Quinta do Noval - A Hedonism tasting with Christian Seely - 7th November 2016

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Quinta do Noval - A Hedonism tasting with Christian Seely - 7th November 2016

Post by Doggett » 00:48 Fri 02 Dec 2016

I signed up to this tasting at Hedonism, believing that I was not going to make it off the reserve list for the Noval vertical in a couple of weeks time. I have been lucky enough to get a place on the Noval vertical though, so the night at Hedonism was a bonus prelude to drinking a lot of Noval over a few weeks.

I am a big fan of the Hedonism shop. It may not be to some tastes, but I love the fact that the stock is on show and that you can look at some of the most wonderful port, wine and spirits bottles ever released. As someone that loves the romance of larger formats, there are also amazing bottles of all sizes through to 27l on display.

Anyway… onto the Noval tasting. It was meant to start at 6.30pm downstairs on the table next to the Enomatic tasting machines [for those of you familiar with the store]. As I was keen, and had arrived early, I was tempted with charging up a tasting card and trying the Opus One 2010 they had, as well as some other fine bottles. Luckily, while I was deciding on whether this would ruin the forthcoming Noval juice, one of the Hedonism team bought over a glass of champagne as a palate cleanser, and very good it was too.

Christian Seely was running late, so there was a bit of time filling by a chap called Arthur from Gonzales Wines, who are the UK importers of Noval. He gave a brief introduction to the Quinta, explained that the tasting was meant as a celebration of the 300 years of Quinta do Noval, and also talked through the ports that we would be tasting:

Quinta do Noval 40YO Aged Tawny Port
Quinta do Noval Vintage 2012
Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage 2011
Quinta do Noval Vintage 2003
Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage 2003
Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage 2001
Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage 1997

Yes… that is four Nacionals to be tried in one evening! The 2003 NN was not billed as part of the evening but added as Christian wanted to give a comparison of a NN and normal VP from the same vintage.

Strangely from my point of view we started with the aged 40YO Tawny. I think this was to give Mr Seely more time to arrive to talk us through the other ports. The 40YO Noval tawny is as fine a glass of the brown sticky stuff as you will find. A complex but beautiful balance of flavours that showed burnt caramels, dried fruit, light orange peel and lots of heat showing right through to a long finish. I had had this port on the evening after the birth of my son Zac in September, and whilst I may not have tasted it in the same way, it forged a taste memory I will never forget. Christian (who arrived as we were about to taste this glass) suggested that it was a marvellous accompaniment to cigars in the wonderful world of non-PC yesteryear.

Now we were onto the VPs. To get us going we then tasted the 2012 VP which CS called an “eccentric declaration”. He said that they were “quite rebellious” at Noval, and while it may have been a lesser year, that didn’t have to mean a lesser wine. It was, he said, a “beautiful & serious wine, although quite tannic and needs time”. The port seemed to have already closed down with all the tannin, and was slightly austere, but with big bold plums and blackberries showing. CS thought that although the other Port shippers/houses may have raised an eyebrow at this declaration, he was confident that it would show the test of time and show to be a very fine port in generations to come. When asked about the other Port houses, he very mischievously and with tongue in cheek replied that “I struggle to remember the names of the other Port Houses…and I see no reason to try”

Now for the 2011 Noval Nacional, a port that CS declared to be the finest under his stewardship and one that he feels will become the stuff of legend, one that will hopefully match the ’31 and ‘63s. Only 220 cases were made, 80 cases were issued on release with the remainder held back for later. Hedonism itself was only allocated 3 bottles! Just 3 bottles, and has therefore had to look to the secondary market to source further bottles for thirsty customers with deep pockets. It was a beautiful silky smooth port. It had a powerful vigorous youth to it, with spices, cassis, and strawberries to the taste and was inky purple black to the eye. There was a lovely backbone of heat throughout with smooth silky tannins, a huge fruity middle and a long lasting aftertaste. This was listed at hedonism at £1560.00 a bottle if they had it in stock. Whilst it was a stunning glass to drink, to use a metaphor, it felt like I was eating a boiled potato rather than its yummier, well aged and superior roast equivalent which has been boiled and then laid down to slowly infuse all that is great and maximise the potential of the said potato. For many reasons, I so hope that I get to taste this port again when it is at an age that it starts to show its true beauty and class, but I fear that maybe asking that I live well beyond the national average.

The 2001 Nacional (250 cases made) that has just been released was much more approachable than the NN 2011. It was considered backward, reserved and powerful at the normal time it would have been released (following naturally after the 2000), so it was held back. It is still a bit backward and tannic, but I thought it was beginning to show some VP characteristics. There was some eucalyptus notes, musty toffee and even a sweet tawny like follow through. Very different from the preceding 2011 and the 2003 to come, but shared that wonderful silky smoothness and balance that all the Nacionals had.

The 1997 NN was starting to show some age at 19years, but still way too young to be enjoyed properly. There was a softening of the sweet berry fruit and a long finish to that silky smoothness. As with lots of Nacionals since AXA and Christian Seely took over, it was awarded 100 points by Mr Parker. Christian said that he and the winemaker decided to celebrate at the Barão Fladgate restaurant at the Taylor’s lodge with a bottle of 1970 Taylor’s.

The ‘03s bought two comparisons. The VP v the Nacional, and also a vote at the table to see who preferred the ‘01 or the ‘03 Nacionals. The 2003 VP was softer than the NN, with a ripeness and wonderful freshness. CS called it a “sensual vintage port”. It was redder in colour than the Nacional, and at this stage in its evolution it was hard for me to really see the quality differential with the Nacional. It highlighted to me how subjective tasting can be, and how much you think you should like something more because it is much more expensive or you have been told it is special in someway. However, I am in no doubt that the Nacional will out live the normal ‘03 VP and will probably still be youthful in over 50 years and maybe more. The ‘03 NN shared that with the 2011 Nacional. Both seemed like they had the spine and power to last for decades and maybe a century or more. Although it was one of the biggest Nacional harvests ever with 290 cases, only 70 were released early and the rest will filter through slowly as CS said it had the possibility of living well beyond any other 2003 port. The vote result between the ’01 and ’03 was split. I preferred the ’01 on the night, but as I say, I am sure the ’03 will have more staying power over the years.

Christian was asked if there was any science to explain the difference between the ungrafted Nacional vines and the rest of the Quinta. It seems that care and attention maybe the key, but he also said that the nacional grapes [of tiny bunches with tiny yields] are often harvested last so they can be on the edge of overripe. I suppose when you are making the tiny quantities of Nacional you can take that risk with the grapes so you can produce something that is so special.

There are a few conclusions that I have drawn from this tasting. Firstly, it was a privilege to have tasted four Nacionals on one evening, making my total experience of Nacionals now five (Thank you Jdaw for a try of the ’87 – even if it was not the greatest of vintages for Nacional). Secondly, the Nacionals are so youthful, full of power and with such great structure, that I doubt they can really be enjoyed at their best until at least 40 years and in most cases longer.

I have subsequently looked at some old posts on the Forum and found one called ‘Myth or Magic’. The following shall be my humble opinion on the matter…

‘Having recently tasted four relatively young Noval Nacionals, and never having tasted a great Nacional vintage from the past, there is no way I could justify buying a bottle of 2011 Nacional at approx. £1500 when I could get 2 cases of Fonseca 1985 or numerous bottles of other wonderful juice for the same sum. Of course, if I was Bill Koch (before Rudy Kurniawan made him a cynic) I would love to hoover up cases of the stuff, open at least a bottle each year and have loads to drink for my 100th birthday celebrations (a save the date will be posted in the appropriate thread sometime soon). For any normal budget, it just doesn’t make sense to choose the one bottle over lots of [possibly] marginally lesser ports. Having said that I know that I will one day over reach and buy that special scarce bottle that won’t make any financial sense but the port lover will override my rational thought process! After all, even a Nacional is perhaps reasonable in cost when compared to the price of 1st growths, DRC or many other wines’

Which leads me to my final conclusion, that I am glad that some people have been able and lucky enough to secure some wonderful bottles of Nacionals from past great vintages (hopefully at much cheaper prices than today’s going rate). Should you ever wish to share your spoils, I would be most grateful of the opportunity to taste these ports as they are meant to be, having aged beautifully in the bottle for several decades. PM me anytime!

One confession I need to make. The table of tasters was 14 of us including Christian. To my left for the evening was the lovely Joanna Simon who was making copious notes throughout but not drinking much of the port. As she got up to leave, I asked if she was going to let all that fine juice go to waste, to which she admitted she was due to another engagement. So in fine University style I found myself minesweeping more glasses of Nacional! I hope I didn’t let myself down!

I am very much looking forward to the Noval vertical in a couple of weeks and tasting some very fine old port. Mr. Seely did have some very interesting comments on the 2015/16 declarations and Noval Colheitas. If you are interested about those, ask me on the night, as it would be wrong to broadcast what was said on these issues. I will also bring along an example of the fantastic placemats they had for the tasting, I suspect Jdaw will be very impressed.

The evening was to continue briefly after the tasting with a couple of beautiful glasses of Ramos Pinto 1978 colheita that I enjoyed with AHB at the Lansdowne Club, while I gushed to Alex in my drunken state about what a marvelous tasting it was. Poor Alex :D

Dow 1980
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Re: Quinta do Noval - A Hedonism tasting with Christian Seely - 7th November 2016

Post by PhilW » 13:04 Mon 05 Dec 2016

Thanks for the write-up Simon, interesting to hear what you thought of the tasting and the ports on offer. Am glad they included the 2003 VP to allow some direct comparison of the non- vs Nacional versions from the same year, though I admit that at this stage of youth (and in particular while going through any awkward patch) I would imagine that the relative merits of the wines at the current age could be quite different to how they will compare in another 20 years time.

Andy Velebil
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Re: Quinta do Noval - A Hedonism tasting with Christian Seely - 7th November 2016

Post by Andy Velebil » 03:07 Tue 06 Dec 2016

Simon, very nice recap. Thank you!

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Re: Quinta do Noval - A Hedonism tasting with Christian Seely - 7th November 2016

Post by AHB » 13:46 Fri 09 Dec 2016

The continuation of the evening was my pleasure, it was good to catch up with you having not seen you for quite a while. It was also very good to hear about the evening of Nacional - brilliant write-up, by the way, which I thoroughly enjoyed over my lunch today.
Top Ports in 2018 (so far): Niepoort VV (1960's Bottling), Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994 and San Leonardo Very Old White (Bottled 2018)
2017 Ports of the year: Fonseca 1927 and Quinta do Noval 1927

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