At MWH Wine Vintage Port isn’t just our business, it’s also our passion. Our founder Mike Hall is well-known throughout the wine trade as being an authority on this wonderful, yet affordable, fine wine. Over the years Mike has assembled one of the UK’s finest collections of Ports and this has led authorities such as Jancis Robinson MW to describe MWH Wine as, ‘An exceptional source of mature Ports’.
Such acclaim is flattering and attracts attention and questions from wine lovers in search of the best of the best. One of the questions we get asked a lot is, which is the best Port shipper? Now this isn’t an easy question to answer. It’s rather like asking a claret lover which is the finest Bordeaux château? Is it Château Latour? Petrus or Lafite Rothschild? Much depends on personal taste and personal circumstances. If we had the funds to drink great vintages of Petrus such as the amazing Petrus 1949, we probably would!
But getting back to the question in hand, which is the best Port producer? In a bid to answer that we’ve decided to put together a series of shipper guides. In these we’ll look at the shipper’s history, its style of wine and recommend some vintages that we believe show their wines at their best.
Quinta do Noval: A Little History
Like most shippers, Noval has a long history behind it. It was founded in 1715 and is unusual in that its cellars are located in the Douro – where the vines are planted - rather than in the relative cool of the town of Villa Nova de Gaia down on the coast. In terms of grape mix, they remain traditionalists, planting Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cao.
Historically these were planted together in the same vineyard but as time has gone on and as their understanding of their vineyards’ terroir has grown, so different varieties are being planted in separate lots. We’d have to say that vintages post their big replanting in 1994 have seen a steady increase in the quality of their wines which were, let’s face it, pretty extraordinary to begin with.
Like the rest of the region their vines were devastated by the phylloxera outbreak in the 1860s. Phylloxera is a beetle that feeds on the sap of vines, slowly killing them. It was rife in the late 19th century, ravaging much of Bordeaux and, somewhat perversely, giving rise to the wines of Rioja – but that is another story for another day…
What is a story for today, albeit a little later, is the survival of 2 hectares of vines that have become the source of Noval’s most famous wine; the rare and extraordinary, Quinta do Noval Nacional. We’ll look at this more later, but like that other legendary wine from un-grafted vines Bollinger’s Vielle Vignes Francaise, this is the stuff from which dreams are made.
Quinta do Noval’s Style
Stylistically their best wines tend to be full, well-structured and built for the long-haul. Drinking the 1985 in the summer of 2019 we were struck by just how youthful it remained. The colour was purple and saturated and it seemed like it could have been bottled the previous year rather than twenty-odd years ago. While they don’t quite have the enormous power of a shipper like Taylor’s, there’s a richness and generosity to these wines - possibly an influence of their warm climate barrel ageing – that is distinctive and delicious. As a rule of thumb, we’d suggest resisting temptation and giving their wines at least a decade of ageing before broaching them.
Quinta do Noval Nacional
Nacional is a true one-off. This tiny parcel of ancient vines – they are thought to range from between 35-80 years old - produces (when the mood takes it!) wines that are unique. It’s a taste of history. A throwback to a world before the phylloxera blight and before vines were switched from European to American rootstocks. This steep – even by local standards – vineyard was known at the time of the outbreak to be the greatest in the shipper’s possession and it was saved by constant and heavy fumigation.
That it was saved is something we can only be thankful for. The tiny amounts of grapes that this vineyard yields creates wines that have a richness and weight that is off the charts. Only produced in truly exceptional years, years that don’t always coincide with standard declarations, the fruit is pressed by foot in concrete lagars and aged in 2,500 litre barrels before bottling. In essence this is a 19th century approach to a 19th century wine.
While many vintages of Nacional have been made over the years, bottles remain unbelievably scarce. This is because they only produce between 10,000-20,000 bottles and those that are released are seized upon by collectors and, increasingly, investors. The Quinta do Noval 1963 has been described as the ‘most sought after Port in the world’ and with Robert Parker giving it a drinking window of 1996-2096, it’s a wine that will only become more sought-after as it continues to develop.
As we said, Nacional isn’t made in all years. Below is a list of current releases. All are wonderful in their way, though prices can be hefty:
2011, 2004, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1994, 1991, 1987, 1985, 1984, 1983, 1982, 1980, 1978, 1975, 1970, 1967, 1966, 1964, 1963, 1962, 1960, 1958, 1955, 1950, 1945, 1934, 1931
Quinta do Noval So Much More Than Nacional
While Nacional is a one-off, it would be a huge disservice to their (anything but) standard wines to see Noval simply as the producers of Nacional. Noval’s Vintage Ports rank with the very finest we have ever tasted. Their 1955, 1963, 1966, 1970, 1977 and 1985 are wonderful and have good futures. So, if you are looking for a Port that delivers generosity and power, then Noval is well-worth trying.
We hope you have enjoyed this, the first in our series of Port Shipper’s Guides, next time we’ll take a look at the Port powerhouse that is Taylor’s.
Like Some Vintage Port Help?
If you are looking for a specific wine then please get in touch by calling Mike on 0118 984 4654 or by emailing MWH Wines here. A recognised authority on these wines, he’ll be happy to advise you on which wine is right for you.