 10, 20 30 and 40 year old Tawny ports. The number represents the average age of the component wines of the blend except in 40 YO tawny ports where all the wines should be over 40 years old)
Quinta do Noval Colheita 2000: Colheita is a port of a single harvest in an exceptional year that has spent its entire life in cask. Legislation requires a minimum ageing period of 7 years in casks. At Quinta do Noval, Colheitas are bottled after 10 to 12 years of maturing
- Quinta do Noval Colheita 1968: A superb wine, long and fine
- Cedro de Noval 2014: Fresh, fruity white
- Quinta do Noval 2007: Noval red, first launched in 2004 – en magnum. Touriga Nacional supported by Touriga Franca and Tinto Cão, matured in French oak for 18 months. Full, supple and lovely
Ana served chilled Cedro de Noval 2014 on the terrace, under the venerable oak tree.
Lunch was in the elegant dinning room of the manor house. We drank more Cedro de Noval White with a salad of goats cheese and tomatoes and Quinta do Noval red with a superb roast kid and rice. After the dessert, Anna left the table for a few minutes and returned with decanter of vintage port. It was the Nacional 1999! Nobody said anything but I could see the surprise and delight in their faces. We passed it down the left side of the table. Port glasses were filled and the wine sipped. I drank mine with immense pleasure and smiled. It was sublime.
Quinta do Noval by Managing Director Christian Seely
My Douro Tour was arranged by: MILES AWAY, Mafalda Nicolau de Almeida / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Cell Phone: +351 93 874 95 28
Address: Av. Dr. Artur Máximo Saraiva de Aguilar n.º 8 2.º Esq. 5150-540 Vila Nova de Foz Côa http://www.milesaway.pt