Tried & tasted: Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2011 & Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port 2011

Over the last few days I have been savouring the 2011 Vintage Port releases from Quinta do Noval. Without doubt they are among the stars of this tip top classic vintage, especially the Nacional – the first release in a decade was well worth the wait! Below you’ll find my notes, but first a vintage report.

Noval’s vintage report

“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 (596mm), 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 only in the summer were the temperatures moderate.

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 characterized 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 of 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 to fully 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 19,6mm at Noval, which then provided the necessary moisture for the maturation to resume its course.

We start 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 stayed 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 potentially in the presence of a great year.”

Tasting notes

Both Ports were trodden by foot in traditional stone lagares and matured for 18 months in wooden casks.

Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 2011

A very deeply coloured blend of 60% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Francesa and 10% Tinto Cão, which is 100% sourced from the Quinta do Noval vineyard. Though initially quite mineral (schistous) on the nose, a swirl of the glass swiftly unlocks its heady violet perfume. This is an energetic yet very finely wrought, elegant Port with wonderfully fresh, pure, seemingly just picked and crushed sweet black berry and cherry fruits which positively saturate the palate so juicy are they. With slinky tannins, it’s very long in the mouth (unlike me – this is a joyous Port!) – really fluid. Great poise and finesse. Terrific. 19% abv.

Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port 2011

The Nacional, harvested on the 10th October, hails from a small area at the heart of the Quinta do Noval vineyard which is planted with ungrafted vines (including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Sousão and Mourisco Tinto) and untouched by phylloxera. As Noval put it “Nacional refers to the fact that the vines are Portuguese vines growing in Portuguese soil with no foreign root stock, and are therefore ‘attached to the soil of the Nation’” and my oh my, how it shows in this super-intense, savoury, sinewy wine. It is a dense black hue – really opaque. Where the Noval is mercurial, the weightier Nacional exudes authority. Almost impenetrable on the nose, it implodes in the mouth, pulling you along with its rip tide of dark glistening fruit, minerals and spice. With a firm, sinewy anchor of tannins this drier, cooler, very characterful customer is in no hurry. Magnificent with decades ahead of it (Noval reckon best 5-50 years after bottling, compared with 4-40 years for the straight Quinta do Noval). 19% abv

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