Visit to Porto and Douro Day 3: Morning at Quinta da Noval

Quinta da Noval has always been an icon for me because of the Nacional vineyard, a tiny plot of 1.7 ha just below the winery, where the vines are all planted on their own roots. Apparently it was treated heavily against phylloxera, but as the present vineyard was planted in 1924, it’s not obvious why it wasn’t planted on rootstocks. Unfortunately I’ve never had the 1931, which some people consider the best Port of the twentieth century, but I was able to visit the vineyard and taste the latest vintage. It has a large number of different varieties, all mixed together, which is common in old vineyards in the Douro, and as vines die they are replaced by another of the same variety. It’s a mystery how the vines are able to survive on their own roots when all around it is necessary to graft to avoid being consumed by phylloxera.

NovalNacional2Quinta da Noval

Quinta da Noval is a lovely property high up above Pinhao, with about 145 ha of terraced vineyards. The Port is made in modernized lagares, modernized in the sense that they have heat exchangers to control temperature, but traditional in the sense that the grapes are still trodden by foot for the first three days, as winemaker António Agrellos considers this produces the best results. After that, a robot takes over. Since 2000, Noval has produced red table wine as well as Port. “When we took over, the vines were not in very good condition, and with 60-70 ha we didn’t have enough grapes to make table wine as well as Port, but we have planted and now we have enough,” António says. “We’ve tried foreign varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t work but Syrah is good, but mostly the wine comes from indigenous varieties.”NovalNacional4

An old vine in the Nacional vineyard

We tasted the range of red wines and Ports. Here are some highlights.

Labrador 2012 (table wine)

This is a pure Syrah. “This is not an authorized variety, but many people plant it and we’d like it to be authorized for the Douro,” says António. Aromatics and palate somewhat reminiscent of Northern Rhone, smooth somewhat along lines of Cote Rotie, just a faint touch of pepper on the finish. Still rather young, needs time.

Colheita 2000

This shows just a touch more complexity on the nose than the 20-year tawny Port, with the fruits cut by a vaguely herbal impression. Sweetness is subsumed by flavor variety and seems more subtle. Lovely combination of iron structure and elegant fruits, with lots of character.

Vintage 2013

“Our aim is to make a vintage Port every year,” says António. There wasn’t one in 2010, but since then there has been one for three years running. For me, the most recent, the 2013, is the most approachable at present. Restrained nose shows aromatic black fruits just poking out. Already wonderfully smooth with layers of flavor developing. A little spicy, a touch nutty, but not too spirity. Promises to become extremely elegant.

Nacional 2011

Silky smooth over and above the 2011 Noval. Layers and layers of structure underneath an elegant sheen of the fruits, iron fist in the velvet glove; concentration of old vines shows through, but without heaviness.Vinicide to drink now.

Noval2The lagares


Visit to Porto and Douro: Day 1 Tastings at Taylors and Churchill

At the start of a research visit to Porto, my first impression is how distinctly the styles of the individual houses come through their old tawnies and vintage Ports (even though some of the houses fall under the same management in large groups). More detailed reports of visits to each house will follow, but in the meantime, here is the most interesting Port (or table wine) tasted from each house today.

Taylors 30 Year Tawny

I always see a significant jump in interest going from ten year to twenty year tawny, but sometimes the next increment of increased concentration going to thirty year is outbalanced by increased oxidative character. Tasting Taylors 10, 20, 30, 40, and the Single Harvest 1966 (effectively a 50 year tawny), for me the thirty year beat out the twenty year by a whisker. There’s a great sense of precision to the nose, the palate is sweet and infinitely smooth, and there’s just a touch more sense of the supporting acidity to bring crispness at the end. (The 1966 is closer in style to the 30-year than to the 40-year, and is infinitely refined.)

Fonseca Guimaraens 2013

This is a blend from all three vineyards that would go into Fonseca when a vintage is declared, so in a sense it’s a second wine representing the best lots in a year that’s not declared as a vintage. It’s sweet, ripe, full and approachable on the palate with chocolaty tannins at the end. A very nice opportunity to get the full style of vintage Port in a young wine.

Churchill Vintage 1997

The first impression is just how refined this is for vintage port, with a lovely sense of precision to the fruits, almost a sense of minerality demonstrating the good bones of the structure. Fine elegant black fruits are beautifully delineated, showing a seamless surface with layers of flavor underneath. This is certainly ready to drink but it will surely age another couple of decades becoming if anything even more sharply focused.

Douro Red Table Wine

Quinta de Gricha, Churchill, 2007
This comes from a field blend of 60-year-old vines in the Quinta de Gricha, that is, it’s a single vineyard red wine from the same vineyard that contributes to Churchill’s vintage Port. A warm fruit impression is softer and more aromatic than the Gran Reserva (which comes partly from Gricha and partly from other locations), with furry tannins giving a chocolaty finish. Black cherry aromatics are backed up by some spice notes. This shows a more savory direction than the 2005, which is more perfumed. It’s a very fine demonstration of the potential for table wine in the Douro.