A legendary Quinta do Noval & Nacional Vertical tasting – 21 June 2022

A Legendary Quinta do Noval & Nacional

Vertical tasting at Spring Restaurant London

21 June 2022

Nacional is one of the rarest and longest-lived wines on earth, and there are only a couple of others of this level of quality, so just tasting these wines in a flight such as the one today is a remarkable moment in one’s wine career. This is only the second time that Christian Seely has done this exercise, and the first was in Portugal, just prior to this event in London.

The notes in italics below are from the winery and those in bold are my impressions of the wines.

FACTS

Owner AXA Millésimes (since May 1993)

Managing Director Christian Seely (pictured above)

Technical Director / Winemaker Carlos Agrellos

Area under vine 447 acres (181 hectares)

Elevation 100 – 500 metres

Vineyard classification  ‘A’ category (100%)

Size of Nacional vineyard in production 4 acres (1,6 ha)

Nacional production 200 – 250 cases in each declared year

Olive oil production 3,500 – 7,000 liters

Recent Vintage Ports 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2008, 2007, 2004, 2003, 2000, 1997, 1995, 1994

Recent Nacional Vintage Ports 2020, 2019, 2017, 2016, 2011, 2004, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1994

Ports Noval Black Reserve, Quinta do Noval LBV Unfiltered single vineyard, Quinta do Noval Vintage, Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage, Noval Tawny 10 year old, Noval Tawny 20 year old, Noval Tawny 40 year old, Quinta do Noval Colheita, Noval Extra Dry White, Noval Fine White, Noval Lágrima.

Douro wines Maria Mansa white, Maria Mansa red, Cedro do Noval white, Cedro do Noval red, Quinta do Noval Syrah, Quinta do Noval Touriga Nacional, Quinta do Noval Petit Verdot, Quinta do Noval Reserva.

VINTAGE

2011 Quinta do Noval Vintage

There is no such thing as an easy year in the Douro Valley, but although the final result was some magnificent wine, 2011 was actually particularly challenging in the vineyard and the utmost vigilance was necessary in order to produce the great Vintage Port of 2011. From October 2010 to September 2011 the total precipitation was 743 mm, slightly above the last 30 years average (596 mm), but much lower than in 2010 (1254 mm). 85% of this precipitation fell during the winter. This very positive factor replenished the water reserves deep down in the soil. In contrast, the weather was very dry for the rest of the year, from spring to autumn. In general we could say that the 2011-recorded temperatures were not higher than those of 2010. However, there were a number of extreme conditions that characterised the climate, such as periodic heat waves, high nocturnal temperatures and strong and dry winds. In April and May temperatures above 30oC (well above average) caused three heat waves. Flowering took its course two weeks earlier than usual, profiting from the moisture from winter rains and some thunderstorms. These conditions also led to a very strong vegetative growth, hampering the work in the vineyard and to a strong pressure from oidium and mildew, which we were able fully to control. June was very irregular. In the second half, temperatures between 30 and 40oC resulted in a heat wave that caused grape burn, more significantly in Tinta Barroca (30%). In July (very windy) and August temperatures were relatively normal offering cool nights. For more than 3 months we had practically no rain. Water was needed for proper completion of maturation. Fortunately, on the 21st of August it rained 19,6 mm at Noval, which then provided the necessary moisture for the maturation to resume its course. We started harvesting the white grapes on the 27th of August. We then had another set of rain on the 1st of September. As all the weather forecasts were positive, we decided to postpone the harvest for a week to allow the vines to take advantage of this water and reach full maturity. It turned out to be a very good decision because a glorious sunshine continued for the rest of the harvest. Grapes were healthy and in excellent conditions. Once crushed in the lagares they immediately showed excellent dark colour and lovely aromas, with good sugar content and acidity. We knew at once that we were in the presence of a great year.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19%, Residual sugar: 99 g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.76g/dm3, pH: 3.64

Gosh, this is another cracker; this time, the age and the volume of fruit are in perfect harmony. While the fruit, oak, spice, alcohol and earth notes are singing, supported by pristine tannins, the aged notes are layering terrific complexity and adding immeasurably to the whole. Very close to drinking, this is a thrilling wine and one that sums up the Noval story in just one glass. 19+/20 (Drink now – 2060) 

2012 Quinta do Noval Vintage

The year 2012 was characterised by an extremely dry and cold winter, followed by a very wet spring and a dry summer. These spring rains were crucial because they provided the water needed for the development of the vines. These conditions reduced yields, but this fact coupled with the mild temperatures of spring and summer, allowed the vines to achieve an excellent maturation of the grapes. The harvest started a week later than normal. Although 2012 was a drought year, the grapes were in very good conditions, with small but perfect berries that produced flavourful musts, full of freshness and good acidity.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 89g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.60g/dm3, pH: 3.78

A whack of acidity here on the finish will stand this wine in good stead in years to come. While it is not a bombastic creation, there is plenty to admire, and it is fairly close, black-fruited and complex. This extra boost of acidity is the magical ingredient and will ensure that the flavours stay nice and upright for a further decade. This wine will then be released to billow and expand, and I do not doubt it will indeed be a very beautiful creature. Do not expect a rich, heady Noval because this is a subtle, balanced and delicately assembled wine. This is a vintage that will inevitably divide the audience, but I am a fan. 18.5+/20 (Drink 2032 – 2050)

2013 Quinta do Noval Vintage

A cool and wet spring preceded a dry hot summer, with virtually no rain. These climatic conditions conditioned the evolution of the vegetative cycle, resulting in a low production year and delaying ripening in the vineyards by 10 days. We started picking on September 10th, with grapes in perfect health and maturation that produced musts of extremely high quality. The wines that make up our 2013 Vintage Port were made from grapes harvested in this initial period. Subsequently it rained between September 27th and October 3rd, which increased the moisture content to 80 or 90%, leading to favourable conditions for the emergence of botrytis, so we had to accelerate the pace to harvest the grapes in healthy conditions. Good wines were made in this latter period, but the outstanding lots were produced in the earlier part of the harvest.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 94g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.10g/dm3, pH: 3.76

This is the point in the age of Noval when moments of maturity are evident on the nose and palate, and this introduces some complexity and also exposes any flaws. This is a cooler, less exuberant vintage with a one-dimensional flavour that packs a decent punch, but it does not roll over the palate and evolve as much as I would have liked. The oak notes seem a little prominent, and the tannins are rather timid, making it a soothing, cherry-style wine with hints of herb and spice but no fundamental power unit beneath the bonnet. 17.5/20 (Drink now – 2045)

2014 Quinta do Noval Vintage

The heavy rainfall that we had in 2013/2014, well distributed throughout the year, reasonable temperatures in winter and a fresh month of August, enabled the vines to maintain a healthy appearance, with lots of leaves throughout the cycle, which protected the grapes from the peaks of heat during the summer, safeguarding the health of the bunches. At the end of August, the harvest was looking wonderful, with beautiful healthy grapes and an excellent sugar and acidity balance, ideal for making great Port.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 101g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.35g/dm3, pH: 3.63

Only 700 cases were made. With a more wine-y than port-y shape, 2014 is a rather even and tempered wine with fewer high notes than the others in this line-up. Clean, red-fruited, and not especially long or resonant, this is a decent wine with plenty of perfume and not a lot more to divert one’s attention. Given just how amazing some of the wines are in this flight, I would pass on this one, but you can never write these wines off because they have such a long life ahead of them! 17.5/20 (Drink now – 2040)

2015 Quinta do Noval Vintage

The winter was cold and dry. Spring very hot, with five heat waves and heavy rainfall that replenished the water levels in the soil, allowing a good development of the vines and grapes. The summer was very hot and dry. The vines responded well to this hot and dry period thanks to the reserves of water in the soil, and at the end of an August that was cooler than average, the harvest presented itself beautifully. The harvest started on the 2nd of September with our ripest parcels, in glorious hot and sunny weather. However, a set of rains fell on the 13th to the 16th of September. 30% of the harvest had been brought in before these rains. With a favourable longer term weather forecast we stopped the harvest for a week, and then restarted on 24th of September with excellent weather and grapes in very healthy conditions, improving every day, which allowed us to harvest our best plots at the right time. In this period, some exceptional ports were made.  The red Ports were very promising from the moment grapes were crushed in the lagares, showing deep colour. The resulting Vintage Port, a strict selection of the very best wines of the year, representing just 9% of the harvest of Quinta do Noval, has a great aromatic intensity and purity of fruit. The nose has wild spicy black pepper notes, with great freshness and balance on the palate. There is an underlying strong tannic backbone. The wine is powerful deep and long and should develop into a classic Quinta do Noval Vintage Port.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 94g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.4g/dm3, pH: 3.63

Very exuberant and also wonderfully ‘sweet’ and fleshy, this is a peppery, perfumed, cassis-soaked wine with an incredible volume of fruit, but, perhaps, it lacks a modicum of complexity on the mid-palate. And then the finish comes in and drags the flavours out further than expected, and it all makes sense. The red-fruited overture at the end of the palate shows mouth-watering salinity, making it a stunningly balanced wine from start to finish. Rather than taking it apart in sections, 2015 Noval should be analysed as a whole and is undoubtedly a complete wine. 18/20. (Drink 2028 – 2055)

2016 Quinta do Noval Vintage

2016 was a year of extremes: a warm winter with high rainfall, at 618 mm twice as much as in an average year. After a wet spring, summer was very hot and dry, with some peaks of heat in August and September. By the end of August, the harvest looked extremely good, in excellent sanitary conditions, but ripening began to slow down due to the very hot and dry conditions. Fortunately 17 mm of much-needed rain fell on 13th September, and maturation continued in ideal conditions from this point onwards. The main part of the harvest began on 19th September in dry and sunny weather, and the fruit continued to ripen throughout the harvest period. We were able to harvest each plot in ideal conditions as ripening continued. In spite of the unusual and extreme climatic conditions of the year, the end result is of an excellent quality. The Port wines are exceptional, with excellent structure, very intense bright fruit, and aromatically very expressive.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 82g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.19g/dm3, pH: 3.58

6000 cases were made (around 15% production). This is a rather civilised style of Noval with a rose petal and blueberry note plus a certain levity that makes it an outlier. Not least, the finish is a completely different shape to all of the other wines, with a flatter, cooler and drier feel that either means it needs ages or, perhaps, that it might run out of juiciness before the flavours are fully assimilated. This is a fascinating wine, but it certainly sits outside the rest in terms of character, buoyancy and fleshiness. I am throwing a question mark, perhaps unfairly, onto the score here because I want to see it again before making up my mind. 18.5+?/20 (Drink 2030 – 2050)

2017 Quinta do Noval Vintage

2017 was characterised by a cold, dry winter followed by an exceptionally hot and dry spring and summer. Apart from heavy rainfall (25 mm) on 6th July at Quinta do Noval, only 300 mm of rain fell since November 2016. June was the hottest month since 1980, with temperatures reaching 42-44°C in the Douro Valley during a heat wave lasting from 7th to 24th June. Due to these extreme weather conditions, all phases of the vine’s growth were 15 to 20 days early compared to 2016. The vines weathered the shortage of water and the high temperatures well. At the end of August the harvest looked very promising, with excellent sanitary conditions. Harvest started much earlier than usual due to the weather: from 17th August for the white wines and 21st August for the reds and the Ports, lasting until 28th September, with high temperatures and a total absence of rain.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 99g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.92g/dm3, pH: 3.51

This is easily the most complete and complex in the first flight of five wines (2020 – 2016 – tasted in this order). A terrific volume of fruit here is so young and introverted and refreshing and deeply brooding it is amazing. The tension, scale of flavour and grandeur is unmissable, and the finish is so long it is incredible. Chapter after chapter of fruit, spice, earth, herb and muscle, open and close, and this carries on for minutes. A baby, but a Titan – this is a staggeringly serious wine. 19+/20 (Drink 2035 – 2065)

2018 Quinta do Noval Vintage

After a dry winter, 2018 was marked by very cold temperatures and high rainfall until mid-summer, and a hot, dry end of summer. Budbreak started late in good conditions. Following a long, summery period, high temperatures and water stress were optimum for the anthocyanic richness of the skins and ideal ripening of the grapes. The sanitary state of the grapes was excellent at harvest time. The harvest took place from 5th September to 13th October in good weather conditions, with high temperatures and no rain. It produced high quality wines with good levels of sugar, acidity and phenolic compounds.  The Ports are exceptional with remarkable finesse.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 100g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.8g/dm3, pH: 3.58

Meatier and more potent on the nose than the 2020 and 2019, there is a wild nature about this vintage, bringing fabulous spice and chypre to proceedings. Actively oaky and crisply tannic initially, this is a challenging wine with tension and lip-smacking bitterness and builds the structure of the wine nicely, supporting the summer pudding notes on the palate. The finish is a little smoother than the start, which is rather intriguing, and a fresh, minty note offsets the fleeting notion of heat. You are in for an interesting ride here with no let-up in the action, but overall, I think this is a less serious wine than some of the others. 18/20 (Drink 2026 – 2060)

2019 Quinta do Noval Vintage

2019 was marked by a mild winter and generally dry conditions, with almost no rain from May to the end of August. While in many parts of Europe producers faced heatwaves, and although we enjoyed prolonged sunny weather, summer temperatures in the Douro were fortunately lower than usual this year, making the absence of rain easier to bear for the vines. Moreover, low humidity led to low disease pressure in the vineyards and beautiful healthy grapes. Harvest started on September 9th for the red varieties. Harvesting conditions were ideal, with moderate temperatures and overall dry weather. A small amount of helpful rain fell on September 21st/22nd and later between October 14th and 17th. Yields were slightly higher than our 10-year average and musts showed great natural acidity and freshness. We finished harvesting on October 18th after 6 weeks of picking. This was a long harvest, but this is not unusual in the Douro, where the diversity of grape varieties, aspects and altitudes results in different picking times for each specific plot. This diversity represents a challenge for the technical team but also an incredible richness, adding complexity and character to our wines at Quinta do Noval. Early tastings revealed some marvelous wines. They display pronounced aromatic intensity of ripe red fruit and remarkable vivacity. The fine quality of the tannins contributes to well- structured Ports with long ageing potential.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 100g/dm3, Total acidity: 5.55g/dm3, pH: 3.63

Immediately different on the nose to the 2020, there is a savoury volley of fruit and undergrowth here that keeps its feet buried firmly in the turf, and this cools and calms the experience down. There is none of the showiness and fruit explosion associated with the 2020 and more of a sleek and composed feel along a blackberry and raspberry spectrum. Alongside this, the pepper and mint notes prick the palate and temper any moments of enthusiasm. Relatively forward, this is not an overtly tannic wine, this is a soothing, measured Noval, and it ought to kick off relatively soon. 18.5/20 (Drink 2025 – 2050)

2020 Quinta do Noval Vintage

2020 was a hot and dry year, with a prolonged ripening period throughout the summer that led to an early harvest, as the grapes became fully ripe by early September. The resulting wines are extremely rich and powerful, voluminous, sensual, with great density. Tannic structure is immense, but with remarkable finesse. The Quinta do Noval Vintage is an unusually powerful and rich style for Quinta do Noval, but nevertheless retains the purity and freshness of Pinhão valley fruit that are typical of Noval wines. As usual, we made a strict selection of the best lots of wine from different parcels throughout the estate, with this year three different lots of wine from the Pinhão Valley and one from the Roncão valley making up the blend. Harvest was very short, from 1st to 22nd September, which is most unusual for Noval where normally the diversity of varieties, exposures and altitudes results in picking times ranging over a longer period. In 2020 the time to choose the right moment to pick each parcel was very short and the capacity of our three different lagar wineries was used to the full. The resulting wines are pure and aromatic, with remarkable density. We chose to allow slightly higher residual sugars than usual this year, and the result is a harmony and richness that is quite particular to this wonderful year at Quinta do Noval.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 115g/dm3, Total acidity: 5.30/dm3, pH: 3.68

A super-intense nose with a mass of mulberry pie and accompanying piecrust notes with lashings of sweet spices and amazing depth promise a wine of prodigious luxury. And throughout, there is a dry, raspy, skin-derived layer of tannin that prevents the flavours from ever getting out of hand and too boisterous or intense. There is undoubtedly a lusciousness that works beautifully here, and this might make one think that this is a more forward vintage in terms of drinking, but the cooling tannins put the brakes on. This allows this wine some well-deserved cellar time because it needs at least a decade to compose its exuberant thoughts before it decides in which direction it will travel. 19+/20 (Drink 2030 – 2070)

 

NACIONAL VINTAGE

Christian let on that a 2015 vintage Nacional will be released in time.

2011 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage

There is no such thing as an easy year in the Douro Valley, but although the final result was some magnificent wine, 2011 was actually particularly challenging in the vineyard and the utmost vigilance was necessary in order to produce the great Vintage Port of 2011. From October 2010 to September 2011 the total precipitation was 743 mm, slightly above the last 30 years average (596 mm), but much lower than in 2010 (1254 mm). 85% of this precipitation fell during the winter. This very positive factor replenished the water reserves deep down in the soil. In contrast, the weather was very dry for the rest of the year, from spring to autumn. In general we could say that the 2011-recorded temperatures were not higher than those of 2010. However, there were a number of extreme conditions that characterised the climate, such as periodic heat waves, high nocturnal temperatures and strong and dry winds. In April and May temperatures above 30oC (well above average) caused three heat waves. Flowering took its course two weeks earlier than usual, profiting from the moisture from winter rains and some thunderstorms. These conditions also led to a very strong vegetative growth, hampering the work in the vineyard and to a strong pressure from oidium and mildew, which we were able fully to control. June was very irregular. In the second half, temperatures between 30 and 40oC resulted in a heat wave that caused grape burn, more significantly in Tinta Barroca (30%). In July (very windy) and August, temperatures were relatively normal offering cool nights. For more than 3 months we had practically no rain. Water was needed for proper completion of maturation. Fortunately, on the 21st of August it rained 19,6 mm at Noval, which then provided the necessary moisture for the maturation to resume its course. We started harvesting the white grapes on the 27th of August. We then had another set of rain on the 1st of September. As all the weather forecasts were positive, we decided to postpone the harvest for a week to allow the vines to take advantage of this water and reach full maturity. It turned out to be a very good decision because a glorious sunshine continued for the rest of the harvest. Grapes were healthy and in excellent conditions. Once crushed in the lagares they immediately showed excellent dark colour and lovely aromas, with good sugar content and acidity. We knew at once that we were in the presence of a great year. The Nacional was brought in the 10th of October, made up of ripe healthy grapes, which once in the lagar showed stunning colour and concentration. Very strong distinctive personality. Tannins powerful reserved and fine. Very intense long and concentrated fruits, explosive in the mouth, balanced and with great freshness. Brooding presence.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19%, Residual sugar: 95g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.66g/dm3, pH: 3.67

Starting to go into its next stage of evolution, this is a staggeringly serious Nacional with bready, yeasty traction and grippy tannins that always come out to play after about ten years. The fruit is red-dominant and not black, which brings an exoticism and expressive nature to the perfume and also lifts the whole flavour immeasurably. Overall, this is a classic creation and is seriously moreish and inviting. It proves that you can start to get into this wine after ten years even though this is obviously far too young, but there is certainly some yearning to develop after a decade and progress from here will inevitably be gradual. Lovely and enticing, this is a seriously delicious wine. 19.5+/20 (Drink 2040 – 2100)

2016 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage

2016 was a year of extremes: a warm winter with high rainfall, at 618 mm twice as much as in an average year. After a wet spring, summer was very hot and dry, with some peaks of heat in August and September. By the end of August, the harvest looked extremely good, in excellent sanitary conditions, but ripening began to slow down due to the very hot and dry conditions. Fortunately 17 mm of much-needed rain fell on 13th September, and maturation continued in ideal conditions from this point onwards. The main part of the harvest began on 19th September in dry and sunny weather, and the fruit continued to ripen throughout the harvest period. We were able to harvest each plot in ideal conditions as ripening continued. In spite of the unusual and extreme climatic conditions of the year, the end result is of an excellent quality. The wines are balanced and fresh, with great structure, very intense bright fruit and aromatically very expressive. The Nacional as usual has a personality all of its own, considerably more reserved than the Quinta do Noval, with a brooding powerful tannic structure that promises very long and great ageing potential. This is the first Nacional to be released under the organic certification for the Nacional vineyard in 2013. Due to the dry weather we were able to wait for the ideal picking date, so the harvest was on 9th October. The phenolic ripeness was perfect. The soil has been worked manually and with the intervention of a mule since 2012. This allows for greater water permeability, which helped the vine leaves to stay longer and thus protect the bunches.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 85g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.96g/dm3, pH: 3.50

With a sweeter feel and delicious herbal details, this is an expressive wine with musicality and freshness over a deeply powerful black-fruited core. The weight and depth of the fruit is remarkable, and yet the flavours are delivered generously and with alacrity, and there is no let-up in the action. This is an easier wine to admire than the first three (2020, 2019 and 2017), and it seems more genial and more open, but this is an illusion because it will close down. Like the 2016 vintage, to which I gave a ‘?’, this is a slightly confusing wine, and it just misses out on some of the extraordinary complexity of the other wines. The texture is just a little bit different, too. So, accordingly, my score is reflective of my occluded mind while tasting this wine. 19+?/20 (Drink 2040 – 2080)

2017 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage

2017 was characterised by a cold, dry winter followed by an exceptionally hot and dry spring and summer. Apart from heavy rainfall (25 mm) on 6th July at Quinta do Noval, only 300 mm of rain fell since November 2016. June was the hottest month since 1980, with temperatures reaching 42-44°C in the Douro Valley during a heat wave lasting from 7th to 24th June. Due to these extreme weather conditions, all phases of the vine’s growth were 15 to 20 days early compared to 2016. The vines weathered the shortage of water and the high temperatures well. At the end of August the harvest looked very promising, with excellent sanitary conditions. Harvest started much earlier than usual due to the weather: from 17th August for the white wines and 21st August for the reds and the Ports, lasting until 28th September, with high temperatures and a total absence of rain. The Nacional vineyard was harvested quite early, on 15th September. The phenolic maturity was impressive and we believe the resulting wine to be one of the greatest Nacionals we have ever produced. Since 2013 the Nacional parcel has been certified organic, and is worked manually and ploughed by mule.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 99g/dm3, Total acidity: 4.68g/dm3, pH: 3.51

This is, immediately, another perfect wine, and yet it could not be more different than the astonishingly theatrical 2020. Built from stern stuff and with an incredible density of fruit and unwaveringly awesome tannins, this is a riveting wine and one that is obviously brilliant and every inch an iconic creation. The tannins, will monolithic and imposing, are amazingly fresh, too, and these lighten the mood after the demonic depth of fruit on the mid-palate. What I love about this wine is that it is uplifting, energetic and dynamic. For a wine of this scale and density to have such a level of exuberance and momentum is completely extraordinary. Made from a vintage of extreme conditions, this is a thrillingly accomplished wine and along with the malevolence and determination, there is a wild side that keeps on coming and brings darkness and a vampiric edge to the thoroughly regal fruit. 20+/20 (Drink 2045 – 2110) 

2019 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage

2019 was marked by a mild winter and generally dry conditions, with almost no rain from May to the end of August. While in many parts of Europe producers faced heatwaves, and although we enjoyed prolonged sunny weather, summer temperatures in the Douro were fortunately lower than usual this year, making the absence of rain easier to bear for the vines. Moreover, low humidity led to low disease pressure in the vineyards and beautiful healthy grapes. Harvest started on September 9th for the red varieties. Harvesting conditions were ideal, with moderate temperatures and overall dry weather. A small amount of helpful rain fell on September 21st/22nd and later between October 14th and 17th. Yields were slightly higher than our 10-year average and musts showed great natural acidity and freshness. We finished harvesting on October 18th after 6 weeks of picking. This was a long harvest, but this is not unusual in the Douro, where the diversity of grape varieties, aspects and altitudes results in different picking times for each specific plot. This diversity represents a challenge for the technical team but also an incredible richness, adding complexity and character to our wines at Quinta do Noval. Early tastings revealed some marvellous wines. They display pronounced aromatic intensity of ripe red fruit and remarkable vivacity. The fine quality of the tannins contributes to well-structured Ports with long ageing potential. Quinta do Noval 2019 Nacional revealed a grandeur and depth worthy of the Nacional name. Produced of course from the small parcel of North-West facing ungrafted vines planted on traditional stone terraces at the heart of our vineyard, the Nacional, which is a field blend of several traditional Douro varieties, was harvested as usual in one day, this year on the 9th October, and vinified by foot treading in one small lagar. Powerful, structured and long, the Nacional is at the same time fine fresh and elegant. Very complex and profound, we believe this to be a great Nacional.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 100g/dm3, Total acidity: 5.40g/dm3, pH: 3.61

There is a flavour shift between 2020 Nacional and 2019 Nacional that mirrors the differences in the Vintage Port vintages. This is a calmer and less exuberant wine, and yet in the greater scheme of things, it is a mind-blowing creation. The only reason it looks anything other than another perfect creation is that it sits next to the 2020. Tougher, more sinewy and more rigid, this wine is built for the long run, and it is not as showy nor as expressive in its youth as its neighbour. But this means that it is more classically dimensioned and, perhaps, more true to its noble origins. I love the savoury, rock-derived tannins that form outcrops on the back of the palate. This is a stunning wine that needs at least 20 years to soften enough to uncork, but it will motor on for a further 80 years with ease. 19.5+/20 (Drink 2040 – 2120)

2020 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage

2020 was a hot and dry year, with a prolonged ripening period throughout the summer that led to an early harvest, as the grapes became fully ripe by early September. The resulting wines are extremely rich and powerful, voluminous, sensual, with great density. Tannic structure is immense, but with remarkable finesse. We were aware from the beginning that the Nacional was outstanding, and the wine has developed wonderfully since the harvest. There are years when we know straight after the treading in lagar that we will be declaring a Nacional Vintage Port, and 2020 was one of these. The wine displays the complexity and many layered profundity that are typical of a great Nacional. Harvest was very short, from 1st to 22nd September, which is most unusual for Noval where normally the diversity of varieties, exposures and altitudes results in picking times ranging over a longer period. In 2020 the time to choose the right moment to pick each parcel was very short and the capacity of our three different lagar wineries was used to the full. The resulting wines are pure and aromatic, with remarkable density. We chose to allow slightly higher residual sugars than usual this year, and the result is a harmony and richness that is quite particular to this wonderful year at Quinta do Noval. Since 2013 the Nacional parcel has been certified organic, and is worked manually and ploughed by mule. Like the rest of the vineyard, the Nacional parcel ripened early, and was harvested on the 17th September. We were aware from the beginning that the Nacional was outstanding, and the wine has developed wonderfully in barrel since the harvest. There are years when we know straight after the treading in lagar that we will be declaring a Nacional Vintage Port, and 2020 was one of these. The wine displays the complexity and many layered profundity that are typical of a great Nacional.

Wine analyses – Alcohol: 19,5%, Residual sugar: 113g/dm3, Total acidity: 5.30g/dm3, pH: 3.66

Just raising this glass to my nose, it is obvious that this is a cosmic creation. Epic in every respect, the perfume is unlike any wine in the world, and the palate is even more impressive. A symphony of every black and red fruit, every spice and flower, every earth tone and rock, schist and wild herb has been liquidised, concentrated and then shoe-horned into this bottle. It is a baby, but it already tastes glorious. How can this be possible when one considers the scale of the tannins and acidity on the finish. It is because this wine is in perfect balance, and yet there is nothing out of place or excessive in any way. This is a perfect Port, and it will live forever. 20+/20 (Drink now and forever)

And two more bonus wines – both will be released later this year.

2021 Quinta do Noval, Reserva Branco, Douro

This is the first white wine with QdN on the label (previous vintages have been Cedro). It comes from two hectares of Noval and is made from 40% Gouveio and 60% Viosinho, and it is matured in 50% new French oak. It is already sold out in Portugal, but Christian tells me a couple of cases will make it to the UK (so keep an eye on my website for information). Only 500 litres were made. This is a remarkably tangy and alert wine with huge acidity and equally expressive oak, and yet it is pinpoint accurate and nerve-tinglingly refreshing. Ideally, you would give this a year or two to calm and broaden, but I can see people drinking it like an impossibly grand Albariño, so I fear many will knock the top off far too early. The signs are that this will age like a serious Chablis, and so you will be kicking yourself in five years if you taste someone else’s bottle after having demolished all of your stock too young. This might turn out to be a pivotal white Douro wine, paving the way for (hopefully) more to follow.  18.5+/20 (Drink 2027 – 2030)

2009 Quinta do Noval, Colheita

With a slightly richer and darker core than the ‘perfect’ 2007, this is a much more indulgent, chocolate and caramel-soaked style of Colheita from Noval, and it will no doubt be paired with epic puddings from the off, which is a shame because it looks extremely youthful and sturdy and I think it needs some time to relax (5-10 years ought to do it) in which case it will move from pudding to cheese and be appreciated where it ought to dwell.  18.5+/20 (Drink now – 2050