Quinta do Noval Nacional and Vintage Ports, back to 1962   
Part 4 of a report on visiting this leading producer from Portugal's Douro region

Quinta do Noval Ports have been through quite a ride over the last 40 years, the period covered in this incredible tasting, which included 15 vintages of Nacional. They went through a distinctly tricky patch during the late 1970s and 1980s, only pulling out of it when Noval was acquired by French insurance company AXA and Christian Seely was appointed with the task of reviving things. The transformation has been remarkable, with the quality now putting Noval among the very best of all Port producers.

Noval is particularly famous for its Nacional, a Port produced in some years only from a 2 hectare parcel at the heart of the Noval vineyard where ungrafted vines survive. This is remarkable, because phylloxera, the root munching aphid that necessitates grafting vines onto resistant American rootstock, is endemic in the Douro, and even the rest of the vineyard.

‘There are a few misconceptions about Nacional which might be worth dispelling,’ says Christian Seely. ‘First, Nacional has nothing to do with Touriga Nacional: the parcel and the wine are so-called because Portuguese vines grow in Portuguese soil without any American rootstock in between. The grape varieties used are a mixture of Touriga Nacional, Francesa (or Franca), Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz, Barroca, Amarela and Sousão. Second, the vines are not ‘pre-phylloxera’: that would mean they were very old indeed. There are some very old vines in the parcel, but I would say the average age is about 40 years: when a vine dies we replant, but without grafting to any American rootstock.’

He adds, ‘It is perhap's Noval's fault that there is a confusion about this as older labels said either "made from pre-phyloxera vines" or even more confusingly "made from pre-phyloxera grapes" (they would have been rather dried out by the end of the 20th century...). I changed this to "Made from ungrafted vines".’

The Nacional block was first planted in 1925, and the first wine to be made and sold from these young vines was the 1931, which has gone on to be one of the legendary Ports of all time.

‘Nacional is special to me principally because it illustrates something I believe about wine, which is that a great wine takes its character and personality from the unique conditions of the place it comes from rather than from something that we do,’ says Christian. ‘We vinify the Nacional in the same way as all the other grapes from Quinta do Noval: foot treading in stone lagares - it would be difficult to imagine less technological winemaking - and yet every year the Nacional has a personality all of its own, because of the grapes it is made of and because of the place it comes from.’

Harvesting Nacional

Interestingly, Nacional seems to excel in some years when the Noval Vintage Port isn’t declared. ‘It is sometimes great when the Quinta wine is not,’ says Christian. ‘For example, Nacional 96, which we declared when there was no Vintage wine from the rest of the Quinta; it is sometimes great when the Quinta wine is also for example 1997, 2000, or 2003, when there is essentially a big difference of style and personality rather than a great difference in quality, in my opinion; and there are years when the Quinta wine is lovely and the Nacional just does not sing, as in 2007 when we declared Quinta do Noval but not the Nacional.’

Since 1999 a second-label Vintage Port, Silval, has been made. This is invariably really good and represents superb value for money.

Vintage Port/Nacional tasting

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1962
Cherry red with a hint of brown. Warm, complex, spicy, fudgey nose with hints of tar and mint. The palate is dense and sweet with complex tar, herb, spice and cedar notes as well as a hint of toffee, and a long finish. Mature but beautiful. 93/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1963
Cherry red with brown hints. Wonderful warm, complex nose showing spice, tar and herbs. The palate is dense and complex with warm, powerful, rich spicy fruit. Fantastic mouthfeel. Dense and broad. Minerally, spicy finish with a hint of mint. This is a magical wine. 97/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1966
Warm, complex nose with a hint of herb and medicine, as well as some floral notes. Soft, mellow palate with liquorice and old furniture. Beautifully complex: warm, soft and intense. 93/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1966
Deep coloured with hints of mint, tar and herbs on the nose. Lovely sweet fruit. The palate is amazingly vibrant showing fresh mint, pepper and herbs notes. Sweet. 96/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1967
The nose shows leather, herbs and a hint of meat on the nose. The palate is smooth and elegant with lovely freshness, hints of mint and nice elegance. Nice fruit still. With time in glass this evolved and is really delicious. 91/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1967
Just wonderful: concentrated, sweet and intense with lovely wild, vivid aromatics showing complex spices and dark fruits. Still has firm tannins and wonderful freshness. Amazing breadth and wildness here. A lovely wine. 95/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1970
Pale cherry red. Lovely focused, savoury, minty spicy nose is quite fresh, with some church incense notes. The palate has appealing mintiness and complex spicy notes. Fresh and focused. 94/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1975
Pale cherry/orange-red colour. Spicy and quite complex on the nose with notes of herb and tea. The palate is warm, spicy and complex. Like a colheita in style. Sweet and rounded with lovely spiciness. 91/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1982
Cherry red colour. Quite pale. Dusty, herby spicy nose leads to a soft, evolved palate that is now quite mature, with appealing warmth. Like a tawny port in style. 88/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1982
Pale cherry colour. Evolved spicy, earthy nose with dusty, herby notes. The palate has freshness and a hint of mint. More focus than the vintage Port with some nice spicy, earthy complexity. Tawny-ish in style. 90/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1983
Very pale red with a brown edge. Not very nice. Smoky, dusty, earthy nose leads to a dirty, earthy palate. 70/100 Second bottle opened is worse: tired and unpleasant with some stinkiness and spicy notes. 68/100 Third bottle is a bit better: pale orange/red. Warm faded nose with some spicy notes and hints of orange. The palate is not totally clean with notes of earth and spice, as well as light citrus fruit. Very mature but quite agreeable. 82/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1985
Cherry red colour. Fresh, herby edge to the spicy nose. Not well defined. The palate has some cherry fruit and spice. Quite light but with some freshness. Disappointing. 86/100

Tasting under the famous cedar (cedro) at Noval

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1987
Earthy, herby, spicy nose is a bit dirty and awkward. The palate is earthy and unfocused. Not very nice. 81/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1987
A bit fresher than the Vintage Port. Fresh minty notes as well as some earth and spice on the nose. The palate is earthy without much charm. Not ageing well. 83/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1994
Just 900 cases made of this: the previous regime was producing 5000. Beautifully focused dark fruits with lovely intensity and fruit expression. Excellent balance. This is still young, beginning to develop complexity, with cherries, blackcurrants and herbs. 94/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994
Very deep colour. Amazingly fresh, focused nose with lovely clarity and precision. Notes of blackberry, plum and raspberry. The palate has great freshness and good acidity with incredible fruit and good structure. Still very youthful and spicy, this is evolving very nicely. 96/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1995 (half bottle)
Earthy, spicy and focused, this is quite savoury with lovely complexity and depth. Really like the savoury complexity, which integrates well with the spicy fruit. Superbly elegant with great complexity. 93/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1995
Slightly reduced earthy, spicy nose. Strongly savoury. The palate shows lovely concentration of earthy fruit with layered spicy complexity and good focus. Finishes long and spicy. 93/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1996
Deep coloured and concentrated, this has an amazingly vivid, plummy, spicy nose. There are some dark, earthy, savoury notes, as well as firm tannins and amazing intensity. Quite savoury with lovely structure. Just brilliant. 97/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 1997
Very pure, sweet, focused nose of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, as well as cherry sweetness. The palate is beautifully structured with pure dark fruits and amazing balance and power. Super-elegant style. 98/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1997
There’s an earthy, spicy savouriness to the dark fruits nose, which makes it seem a bit backward. The palate has a minty edge to the fruit. Very focused and fresh with good structure. Not as alluring or elegant as the Vintage Port, but quite different with tight structure. 97/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 1998
None of this has been sold yet. Deep coloured and concentrated, with a warm, cherryish, spicy nose. Sweet, intense, focused palate with lovely taut, elegant structure and a spicy finish. Some freshness. Good intensity: this is a little bit closed but has nice structure. 93/100

Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port 1999
Focused cherry and herb nose with spicy notes and some elegance. The palate is fresh and dense with lovely fruit expression. Cherry and plum fruit dominate. Quite an elegant with good acidity and purity. 94/100

Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port 2000
Earthy, rubbery, spicy edge to the nose, which is savoury and perhaps a little reduced. The palate shows attractive fresh, bright, sweet berry fruits with lovely warm spicy structure. Vibrant and fresh. 92/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2000
Wonderful nose: fantastic, dark, focused sweet blackberry fruit is multilayered and complex with some olive notes. The palate is superconcentrated with dense, pure, really sweet blackberry fruit. Amazing intensity and depth here. Still just an infant. Brilliant effort. 98/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2000
Incredible nose. Sweet dark fruits but with stern, savoury, spicy earthy notes too. Fresh and bright with a hint of mint. Palate is dense and elegant with lovely sweet fruit. Amazing minty freshness here. Beautifully pure and focused with great fruit purity abd structure. 97/100

Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port 2002
Sweet, ripe cherry fruit nose with a hint of spiciness. A light, elegant style with some freshness and lovely fruit expression. Quite wine like with nice elegance, for earlier drinking. 92/100

Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port 2003
This is the first year when the new plantings came on stream. Very deep colour. Beautifully fresh, well defined, sweet fruity nose. Very pure and elegant. The palate is sweet, dense and focused with lovely intensity, purity and structure. Fantastic stuff. 94/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2003
Very deep coloured. Incredibly elegant, fresh nose with wonderful raspberry, blackberry and cherry fruit purity. Astonishingly aromatic and floral. The palate has concentrated, smooth, elegant fruit with lovely structure and poise, as well as a hint of mint freshness. 97/100

Quinta do Noval Nacional 2003
Superconcentrated. Dark colour. Brooding nose with savoury, spicy notes alongside taut dark fruits – plum and blackberry. Very fine and elegant. A little reticent. The palate has a freshness and focus to the precise concentrated dark fruits. Amazing structure and some earthy, spicy notes. Just fantastic. 98/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2004
Fresh, pure vivid blackberry and blackcurrant nose. The palate shows sweet pure fruit, which is the dominant theme. Almost wine-like in its fruitiness. Tastes a bit like fermenting must. 93/100

Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port 2005
Brooding dark spicy nose, showing blackberries, olives, raspberries and plums. The palate is sweet and dense with lovely concentration and structure. Tannic and spicy with great density and focus. A lovely wine. 95/100

Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port 2007
Brooding, intense and focused with floral dark fruits nose. Brilliant focus here. The palate is concentrated and fresh with some spicy structure. Superb. 95/100

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2007
Superconcentrated and deep coloured. Multilayered, complex nose of rich, sweet, pure dark fruit with spicy depth. The palate has lushness and purity to the dark fruit. Amazing concentration and depth. Vividly spicy with focus and purity. A near-perfect young Vintage Port. 98/100


Tawny is made in 640 litre barrels, and they evaporate 1–2% of content each year. One barrel, the ‘houillage’ barrel, is sacrificed for topping up. Colheitas are vintage dated Tawnies.

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1968
Very old, aromatic and volatile with notes of spice and cedar. The palate is concentrated and spicy with nuts and herbs. Quite sweet. Lively acidity. Just brilliant. 94/100

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1971
Amazingly rich and spicy with real complexity. Spicy cherry fruit with hints of raisins and dried fruits, with citrus freshness. Lovely presence and great acidity. A remarkable wine. 96/100

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1995
Wonderfully complex with elegant bright red fruits and lovely lively spciness. Lively and fresh with real complexity, this is expressive and precise. 95/100

See this short film of the Nacional vineyard block:

Quinta do Noval's Nacional Vineyard from Jamie Goode on Vimeo.

See also:

Part 1, Quinta do Noval, introduction and table wines
Part 2, Photographs from Quinta do Noval
Part 3, Photographs from Quinta do Noval's Nacional Vineyard
Part 4, Tasting Noval Nacional and Vintage Port back to 1962
An older report on Noval's table wines
The new Douro (series)
Vintage Ports from 2007 assessed
Vintage Ports from 2003 assessed

Wines tasted as 09/09  
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