Visit to Quinta do Noval, with vertical of Nacional

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view of Quinta do Noval

The morning after our private tour and dinner at the Factory House, we set out for the Douro. Our first stop, in keeping with the “best of the best” theme of Roy Hersh’s 2010 Fortification Tour (the 5th anniversary trip), was for a tour, tasting and lunch at Quinta do Noval. This turned out, easily, to be one of the highest high points of the trip for me.

Prior to this visit, I’d only ever tasted one Quinta do Noval Nacional–the 1980–and been blown away by it, so the mere fact of getting to taste six more vintages of this rare and much sought after Port was a treat in itself. Add to that a private tour led by marketing director Rute Monteiro, lunch with the spectacular view from the patio, tasting with winemaker Antonio Agrellos (who virtually never meets with groups), and the high quality of all the other wines we tasted, and you can see why this was, for me, one of the two most delicious and memorable stops on our jam packed trip.

After a full day spent in British Port merchant world–between the Symington Family Group and Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman, let alone our night at the Factory House–this was a quick jump to the best known and most highly regarded non-British Port house.

The quinta was founded in 1715, and then owned for more than a century by the Rebello Valente family, Port shippers. In 1894, the A.J. da Silva firm, a Port producer and shipper, bought the property and began extensive replanting and renovation. Vasconcelos Porto married the only da Silva daughter and ran the company for over 50 years, retiring in 1963. He built the white terraced vineyards, was at the helm when Quinta do Noval was the only major house to declare the 1931 vintage (a wine that is still thought to be one of that century’s greatest vintage Ports), and built the brand’s image in the U.K. The winemaking talent at Noval during those years, however, was Vasconcelos’s cousin, Frederico van Zeller, who blended the wines from 1927 to 1975.

Vasconcelos Porto’s daughter Rita married Cristiano van Zeller, and they had three sons and a daughter before Cristiano died in 1937. Son Luiz eventually was in charge of the vineyards, and son Fernando headed the business after his grandfather Vasconcelos’s retirement in 1963. There were some quality issues during the transition–the 1963 Noval (not the Nacional) being advanced in maturity for a ’63, allegedly because Luiz tried a new fertilizer in the vineyards that year and the property overproduced. In 1977, Luiz tried another product that caused the vines to underproduce.

Fernando eventually asked his nephew Cristiano to come into the business. Fernando made an attempt to take control of the company, but did not succeed. The company had been divided among Fernando; his two brothers, Cristiano (father of Cristiano and Teresa) and Luiz; and his sister Isabel, who sold her shares to the children of Cristiano and Luiz. Cristiano and Luiz had died by 1982, so the shares passed to their children. When Fernando’s attempt to take control failed, his nephew and niece, Cristiano and Teresa van Zeller, were brought in to take control at the ages of 23 and 22. After continued family squabbles, they sold the quinta to the wine investment arm of AXA, a French insurance group, in 1993. Christian Seely was then named managing director.

Noval’s position as a top Port producer owes a lot to the tiny production (usually only a few hundred cases) of vintage Port from its famous old, ungrafted vineyard, Nacional. The name of this 2.5 hectare plot, right next to the winery, comes from the vines being planted on their own roots, “into the nation.” The vineyard is planted to a mix of Port grapes, including a high percentage of Sousao. There is so little of this wine available, and its reputation is so high, that it sells for the highest prices of any vintage Port.

Wines labeled “Quinta do Noval,” in recent years, at least, consist of wine produced from grapes of the Quinta itself, whereas wines labeled “Noval” are made from purchased grapes. About two-thirds of the production is from purchased grapes. About half is foot trodden, with Noval having begun to use a stainless steel mechanized treader in recent vintages.

The Nacional vines at Quinta do Noval
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The famous whitewashed walls at Quinta do Noval
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lagares and tanks
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Younger Ports – tasting with winemaker Antonio Agrellos
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Antonio Manuel de Sousa Pinto Agrellos has been Technical Director of Quinta do Noval since 1993, following Christian Seely’s arrival as Managing Director. Because Christian Seely was out of town on this day, Roy insisted that they make Antonio available to meet with us.

I am so glad this gave us the chance to meet this lovely, extremely knowledgeable man. He comes from a family that has been making Port for four generations. He graduated in Oenology from the University of Bordeaux, and has been an oenologist and winemaker since 1978. His 1994 Nacional, which we tasted with him, is easily a 100 point wine with decades of deliciousness ahead of it.

In this tasting, following our tour, we tried three recent vintages of Nacional, all exceptional; five vintages of the Noval vintage Port, all excellent; and three vintages of the second label of Noval, Silval, which is also very good. We also tried four vintages of their single quinta Romaneira vintage Port, which had a lot of fans in our group. We also tasted the Noval Black, a Douro dry red, that is a terrific value, selling for as low as $16. I don’t normally taste several wines I rate higher than 95 points before lunch, so I will remember this first part of our tasting day for a long time to come.
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  • N.V. Quinta do Noval Porto Noval Black – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque red violet color; tart berry, black fruit nose; tasty, rich, berry, blackberry, raspberry palate; medium-plus finish (good value at $16 to $22) (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Quinta da Romaneira Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Cask sample – opaque purple violet color; tar, tart black fruit, charcoal nose; tasty, complex, black fruit, tar, blackberry, cassis palate with depth and good acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Cask sample – opaque black purple violet color; tar, charcoal, green herb nose; big, deep, ripe black fruit, blackberry, tar palate with a touch of pepper and major sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Silval – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque black red violet color; smoky, black fruit, tar, charcoal nose; delicious, smoky, black fruit, charcoal, tar palate with depth and style; long finish (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Quinta da Romaneira Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque black red violet color; nice black fruit, smoke, blackstrap molasses nose; tasty, blackstrap molasses, tart black fruit, berry palate; long finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque black red violet color; tart black fruit, herb, graphite nose; rich, balanced, black fruit, chocolate palate, impressive and deep; long finish (96 pts.)
  • 2005 Quinta da Romaneira Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque purple violet color; charcoal, black fruit, herbal nose; tasty, black fruit, herbal palate with depth; long finish (93 pts.)
  • 2004 Quinta da Romaneira Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Herbal, tart black fruit, blackberry, sage nose; tasty, plum, berry, black fruit palate; long finish 93+ pts. (93 pts.)
  • 2003 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Silval – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Black red violet color; floral, herbal, black fruit, tar nose; tasty, tar, rich and broad, berry palate with depth; long finish (94 pts.)
  • 2003 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Black red violet color; black fruit, caramel, blackstrap molasses nose with a touch of eucalyptus; rich, syrup-like, black fruit, berry, black plum palate; endless finish 95+ pts. (95 pts.)
  • 2003 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Nacional – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Black violet color; OMG!, rich, black fruit, tar, herbal nose; awesome, rich, ripe plum, rich berry, complex, deep and layered palate; very long finish (98 pts.)
  • 2000 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Nacional – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque black red violet color; black fruit, herbal, green herb nose; tasty, rich, blackberry palate with sweet tannins; super long finish (97 pts.)
  • 2000 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque black violet color; tar, herbal, pepper nose; tasty, rich, deep, blackberry, berry palate; endless finish (96 pts.)
  • 2000 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Silval – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque red violet color; high toned, red berry, plum nose; lovely rich red plum, berry, blackberry palate with depth; very long finish (94 pts.)
  • 1994 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque red violet color; chocolate, cocoa powder nose; chocolate, cocoa, black fruit palate; long finish (96 pts.)
  • 1994 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Nacional – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque black violet color; big black fruit, berry, chocolate, chocolate mint nose; incredibly rich, berry, chocolate palate with structure and huge depth; very long finish (100 pts.)
  • Lunch wines
    Following our tasting of the younger vintage Ports, we adjourned for lunch to a large terrace, next to the house. Looking down from the terrace we could see the partly camouflaged large storage facility (visible to the left in the picture above) that had been built in 1983 to house the maturing casks after a terrible fire at the Noval lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia destroyed about 1,000 pipes of wine and nearly all of the company’s records.

    With lunch, we tried more of Noval’s dry white, rose and red Douro wines, all of which were quite good, as well as a white Port. I particularly enjoyed the dry white and the rose. The food, which included produce from the estate’s garden, was fabulous.

Post lunch tasting of mature vintage Ports
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We concluded our visit with five more mature Noval Ports. Roy had brought the 1941 Colheita with him, opened it at the end of lunch, and it was one that Antonio Agrellos had never had a chance to taste before, a beautiful mature Colheita. Antonio followed with the 1967 Noval and Nacional side by side, and this was a surprising case where the Nacional was a little oxidized and therefor not quite as strong as its big brother from the same year. Two more Nacionals after that were additional icing on top of a fabulously decorated cake. Both the ’70 and ’63 Nacionals were deep and delicious, with tertiary flavors blending with some of the continuing primary and secondary ones. Tasting these rare wines is probably a once in a lifetime experience, and to taste them from the winery’s own stock, alongside the current winemaker was simply amazing. Many thanks to Roy, and to our wonderful hosts. It was hard to leave this special place, but we had to get moving for an appointment at Dirk Niepoort’s home and winemaking facility.
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  • 1941 Quinta do Noval Porto Colheita – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Cloudy medium brown color with golden lights and yellow meniscus; rich, VA, tart apple, brown sugar nose; tasty, tart apple, maple, brown sugar, lemon palate with strong acidity, reminiscent of a Sercial Madeira; long finish 96+ pts. (96 pts.)
  • 1967 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Bricking medium ruby color with pale meniscus; baked cherry, berry nose; tasty but tight, tart berry palate with depth and a little heat; long finish (94 pts.)
  • 1967 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Nacional – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Medium dark ruby red color; oxidized, baked nose; baked berry, black fruit, black bean palate with depth; long finish (93 pts.)
  • 1970 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Nacional – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Medium ruby red color; rich, raspberry, sassafras, black fruit nose; rich, tart black fruit, berry, chocolate, orange palate with depth; long finish (in an awesome place right now) (97 pts.)
  • 1963 Quinta do Noval Porto Vintage Nacional – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Dark ruby red color with pale meniscus; rich, aromatic, berry nose; tasty, deep, gorgeous, rich, baked berry, blackberry, eucalyptus palate with refined tannins; long finish (98 pts.)
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5 Responses to Visit to Quinta do Noval, with vertical of Nacional

  1. Richard, it’s incredible how many high scores you gave in one day – the wines must have been divine. Given the setting and the wines, indeed sounds like once in a lifetime experience. Just for the heck, I checked the last wine you rated 98pts -1963 Quinta Do Noval Nacional is available from Wine Library for $2349.98 – holy cow, you must have drunk through $100,000 worth of port, and that before even hitting Niepoort!

    • Gary,
      Thanks for the comment. It was quite the special tasting. Not a bad price on the ’63 there. When you consider the exceptional provenance on our bottles–all stored at the quinta–the tasting was pretty much priceless. When you consider that most vintage Port doesn’t appreciate all that much in value, the prices on the Nacionals are always the outliers.

  2. Roy Hersh says:

    It should not be overlooked that there are only 250 cases of Nacional produced by Quinta do Noval when it is declared. Compare that to approximately 10,000 cases of Taylor or Graham’s in similar vintages and you can quickly see why Nacional is considered one of the gems of the Port world and one of the most amazing vineyard parcels on planet earth.

  3. Roy Hersh says:

    One minor correction: There are 2.5 hectares (not acres) in the Nacional vineyard parcel.

  4. Thanks for the info and correction Roy!

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