Visiting this leading producer from Portugal's Douro region, part 1
- background and the table wines
do Noval is a spectacular property in the Pinhão Valley of the
Douro. It’s also quite large, with 145 hectares under vine.
Despite its illustrious history, Noval went through a dark period in
the 1970s and 1980s. The vintage Ports, previously so good, were no
longer very imressive, and the vineyard was allowed to run down. But
since 1993, when the property came under the stewardship of
Christian Seely after French insurance group AXA purchased it,
things have turned around spectacularly.
visited in September, as the harvest was finishing, and was lucky
enough to be hosted by Christian himself (below), who has
since moved on to head up the whole of AXA’s wine portfolio,
although he clearly retains a great love for Noval and the Douro.
The visit included one of the most remarkable tastings I’ve taken
part of, looking back at Noval’s Vintage Port and famous Nacional
Port going back to the 1960s, and even taking in the ‘dark era’
commented on what he encountered when he took over. ‘Some of the
vineyards were fine,’ he said, ‘but the grape varieties were
mixed up in the vineyard: I don’t believe in that.’ He says that
there can be as much as four weeks between the ripening of early (Tinta
Barocca) and late (Tinta Cão) varieties, and if everything is
harvested together, quality can suffer. In addition, there were
funky grapes such as Mourisco, and some mediocre varieties which
were simply planted because they produce reliable quantities.
lot of the Douro was like this, but over the last 30 years we have
seen a big revolution, with a concentration on viticulture,’ says
Christian. In the old days, the growing of grapes was separated from
the making, ageing, blending and selling of wine. The emphasis was
on the latter four processes, which is why everyone was based in
Vila Nova de Gaia. There was no emphasis on the vineyard, and the
owners of the companies based in Porto didn’t travel to the Douro
all that often. This is now changing.
Winemaker Antonio Agrellos in the winery
Christian’s opinion, the noblest varieties are Touriga Nacional
and Tinta Cão. The former can suffer problems with flowering, and
for both you are lucky if you get 23 hl/hectare, whereas with other
varieties you can get as much as 50 hl/hectare. But 25–30 years
ago there was very little Touriga Nacional in the Douro, and Tinta Cão
was almost extinct. From 1994 Christian’s team began renovating
the Noval vineyards, replanting in single variety blocks, mainly
with Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. Everywhere they could get a
tractor in, they mechanized. They even replanted the old terraces so
they could be mechanized.
more recent move for Noval is the switch from making just Port wines
to making both Ports and table wines, which occurred with the 2004
vintage. ‘I’m very excited about Douro red wines,’ says
Christian. ‘It has made the Douro a more dynamic place. As a small
producer, it means you can make a go of it.’ He explains that it
is very difficult for a grower with 5 hectares to operate in Port,
but with 5–10 hectares you can make table wine and get it to
market in two years, and then you can sell it. For a Late Bottled
Vintage Port the earliest you could get to market is 4 years. ‘The
thing that enthuses me about Douro red wines is that it will make
the Douro more prosperous. The more prosperous the Douro, the more
high quality grapes there will be,’ he adds.
part of the table wine program, Noval have planted Syrah in their
separate vineyard in the Roncão Valley, which has 35 hectares of
vines. Part is rented on a 25 year lease, part is owned. ‘So far,
I’m seriously encouraged about Syrah in the Douro’, says
Christian. He views terroir as absolutely crucial to making great
wine: ‘55% of Pichon is grand terroir. If you make Pichon from 70%
of the vineyard, you are diluting it. When we blend the first
tastings are blind, and it is uncannily accurate over time how the
great wines come from certain parcels.’
part 1, table wines
the 2004 vintage Noval has been making top class table wines, which
in my view compete with the best from the Douro. Cedro is the entry
level wine. It’s more commercial, and is more open younger.
‘It’s our Merlot,’ says Christian. As from 2005 it has had
some Syrah in it. It rivals the LBV Port in terms of positioning, at
just under £15. Noval itself is described as a ‘Grand Vin that
should age. It’s a serious attempt to express the terroir in a
great wine that rivals Vintage Port.’
Cedrodo Noval 2004 Lovely dark, fresh, slightly meaty, focused fruit on the nose.
Dark cherries and red berries. The palate is really fresh and supple
with berryish fruit and good acidity. Nice definition and freshness,
with a little bit of tannic grip. Lovely. 90/100
do Noval 2005 Lively, sweet, pure berryish nose with some dark cherry
richness, and appealing fresh fruitiness. The palate is sweet and
vibrant with a savoury, subtly tarry, meaty twist adding some
complexity. There’s some structure here. Meaty and berryish with
nice freshness. Quite serious. 90/100
do Noval 2006 Very fruity, slightly meaty, spicy nose. Light but with some
nice complexity. The palate is fresh, a bit sappy, and vibrant with
open sweet fruit. Appealing in a lighter style. 88/100
do Noval 2007 Super-fresh cherry fruit nose with some lifted floral aromatics
and spicy sternness. The palate is fruity with red berry notes and
savoury structure. Some density here: is this the Syrah? Very
youthful with good acidity, and some nice structure. Lovely. 90/100
do Noval 2004 Smooth, quite elegant nose of brooding dark cherry, blackberry
and raspberry fruit and some sweet spicy notes. The palate has
density and lovely structure with generous rich dark fruit and some
spicy notes, as well as a subtle meatiness. Potential for
do Noval Touriga Nacional 2004 Just 500 bottles made. Lovely nose: dark, floral, a bit meaty
with hints of tar and spice, as well as a subtle green herby edge.
The palate shows intense, savoury, meaty dark fruits with lovely
acidity offsetting the rich, sweet fruit. 92/100
do Noval 2005 Very stylish nose. Pure, sweet, brooding plum and dark cherry
fruit with floral aromatics. The palate is structured and bold with
some dense tannins hiding under the concentrated, mutlilayered
fruit. Power and elegance here, finishing tannic but not angular.
One for the future. 95/100
do Noval 2007 Thrillingly complex aromatics: spice, meat, dark fruits and
flowers. Brooding. The palate is fresh and vibrant with good acidity
and lovely pure fruit, with a minerally depth to the sweet fruit.
There’s a wonderful combination of purity of fruit and firm
structure. Should develop beautifully. 95/100
the next part of the series, I’ll be looking at the Noval Ports,
including a remarkable vertical tasting taking in the Noval Vintage
and Noval Nacional back to 1962.
I'll also be reporting on the Nacional block in the vineyard.