Port’s Holy Grail: Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port
Despite some highs and lows in its history, Quinta do Noval holds a special place in the heart and mind of Port lovers worldwide. And although the Quinta does produce amazing Colheita Ports, structured and balanced Douro Reds as well as fantastic Vintage Ports the prestigious Noval Nacional Vintage Port stands above them all.
A quick Journey through time: in the early 1930s most English wine merchants filled their cellars with the fantastic 1927 Vintage Ports and due to the financial crisis there was little to no motivation to purchase Vintage Ports from the early 30s with a presumably lower reputation. During those worst conditions Noval bottled the first Vintage Port and Nacional with its own label: 1931. Only few other Companies produced Vintage Ports from this year, amongst them Calem (a very good matured Vintage Port), Ramos Pinto (now perfect) and Niepoort’s Garrafeira (legendary). UK dominated houses like Warre, Fonseca, Graham, Dow, Taylor or Cockburn did not bottle at all. Members of the van Zeller family, Owner of the Quinta at the time, told me that the main reason to bottle this port was a UK importer, who strongly demanded this year. Nowadays this Noval 1931 or the even more scarce Nacional 1931 almost vanished from the planet. I would believe that there are less than 50 bottles of the Nacional and not many more of the Noval Vintage Port left. This leads to the fact that the world of Port lovers has two groups: one which has very much enjoyed the two Ports and the other which would like to have. Quinta do Noval Nacional 1931 would be the rarest and most expensive Vintage Port ever.
Until the 1960s very few years were selected to bottle the Nacional. From 1960 on this changed somewhat and Noval was able to produce some very good regular Noval Vintage Ports and fantastic Nacionals. Primus inter pares from the 60 decade would be the 1963 Nacional, which is the first to live up to the legendary 1931. This Port is my personal benchmark when it comes to give the highest scores to Port. But many other Nacionals are not far behind, the 1966 and the 1967 do belong to the best Ports in the world. Unfortunately after 1970 the quality began to drop remarkably and together with some bad management decisions (Noval preferred to bottle the 1978s over the 1977s) the Quinta’s reputation began to decline. Although many years from the 1980s all the way to 1991 were bottled either as Noval Vintage Ports or Nacional (or both), these Ports do not live up the expectations from the 1960s. Only after the takeover of the AXA Insurance company in 1993 (one of the worst years in Port history) and the appointment of Christian Seely as its General Manager, Noval was immediately catapulted back to its former strength. From 1994 on both Vintage Ports were back on track, received fantastic reviews in the wine magazines with the Nacional being back to the superb reputation that it owned in the past. Fantastic years with fantastic Nacional Ports from 1997, 2000, 2003, 2011 and - just very recently - 2016 followed. Also in years, where the big Port houses did not declare a Vintage Port, Noval released a number of very good Nacionals, amongst them 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2004.
In years, where there are enough grapes available to make a very good Vintage Port, Noval also bottles a “second label” Vintage Port, the Noval Silval Vintage Port. These Ports normally do not age more than 30 years, but do have a fantastic price-value relation, since they are sold much cheaper than the regular Noval Vintage Ports.
Although producing the mystic Nacional and superb Noval Vintage Ports, the Quinta also produces amazing Tawny Ports, old Colheitas, such as 1937, 1964 or 1976 as well as the 10, 20 and 40 year old Tawny Ports (Noval does not bottle a 30y old Tawny).
Quinta do Noval Nacional
With just 6.000 vines on 1,7 ha the most expensive Vintage Port is produced. Expensive for two reasons: Breath-taking Vintage Ports in very small numbers. Everywhere else Noval’s vines (and almost all other producer’s vines) are put on American rootstocks, but the Nacional parcel is not grafted and there were never problems with phyloxera. Whenever a new Nacional is released to the market, it is immediately sold out and its price triples within days. No wonder, in 2016 only 1.000 bottles were produced and half of it is held back at the Quinta.<<
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 2016 – Black colour with very intense violet reflexions. Amazingly dense bouquet with cassis, chocolate, tobacco and a red-berry mix, minty notes in the back of the palate. The same complexity on the palate with a medium strong tannic structure and perfectly supporting acidity. Cherry, cassis and blackberry fruit and spicy notes, which last minutes. Long, complex and fascinating aftertaste with some astringency. 20Drink from 2040 – 2100+
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 2011 – Intense violet reflections in the almost black colour. Very deep and concentrated bouquet. Liquorice, cassis, white pepper and chocolate. The palate continues what the bouquet starts: perfectly supporting acidity with strong, ripe tannins and a fantastic length and balance. This will be the logical successor to the 1963 Nacional. 20Drink from 2050 - 2100+
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 2004 – This was a rather fresh year in the Douro valley with little declaration of other houses. Noval however did produce the Vintage Port and released the Nacional some ten years afterwards: Deep dark-red colour. Intense and fresh palate with cherry, blackberry and chocolate. Long, complex aftertaste. 18+Drink 2030 to 2070
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 2003 – From a hot and classic year this Nacional is still black with full violet reflexes. Very strong, but precise mineral and red-berry nose. The palate reveals an excellent tannic and acidic structure, paired with chocolate and red berry fruit. Balanced and very long in the aftertaste. 192040 - 2100
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 2001 – Deep dark-red colour. Complex bouquet with strong tobacco notes and cassis. Freshness on the palate, floral and mint aromas with noticeable tannins. The aftertaste is long and fresh. 182030 - 2070
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 2000 – Black colour with red and violet reflections. Fruity and complex nose with lots of liquorice and blueberry with a strong underlying complexity. The palate shows a fantastic fruity structure, some sweetness and perfectly supporting acidity. Concentrated and long in the aftertaste with a somewhat dry finish. 19Now until 2070
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1999 –My favourite „late-release“ Nacional. Almost black, very opaque colour. Very complex and strong in the bouquet without any feeling of over-extraction, Cassis, Cherry and Milk chocolate. The same fruit continues on the palate with a very good supporting tannic-structure and perfectly integrated acidity. Long and multi-layered aftertaste. 192025 - 2070
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1997 – This is presumably the Nacional with the overall highest scores and with reason: Opaque, deep violet-red colour. Full and complex bouquet with chocolate, tobacco, cherry and cassis. Intense, but balanced on the palate with great support from tannins and acidity, still some primary red-berry fruit with spicy notes. Complex aftertaste with a lot of finesse. 20Now - 2100
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1996 – Tasted at the “Portwine Day”(10 September) in Porto. Dense and deep dark red colour. Balanced in the bouquet with underlying complexity, red-berry fruit. The palate is as well in the “sleeping phase” right now. White pepper, cassis, cherry and blackberry, spicy in the back. Long aftertaste. 182030 - 2060
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1994 – This is Nacional at its best: Extremely deep, dark-red colour. Although partially in its sleeping phase, one can feel the complexity in the bouquet with white pepper, raspberry, blackberry and tobacco. The palate still shows massive tannins, which are in line with the complexity of the palate. Long aftertaste which does not show its amplitudes as it used to due to the reductive phase. 202025 - 2100
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1991 – I have had the chance to taste this Port numerous times and it never impressed me at all. Very mature reddish colour with orange reflexes. I never came across a bottle without the vegetal notes in the bouquet, a bit like bitter vegetable soup, some fruit in the background. The palate continues with volatile acidity, toasty notes, bitterness and chocolate notes. Short aftertaste with caramel. Maybe the biggest disappointment of a Nacional. 15Drink up
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1987 – I was able to taste the 87 together with the 85 and the 78 quite recently at the Quinta and they all fail to impress for what it is: Transparent, dark-red colour. Coffee and malty notes in the elegant nose. Noticeable acidity on the palate, coffee and some red-berry fruit. Better than the 85 though. 17Now - 2030
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1986 – I have never seen this with a proper label, but had the chance to taste this with the Danish Port-Club in Porto. Medium red colour. Elegant bouquet with some milk-chocolate, coffee and tobacco. Tired on the palate and somewhat dry. Medium length on the palate. 16Drink up
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1985 – Fully transparent medium red. The nose reveals malty notes and some volatile acidity. Malty also on the palate, some raisins with a certain spiciness. Medium long aftertaste. We actually opened three bottles to get to this. 17Now - 2025.
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1983 –This is probably the best Nacional from the 1980s. Transparent dark-red colour. Classically aged Vintage Port bouquet with malty notes, coffee and some remaining red-berry fruit. Surprisingly intense on the palate with the rather typical minty notes of some older Nacionals. Long and well-structured in the aftertaste. 17+Now – 2030
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1982 –Alike with the 85 we needed to open three bottles. Cloudy red colour. Very, very elegant nose with mild fruit and some spicy notes. Also on the palate very far developed and very (too) elegant. Short, but rather pleasant aftertaste. 17Drink up
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1980 – Transparent medium-red colour with a noticeable rim. Elegant nose with malty and minty notes, tobacco in the background. Soft and balanced palate with malt, chocolate, spicy notes and honey. Rather long in the aftertaste. 17Now - 2015
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1978 – Fresh red colour with some brown notes on the rim. Coffee, malt and chocolate in the nose. Soft and balanced palate with coffee and hints of minty notes. Short aftertaste. If you still have bottles in your cellar, do not wait until its 50thbirthday. 17Drink up
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1975 – Very clean medium red colour. Raisins and milk-chocolate in the bouquet. Some supporting acidity on the rather elegant palate, toffee and caramel, some floral notes. Short aftertaste. 17Drink up
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1970 – One of the stars of this amazing year: Fully transparent dark-red colour. Fresh(!) and spicy bouquet, complex and balanced with decent tobacco flavours in the background. Soft and complex on the palate with coffee, malt and some chocolate and cherry. Long, very long aftertaste. 19Now - 2050
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1967 – It took me a while to understand this Port as I thought for a long time that it was lagging fruit and body, but since the last 10 years it does show marvellous: Deep red colour. Although matured, this Port appears to be roughly ten years younger than expected: Plums, mineral notes and chocolate in the nose, mixed herbs in the background. Deep, complex and structured on the palate, plum, cherry, hints of spearmint, chocolate and tobacco. Long and complex aftertaste. 19 Now - 2060
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1966 – Another fantastic Noval Nacional: Almost youthful deep-red colour. Precise and intense on the bouquet with malt, honey and chocolate. The palate reveals tobacco, malt and caramel, lots of pressure and complexity with fantastically integrated and supporting acidity. Long, multi-layered aftertaste. The 66 and 67 follow the legendary 1963 and are just very little behind. 20Now - 2070
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1964 – From an off-year with very little declaration of other producers: Fully transparent, red colour. Malt, honey, menthol, black tea and chocolate. Soft and somewhat creamy on the palate, minty notes, milk chocolate and toffee. Long and structured on the aftertaste. 18Now - 2030
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1963 – I believe if there ever is a book on a single Vintage Port, this would be the Port to write about. I never read a comment about this Port where it did not achieve the highest of possible points. Incredible young red colour with almost no rim. Balanced, but structured and complex nose with coffee, toffee and chocolate, even still some residual red-berry fruit. Also full and complex on the palate, an explosion of coffee, toffee and minty notes. Although the palate takes you on a rollercoaster-ride, the aftertaste is even longer and perfectly balanced. This is my Port, that I would take to my lonely island (preferably in a Double Magnum). 20Now – 2100+
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1962 – Also from a year, where only very few producers have bottled a Vintage Port: Brown reflections on the mid-red colour. Intense coffee and malty notes on the nose. Noticeable and supporting acidity on the palate with coffee and toffee. Medium long in the aftertaste.18Now - 2030
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1960 – Although my only tasting notes originates from a mid-shoulder bottle, this Port was surprisingly fresh: Fully opaque, medium red colour. Almond, malt and coffee in the nose, balanced and structured. Perfectly matured palate with coffee, malt and some raisins. Long and complex aftertaste. 18Now - 2040
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1955– Very small rim in the medium red colour. Intense malt and honey on the bouquet which develops perfectly with more time in the decanter. Balanced and intense on the palate with toast, malt and minty notes. Long and strong aftertaste. 19Now - 2040
VINTAGE PORT NACIONAL 1931 –The most scarce and one of the best and most youthful matured Vintage Ports of the world: Very concentrated, but balanced toffee and fruity notes on the bouquet. Still some soft tannins with toffee, honey and malty notes on the palate. Very long and multi-layered aftertaste. This Port is far from being old and tired. What a pity that one does not have one or two cases to accompany its development in the future. 20 Now - 2100