I first became aware of the developing scene in premium table wines from the vineyards of the Douro Valley in the mid-1990s. A friend from Portugal, Luis Antunes, brought over a dozen wines for a tasting that I organised for a wine group in Edinburgh. Since then there has been tremendous growth in Douro table wines, from both dedicated producers and the most illustrious Port houses.
When Christian Seely arrived to take charge of the famous Port house of Quinta do Noval 25 years ago, he immediately devised an ambitious replanting programme. It included both classic Port varieties, and some international varities including Syrah and Petit Verdot. “It was,” said Christian, “aimed at showing that the Douro Valley is capable of producing some of the great red wines of the world.” The project began in 1996, with the first table wines appearing with the 2004 vintage.
There are now six wines in the collection, and Christian presented some of these in an online tasting. These included the red wines from both the 2018 and 2017 vintages. Both were excellent vintages for Noval, also declared as vintage for their Port wines.
We began with the only white wine in the portofolio so far, the Cedro do Noval. “There is huge potential for the white wines of the Douro,” Christian told me. “I think it is almost limetless actually, and always was, but until the advent of table wines it all went to white Port. The wines weren’t taken as seriously as they should be.” Six hectares of the Voisinho and Gouevio varieties were planted at the top of the Noval vineyard.
Christian describes 2017 as an extremely hot and dry vintage, with “almost desert conditions and extreme heat for prolonged periods.” It produced exuberant Vintage Ports, but although Christian says he was worried that the table wines would lack freshness, the vineyards coped well with these conditions. There was twice the amount of rainfall in the 2018, though it was still a very hot and sunny year. “It ws a hot, but more temperate vintage,” says Christian, “with just a little more water reserves in the soils.”
In terms of which grapes are select for Port, and which for table wines, decisions are made on tasting and observing the vineyards. There are few parcels dedicated and planted only for one or the other. Around 40% of production for Noval is now table wine, the biggest product being the Cedro do Noval red with 30,000 bottles.
A bonus tasting was the superb 2007 Colheita Port. After 27 years in charge, Christian has released only six Colheitas. He says: “This is category in which I believe very strongly, not only for their qualities, but for the good of the Douro.” He explained further: “They can be produced by small producers, and you cannot build a reputation on vintage wines that have to be aged for 100 years.”
Questioned about rumours of a Colheita version of their single-vineyard super-Port, Nacional, he teases that some of the 2007 currently in barrel might one day see the light of day in that format.
(2021) What a beautifully perfumed wine made from Voisinho and Gouveio, lots of floral character, lots of downy peach skins and mint, a hint of citrus peel. The palate has a streaking freshness of salty minerality and lemon zest, but there is charm too, a mid-palate peachiness, but then the citrus and salts absolutely powers through the finish, the oak perhaps adding a little roundness, but surprisingly fresh. Vinified in 225-litre oak barrels, 30% new oak, the head pieces made from Acacia rather than oak to lower the oak character. Christian is experimenting with 500-litre barrels at Romaneira and likes what he sees so far.
(2021) This has 25% Syrah in the blend along with Touriga Nacional and some other local grapes. It has a delightful nose, real floral lift and buoyancy, creamy berries and delicate cedar spices. The palate has lots of energy and bite, keen but creamy tannins and a stripe of meaty acidity to give this some heft as well as charm.
(2021) Essentially the same blend as the 2017, a slightly dustier character, a little more red fruited and has the rose-like florals. The palate coming together beautifully with that buouyant red fruit, a bit of fat and juiciness through the mid-palate, supple, but the density is offset by striking acidity, juicy and with a squirt of lemony freshness to end on the acid line and fruit.
(2021) This Douro DOC wine is made from Touriga Nacional, which some still wine makers of the Douro like more than others, but Christian vinifies this mostly in stainless steel with around 35% of oak for ageing, trying emphasise the elegance and aromatics. There is a little more meatiness and 'solidity' compared to the Cedro, but then a touch of floral leafiness too to add dimension. The palate bursts through with great sweetness, a realy smooth silkiness of ripe black fruit, but then a liquorice stripe of endive and bittersweetness really grips and freshens the finish.
(2021) The 2018 has a singing, vivid purple colour and like the other 2018s here, such an elegant yet intense aromatic, touching into the old rose florals again, but quite meaty, a blackcurrant ripeness of fruit. In the mouth this is giving immediate pleasure, with so much sweet, juicy and ripe black berry fruit bursting on the tongue, but then those quite meaty but ripe and smooth tannins joining the stricter acids to give definition and length, the oak impercetible really as it finishes on fruit and freshness.
(2021) The blend varies from year to year but always bigger proportions of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa, in this blend 80% Nacional. Again, floral hints to the creamy, quite dense black fruits, some clove spice and graphite. Great density and structure here, the ripe and creamy tannins give great grip against fresh cherry-pit acidity, and the black fruit builds through the mid-palate in terms of fullness and creamy sweetness. The finish has lovely balance and purity, finishing on fruit extract and acidity.
(2021) Christian says this had 50% new oak in this vintage, much more than normal, because of the quality of fruit. A touch of balsamic quality, but then wonderfully fresh and focused, a rounded, creamy, wonderfully smooth and rounded character, but that peony fragrance and perfume exudes from the glass. The palate is taut and relatively firm and muscular because of the ripe but striking tannins, but there is so much flesh and charm from the sweet fruit too, once again running into a fresh, mineral-driven finish.
(2021) Ruby at the core with a broad tawny rim, Noval's 2007 Colheita is a single vintage Port of very high quality that was aged for 13 years in wooden barrels at the Noval cellar. That means it is a wine with wonderful maturity and instant drinkability, unlike Vintage Ports which often require decades after release to show their best. There are deep, soulful aromas of walnut and old polished wood, a twist of Seville orange and delightful hint of shellac in the mix. In the mouth terrific balance of sweetness and cherry-ripe fruit, with those aged notes, a liquorice intensity and concentration and such a creamy texture, flowing seamlessly into a sweet, beguiling finish with outstanding length. Watch the video
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